Students learn stewardship and science along the Grand Calumet River

May 26th, 2017 by

Students from nearby schools are on their way to developing a “sense of place” for the Grand Calumet River after spending several hours at the Seidner Dune and Swale Nature Preserve engaged in learning and stewardship. The site in northwest Indiana is a recently restored natural area along the river and boasts of lupines, bald eagles, great egrets, crayfish and more.

Video by Abigail Bobrow,  IISG communication specialist

Sense of place is a social science concept that captures whether a person identifies with or feels an attachment to or dependence on a location, and it is predictive of future environmental stewardship at that site. Caitie Nigrelli, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant environmental social scientist, evaluated the students and found an increase in their sense of place for the natural area after their field trip.

On May 18, the Grand Calumet Stewardship Day, an annual event for the past five years, brought out students from Eggers Middle School and Bishop Noll High School, both in Hammond, Indiana, and 21st Century Charter School in Gary. The students visited four stations where scientists and experts guided them through bird watching, learning fish species, identifying macroinvertebrates, and planting oak trees.

“This is my first time actually walking around, looking at stuff,” said ninth-grade student Demondrick Velez from the 21st Century Charter School. “Is this my first time here? No, I’ve been here, but just not deep into it like this.”

At one point, the Grand Calumet River was considered the most polluted river in the nation. In recent years, with funding from the Great Lakes Legacy Act and local partners, the river is being cleaned up and restored. Altogether, two million cubic yards of sediment have been removed or capped. The work on the East Branch of the river, which is where Seidner Dune and Swale is located, is finished, with 1.1 million cubic yards of sediment remediated and 58 acres of marsh habitat restored.

Even during the river’s worst days, there were pockets of natural wonder.

“The Grand Calumet River is historically known as biologically diverse and it has very unique ecosystem associated with it. The globally rare dune and swale complex, which is next to the river, is globally rare. There is only about 17,000 acres left on the entire planet of this kind of habitat,” said Susan MiHalo, conservation coordinator at The Nature Conservancy, and organizer for this year’s event.

“I love that they’re bringing back the native plants and the native animals and they’re trying to get rid of the pollution. When I get older, even now if I can, I’m going to try to help so I can make it better too,” said Jamarion Evans, an Eggers Middle School student.

“We look forward to coordinating with the teachers to plan additional field trips that can further establish the students’ sense of place for the river,” said Nigrelli.

In addition to Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy, the stewardship day was hosted by the Shirley Heinze-Land Trust, Dunes Learning Center, City of Gary, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources,

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Chicago Region, Wildlife Habitat Council, and Urban Waters.

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

R/V Lake Guardian completes summer survey

November 11th, 2016 by


This post, written by Kathryn Meyer and Todd Nettesheim, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, originally appeared on the International Joint Commission website.

Out on the Great Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Guardian research vessel is not your typical ship.

It has the usual pilot house, cabin rooms, and galley, but this 180-foot research vessel has a few extra special features. Those include three onboard laboratories; a Rosette water sampler for measuring conductivity, temperature and depth; and multiple devices for sediment collection. These additions allow researchers to analyze water, sediment, and biological data while the Lake Guardian travels across the Great Lakes.

Also special is the collaborative group of scientists, from the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and other government agencies and universities, working onboard to collect and analyze samples to monitor the health of the Great Lakes. The overarching goal of the science performed onboard is to understand the chemical, physical, and biological changes in the lakes to help inform fishery and water quality managers.

The Lake Guardian is a floating laboratory essential to many Great Lakes long-term monitoring programs, with about 25 years of data collected since its first voyage on the lakes in 1991. Starting out on Lake Michigan, the ship samples the lakes twice a year as part of the routine spring and summer surveys. The ship weaves across each lake to reach specified sampling stations. Onboard, scientists and crew work around the clock to ensure that each station is sampled as the ship passes by Great Lakes icons including the Mackinac Bridge, Welland Canal, Soo Locks, and Isle Royale.

Other parts of the Great Lakes are sampled by the EPA’s research vessel Mudpuppy II, a 33-foot shallow vessel designed for studies to determine the nature and extent of contaminated sediment in Great Lakes nearshore areas.

In August, EPA scientists from GLNPO collaborated with scientists from Buffalo State, Cornell University, University of Chicago, and University of Minnesota-Duluth to complete the Lake Guardian’s 2016 Summer Survey.

The survey consists of 97 stations where scientists collect water, phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthos (invertebrates that live on the bottom of the lakes), and sediment samples. Each station starts with the Rosette sampler plunging into the water to retrieve water samples at different depths on the starboard side, while on the aft deck plankton nets are cast into the water.

On some stations, a ponar sampler also is dropped to the bottom of the lake to scoop up sediment and collect benthos. Once the samples are back onboard, they are either immediately analyzed in one of the ship’s labs or preserved for analysis on land. The water samples help to track nutrient concentrations among other water chemistry parameters. The biological samples help us track changes and better understand the lower food web in the lakes.

The month of sample collection and analysis, knowledge-sharing and comradery onboard the Lake Guardian highlights the shared commitment to protect the health of the Great Lakes.

For example, GLNPO began monitoring nutrient concentrations in Lake Erie in 1983 to assess the effectiveness of phosphorus load reduction programs initiated by the 1983 phosphorus load supplement to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). Data showed that the lake responded to the phosphorus load reductions and in-lake total phosphorus concentrations approached targets in the late 1980s. Our data also documented the re-eutrophication of Lake Erie that began in the early 1990s.

When the ship is not completing one of the long-term annual spring and summer surveys, the vessel supports additional monitoring efforts across the lakes. These include monitoring dissolved oxygen levels in Lake Erie and supporting collaborative science as part of the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) – a binational program established under the GLWQA. The US EPA and Environment and Climate Change Canada work with a broad array of partners to implement CSMI in fulfillment of GLWQA requirements.

This year, CSMI was focused in Lake Superior, where more than 200 water samples, 150 plankton nets, and 600 ponar grabs were performed across the lake to assess the long-term status of the lower food web. Each year, the Lake Guardian also serves as a floating classroom for educators throughout the Great Lakes thanks to programs run by the Center for Great Lakes Literacy.

Interested in learning more about the R/V Lake Guardian? Check out the EPA Great Lakes website. You can also check out information from one of our partners, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and the Lake Guardian Twitter page to stay up-to-date and see if she’s coming to a port near you.

Editor’s Note: There are 78 science vessels active in the Great Lakes, each more than 25 feet long, and smaller boats which assist conservation officers, scientists, educators and resource managers (See this interactive map). Over the years, these operators have formed the Great Lakes Association of Science Ships (GLASS), with 68 American and Canadian participating organizations networking and providing information about these vessels at

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

CGLL scientist spotlight: