New to Navy Pier waters, Chuoy the Buoy proved a valuable forecasting tool

January 23rd, 2023 by

Last May, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) launched its third buoy in southern Lake Michigan—this one based in the busy waters off Navy Pier. This new buoy with its flow of in-the-moment data is helping the National Weather Service (NWS) Chicago develop more accurate forecasts and warnings, especially related to nearshore wave heights and wind speeds.

This third buoy, known affectionately as Chuoy, joins IISG buoys in the nearshore waters of Michigan City, Indiana and Wilmette, Illinois. Together, these three, along with two University of Illinois buoys closer to the Wisconsin border, paint a comprehensive picture of coastal lake conditions in the two states. In addition to meteorologists, the data is used by scientists, boaters, anglers and beach goers.

“Information from these buoys allows recreational water users to make better informed decisions when it comes to safety,” said Ben Szczygiel, IISG buoy specialist. “The data allows people to plan for current conditions and avoid the water when there are increased safety concerns.”


At NWS Chicago, IISG buoys in nearshore waters have proven to be particularly helpful in filling in information gaps and validating nearby observations, most pointedly with regards to wave height. Previously, meteorologists had to make assumptions on how waves would impact the Illinois shore based on open water buoys.

“The initial arrival of the buoy off of Wilmette opened our eyes to the increase in waves in the nearshore areas,” said Kevin Donofrio, NWS science and operations officer. “We have learned that waves don’t always come down as quickly as winds decrease.”

This new understanding of wave action has only been enhanced with the addition of Chuoy. And its location near Navy Pier puts it right where many boaters are sailing or buzzing by, plus it is directly upstream of many Chicago beaches. 

Over the summer, the buoy also helped keep NWS forecasters up to speed on wind velocity, providing data measured much closer to the water than from the top of a nearby water intake facility—the Harrison-Dever Crib, which has been a long-time wind data resource.

The results of all this information are more accurate forecasts and advisories for boaters and swimmers. “We used this buoy to determine the risk level for our Surf Zone Forecasts and it plays a direct role in our Nearshore Marine Forecasts,” said Donofrio.

In the summer of 2022, Chuoy was also there to help with one of Chicago’s major lakefront events. In August, the annual Chicago Air and Water Show brings an average of two million people down to Lake Michigan’s beaches, marinas and parks as well as out in boats to experience the spectacle up close. Chuoy data helped inform on-the-ground decisions with regard to water and weather conditions and safety concerns.

As Dononfrio described it: “Forecasting for the marine environment can be very challenging with the limited observation network, but it can be very impactful.”


Invasive carp barriers may not stop invertebrates moving between Chicago waterways

January 4th, 2023 by

The largest electric barrier system in the world is in the Chicago River waterways—it’s there to prevent the spread of invasive carp from the Illinois River into the Great Lakes. But many other invaders, such as invertebrates, may not be impacted by barrier technology as they move between these watersheds, according to a recent Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant study. 

“Silver and bighead carp pose a huge risk to the Great Lakes, but many other species, most of which are invertebrates, can be serious invaders and we also need to prevent them from spreading either to the Mississippi River Watershed from the Great Lakes or the opposite,” said Reuben Keller, a Loyola University Chicago biologist who led this research project.

Aquatic invertebrates, organisms without a spine, include mussels, crayfish, snails, zooplankton and more. When some nonnative species have been introduced to new waters, they have taken a serious toll on the food web—quagga mussels in the Great Lakes provide the most dramatic example.

Keller’s team tested two barrier technologies on a sample of invertebrate species in a lab setting—one that uses electricity as does the barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Joliet, Illinois, and the other based on emitting carbon dioxide, an idea that is being researched and discussed as a potential backup technology to help stop the invasive carp.

Loyola physicist Robert Polak and his team of students provided their expertise to the design and set up of a fish tank that could recreate the same electrical charge as the real world barrier. “With help from the physics students, we were able to precisely know the electric field in the water,” explained Keller, “and to test the impact of different charges on organisms.” 

Focusing on two invertebrates—the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, and the much smaller amphipod Hyalella azteca—the researchers found that even at electrical charges 400% higher than the barrier, no organisms died. The impact was limited to stunning and temporarily upsetting the equilibrium of organisms.

Carbon dioxide barriers work by bubbling this gas into the water as a deterrence. “Using carbon dioxide levels that elicit avoidance responses in Asian carp, we tested nine invertebrate species, covering a range of sizes and types,” said Colette Copic, who worked on this project as part of their Master’s thesis.

That concentration was fatal to only one species—the bloody red shrimp—originally from Eastern European waters, it is now established in the Great Lakes.

headshots of Colette Copic and Rachel Egly during fieldwork around waterbodies

Colette Copic (left) and Rachel Egly, Keller’s lab manager (right), collected invasive invertebrate species from local waterways to use in these barrier experiments.

The researchers also tested the species’ tolerances for a range of high carbon dioxide levels and the higher the rate the more the impact. At a concentration almost twice the level allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, mortality was low, but the gas did cause many of the organisms to seem to fall asleep. “They almost essentially became frozen and then woke up once conditions got better,” said Copic.

Keller and Copic see the low fatality rate for invertebrates in the barrier experiments as both good and bad news. The positive story is that a carbon dioxide barrier added to the Chicago waterway to stop invasive carp will have very few unintended effects on non-targeted species, such as native invertebrates. But this also means that this barrier is not an obvious option if resource managers are looking to use a lethal approach to prevent the spread of invasive invertebrate species.

The researchers also created a tank where the invertebrates could choose to avoid carbon dioxide laden waters. As it turned out, many of them did, especially the adult red swamp crayfish. “These are definitely encouraging results, but I think that we need to know more and also be thinking about how these species are actually spreading,” said Copic.

The researchers created a tank in the laboratory in which invertebrates could choose to avoid water high in carbon dioxide and most did.

In general, the researchers see both the electric and carbon dioxide barrier technologies set to levels that deter invasive carp as doing little to prevent the spread of invertebrates between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin. Even at higher rates, they expect a similar lack of impact.

“Invertebrates typically drift rather than swim downstream and often move upstream attached to boats and barges,” said Keller. “They may be uncomfortable or incapacitated going through barriers but would likely recover on the other side.”

Keller is now engaged in new research to answer more questions related to barriers and invasive species, inspired by this project. Working with Polak’s team in the physics department, they hope to get an understanding of what happens to the electrical field when barges pass through the barrier.

“We don’t know whether the field is magnified or concentrated or whether it’s dissipated,” said Keller. “We’re hoping to get insight into whether the electrical field needs to be adjusted higher or lower as barges pass through to be a more effective deterrence.”



Development and First Tests of a Lab-Scale Electric Field for Investigating Potential Effects of Electric Barriers on Aquatic Invasive Invertebrates.


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a partnership between NOAA, University of Illinois Extension, and Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources, bringing science together with communities for solutions that work. Sea Grant is a network of 34 science, education and outreach programs located in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Lake Champlain, Puerto Rico and Guam.


Writer: Irene Miles
Contact: Carolyn Foley

The new year brings a bounty of Sea Grant professional opportunities

December 16th, 2022 by

With 2022 coming to a close and the new year around the corner, I would like to share some Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) opportunities for funding, fellowships, and employment that cover a range of skillsets, knowledge, and training—from undergraduates to seasoned scientists.

For starters, we have issued a request for proposals for two-year research projects that address southern Lake Michigan coastal concerns as well as have the potential to benefit underserved communities in the region. While we have designated areas of special interest related to this funding opportunity, we will consider preproposals in a variety of topic areas.

Coming soon will be more opportunities to specifically study PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the Great Lakes. The National Sea Grant Office recently announced that IISG will lead the development of a regional research competition to better understand the risk, exposure, and remediation of these environmental contaminants.

For faculty members and graduate students interested in research funding, the 2023 IISG Scholars Program competition is now open. The program is designed to help build a community of researchers and outreach professionals focused on critically important Lake Michigan issues. These one-year awards are intended to help graduate student scholars further their research impact and help faculty scholars develop innovative, fundable proposals for future work in the region. 

We also have several prestigious fellowships open for graduate students looking to expand their horizons. For example, the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship offers the opportunity to spend 2024 in Washington D.C. working in Congress or an Executive Branch office. The fellowship brings together graduate students’ interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources with national policy decisions affecting those resources.

Taking a moment to brag a little, in 2023, we will have more Knauss fellows than we’ve had before—three fellows representing IISG will spend the year working and learning in Executive Branch offices.

Are you a recent bachelor’s degree graduate? We’re looking to hire a visiting Great Lakes outreach associate to assist with a variety of science outreach and education efforts. In this position, you would work with three successive mentors for a 4-month rotation, each focused on different types of projects and subject areas that support IISG’s larger mission.

We are also hiring for our 2023 Summer Undergraduate Intern Program that provides students opportunities to work directly with our specialists and engage in social and environmental science, outreach, or communication efforts. IISG’s interns gain invaluable knowledge and skills allowing them to explore potential future career options, while simultaneously helping coastal communities and residents make more informed decisions about resource management and everyday activities. 

Speaking of hiring, I’d like to welcome two new members of the IISG team. While Janice Milanovich had been working part time with our pollution prevention team for the past several years, she is now officially on staff as a Great Lakes educator. In this position, she works to enhance Great Lakes literacy by engaging K-12 educators and students with aquatic science. Her extensive experience in environmental education, as well as outreach, will greatly enrich our education team.

Dominique Turney has recently joined Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. She is a Purdue University aquatic research scientist who will spend 25% of her time serving as a Great Lakes Science Initiative liaison for IISG. Through this position she will help connect and promote Great Lakes science at Purdue and IISG. Dom came to Purdue from the Illinois Natural History Survey where her research was focused on Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River.

Happy holidays to all!

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a partnership between NOAA, University of Illinois Extension, and Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources, bringing science together with communities for solutions that work. Sea Grant is a network of 34 science, education and outreach programs located in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Lake Champlain, Puerto Rico and Guam.

More Chicago region decision makers are taking action on climate change

October 21st, 2022 by

As the world gets measurably hotter every year, many of us are experiencing the effects of climate change. A recent Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant climate planning survey of elected officials, natural resource managers, and other relevant professionals in the greater Chicago area reveals that they agree.

An overwhelming 90% of survey respondents reported that the climate in their location is changing, and more than 70% said that they are either extremely or very sure about that.

This survey, which was sent out in 2020, repeated a survey from 2012, thereby providing insight into evolving attitudes and actions of local officials. Then, 61% of respondents reported that their local climate was changing. Both times the survey was sent to professionals in Cook, Lake, Will, DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Kendall counties in Illinois and Lake, LaPorte and Porter in Indiana. In 2020, each of these counties was represented in the 144 responses.

“In terms of local climate change concerns, flooding, which can also include storm intensity and runoff, was rated the highest,” said Veronica Fall, IISG climate extension specialist.  “And it has increased over time—in 2020, 76% said information related to flooding was extremely important, which is notably higher than 56% in 2012.”

But local decision makers were not just concerned about flooding—the majority ranked 17 of 20 possible factors as extremely important, with land use planning and zoning, water infrastructure, climate adaptation costs, invasive species and economic vulnerability also near the top of the list.

“One encouraging result regarded climate adaptation planning,” said Fall. “In 2012, about 60% of the respondents were not involved in climate adaptation planning at all, whereas in 2020, the largest group was in the understanding phase—doing assessments and developing plans. And the percentage of respondents that were implementing an adaptation plan also increased since 2012.”



Fall was encouraged to see that nearly all survey participants felt that everyone should be involved in responding to climate change impacts, including government, other agencies, non-profits and more. And they felt that climate change should be considered in all decisions.

“Local officials are starting to understand that it’s going to touch every aspect of society,” said Fall. The survey also provided some insights into local needs in terms of information and resources. For Fall, this is helping her direct her efforts to where they can be the most helpful.

“One point that really jumped out to me was this—survey participants understood that temperature and flooding are going to increase, but Lake Michigan water levels were at a record low in 2012 and record high in 2020 so expectations of climate change impacts on lake level results from the two survey mirrored these occurrences.

“When it comes to Great Lakes water levels, it turns out that variability is the name of the game,” said Fall. “I’m trying to do more to share this information, to convey what it will look like in our region where we can expect higher highs and lower lows over the next few decades.”

She also discovered that many communities still need basic information on climate change and climate impacts. For instance, 41% of respondents reported that they only have some of what they need with regards to information on expected local impacts.

And as more decision makers understand that they need to create an adaptation plan, many are looking for a roadmap of how to do it. “In fact, 57% expressed a need for case studies based on communities that have already implemented their climate change adaptation plans,” said Fall.

To learn more about the climate change survey as well as read more results, download the Climate Planning Survey for Lake Michigan Communities factsheet.


The Helm magazine highlights some key Chicago region water-focused planning issues

October 12th, 2022 by

The 2022 issue of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s magazine, The Helm, is now available. This annual publication is a collection of program research, outreach and education success stories as well as ongoing activities to address coastal concerns. This issue is focused on water supply forecasting, climate change, Great Lakes Areas of Concern, and more, including IISG’s 40 years of service to the southern Lake Michigan region. 

Here are some headlines from this issue:

  • Chicago area communities tap into water supply data to plan for sustainability and affordability
  • IISG celebrates 40 years of research, outreach, and education
  • Great Lakes onboard educator workshops offer scientists learning opportunities
  • What factors contribute to revitalization in cleaned up Great Lakes Areas of Concern?
  • More Chicago area decision makers are taking action on climate change

IISG water resource initiatives support classrooms and communities

September 26th, 2022 by

I’m proud to share with you some of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s (IISG) recent accomplishments, covering a few of the multitude of water resource issues that we focus on.  

First off, this summer, IISG completed our portion of a multi-state funded project to support stormwater management through green infrastructure activities at a very local level—in fact, this project is called One Block at a Time.

Working in Northwest Indiana, Kara Salazar, former Purdue faculty member Sara McMillan, and their team of interns and community collaborators helped install rainwater harvesting structures and accompanying rain gardens in Hammond and Michigan City. These installations support community resilience by providing more water to irrigate heavily used community gardens and managing rainwater on site to alleviate flooding and polluted runoff.

In high school classrooms, Andrew Coursey is helping teachers engage their students in a unique STEM education experience—through aquaponics. He has developed a curriculum and with donated equipment, helped nine Indiana teachers set up these systems in which fish and plants grow separately but interdependently.

Now, Andy is working with the Chicago High School for Agriculture, which has a grant to establish an aquaponics system on their large campus. At the other end of the spectrum, he is planning to adapt the curriculum for use in classrooms that do not have access to an aquaponic system.

Our upcoming issue of The Helm magazine highlights a climate planning survey in which an overwhelming 90% of responding local officials, natural resource managers, and other relevant professionals in the greater Chicago area in Illinois and Indiana reported that the climate in their location is changing.

This study, led by Veronica Fall, repeated a survey from 2012, providing insight into evolving attitudes and actions of local officials. Then, 61% of respondents reported that their local climate was changing. In terms of specific climate change concerns, in 2020, 76% said information related to flooding was extremely important, which is notably higher than 56% in 2012.

Another study described in the Helm focused on three Lake Michigan Areas of Concern (AOCs) to assess what drives revitalization in communities where contaminated waterways are cleaned up. Assistant Director Stuart Carlton was part of a team that undertook case studies of both Muskegon Lake and White Lake AOC communities in Michigan and those along the Grand Calumet River AOC in Indiana.

One factor that can make a difference is having large (or anchor) institutions, such as colleges or hospitals in communities. Local events, including art shows and festivals, that draw more people to the river or lake also drive revitalization. They can serve to celebrate success during the cleanup process, but also to change perceptions of the status of a waterway, which have a long history of being viewed by the public as polluted and degraded.

We also welcome new members to the IISG team.

Katie O’Reilly has joined IISG as an aquatic invasive species (AIS) specialist. She holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Notre Dame, engaging in her doctoral (and postdoctoral) research in the Stream and Wetland Ecology Laboratory. Katie has a strong presence on Twitter as @DrKatfish where she shares knowledge and enthusiasm for Great Lakes and other fish. Katie is also a previous IISG Knauss fellow.

Along with the rest of the AIS team, Katie will engage in outreach to raise awareness of the threat of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes and other water bodies.

Speaking of Great Lakes fish, our fisheries specialist, Mitch Zischke, has moved on to other opportunities and Peter Euclide, a Purdue University fisheries biologist, will step into this role, part time. His initial focus will be on continuing workshops with fishers in Illinois and Indiana to keep them informed on the latest Lake Michigan fishery research and issues facing the fishery.

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a partnership between NOAA, University of Illinois Extension, and Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources, bringing science together with communities for solutions that work. Sea Grant is a network of 34 science, education and outreach programs located in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Lake Champlain, Puerto Rico and Guam.

We are hiring an educator to help spread Great Lakes literacy

August 8th, 2022 by

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is looking to hire a Visiting Great Lakes Education Associate to help train teachers and other educators so that they can confidently share Great Lakes science with their students. This position involves meeting project objectives through planning, implementation and evaluation.

Specifically, responsibilities include:

  • Administering IISG’s programs that connect K-12 educators and their students to aquatic science and to Great Lakes scientists.
  • Conducting educational workshops to introduce IISG programs and resources to K-12 educators.
  • Managing a mini-grant program for educators including program promotion and solicitation, application review, and award notification.
  • Working with graphic designers, videographers, and web developers to create new resources or to modify existing ones to enhance programming.
  • Preparing data summaries and visualizations to demonstrate program impacts.

This is a full time, 12-month academic professional position with primary responsibility for managing, enhancing, and evaluating environmental education programming that supports Great Lakes literacy and the mission of IISG and University of Illinois Extension. The position will be located at 200 S. Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois.

To learn more about the position’s responsibilities and qualifications, visit the U of I job board. Applications are due by August 31, 2022.

Sea Grant resources help you enjoy the great outdoors safely and responsibly

July 20th, 2022 by

Summer brings us many of us outdoors, and so at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG), we turn some of our attention to providing data and guidance to help people make wise choices regarding recreational activities around Lake Michigan or other water bodies.

This is prime buoy season, and in early May, our new Chicago buoy was placed in the waters off Navy Pier, one of the busiest boating sites in the Great Lakes. This buoy is helping inform decisions for the Chicago office of the National Weather Service, as well as water recreationists, with real-time data of the lake’s conditions right there.

Chuoy, as it is fondly called, joins our two other yellow buoys in the waters near Wilmette, Illinois and Michigan City, Indiana—all three are overseen by Ben Szczygiel, our buoy specialist.

In addition to their benefits for forecasting and water safety, the buoys provide a useful research tool. In fact, a Purdue University researcher is using buoy data in his Sea Grant-funded study to assess changes in southern Lake Michigan water levels and wave conditions and potential impacts for shoreline management.

With Lake Michigan considered the most dangerous of the Great Lakes in terms of strong currents and, consequently, drownings, water safety is a priority for IISG.

Along with providing more buoy data, we have redesigned and enhanced the website, Lake Michigan Water Safety to include safety tips for swimming, boating, and fishing, both before heading out and while on or in the water. Also on the website, IISG’s Leslie Dorworth has compiled on-the-ground and online resources for beach managers and others looking to raise awareness and provide safety tips.

This year also kicked off a new research project to assess the impact of the Chicago Park District’s community water safety training and develop a swimming instruction program in Evanston, Illinois that will be adapted for implementation in other Chicago communities. A researcher from the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is leading a team focused on decreasing drownings at Lake Michigan beaches.

If you’re along the lakefront Labor Day weekend, look up! Our aquatic invasive species team is reaching audiences in new ways, including with an airplane banner. In the spirit of our Be A Hero campaign, the plane is flying a message reminding everyone to help prevent the spread of aquatic invaders.

Back indoors, summer is also intern season for IISG. This year, eight undergraduate students are assisting program specialists. Some of their tasks include working on rain garden design and implementation, invasive species outreach, youth education, and factsheet and video development. IISG is also collaborating with Shedd Aquarium to support an intern whose summer project is focused on neglected infrastructure in underserved Chicago neighborhoods. 

In other news, we recently announced a new video series that features five cities that are or were in Great Lakes Areas of Concern—Duluth, Buffalo, Sheboygan, Ashtabula, and Muskegon. Local waterways have undergone cleanup of extensive legacy pollution and the cities are now enjoying the benefits of this in terms of improved and increased recreation, tourism, housing, and business development.

Looking at the big picture, 2022 is Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s 40th anniversary. As we plan our celebration, we are also in the midst of strategic planning—assessing priorities for four more years. A perfect moment to look at how the program has evolved and grown over time and to ponder what we can do be the most impactful going forward.

Tomas Höök
Director, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant


Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

New video series highlights five revitalized Great Lakes Areas of Concern

June 29th, 2022 by

Many Great Lakes communities that have carried the burden of legacy pollution for decades have an opportunity for a new lease on life when local waterways are finally cleaned up. A new video series features five cities along waterways deemed Areas of Concern (AOCs) that are in various stages of the cleanup process and are experiencing revitalization.

Historically, the Great Lakes region was a center of industry—steel, leather and lumber, to name a few—that eventually shut down or moved elsewhere as economies and priorities changed. Left behind in these waters was a soup of contamination, leaving degraded waterways and depressed communities.

In the United States and Canada, dozens of sites were identified as AOCs in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and over the years, many have undergone remediation.

The U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) has provided leadership throughout the cleanup process, which involves dredging or capping contaminated sediment. Even before the cleanup and subsequent restoration, local agencies and organizations have a seat at the table to discuss processes and priorities.

Funding is often a partnership between the federal government, in the form of the Great Lakes Legacy Act (now through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative), and state, regional and local stakeholders.

The videos feature five cities—Duluth, Minnesota; Muskegon, Michigan; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Ashtabula, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York—that have had some or all of their contaminated sites cleaned up and ecosystems restored. Local government representatives, business owners and residents share the impact of this work on recreation, tourism, economic development, housing and quality of life in the area.

Video interviews revealed stories about rivers and lakes that have been brought back to life and are bringing people to the water.

For example, the Buffalo River is the new home of restaurants, microbreweries and a host of other new developments. Along the Sheboygan River or nearby, $60 million has been invested in housing with hundreds of new apartments, and the St. Louis River in the Duluth area has been designated a National Water Trail by the National Park Service.     

“Our motto is basically, if you clean it, they will come,” said Chris Korleski, EPA GLNPO director. “We’ll go in and dig up contaminated sediment, restore habitat and make that area a place where people actually want to go. This work restores the environment and promotes economic growth, but I think mostly it promotes a sense of community that was absent from that area.”

To learn more about the remediation, restoration and revitalization of Great Lakes Areas of Concern, visit

The Great Lakes Area of Concern Revitalization Video Series was produced by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Great Lakes Outreach Media.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Writer: Irene Miles
Contacts: Ashley Belle, Pat Charlebois

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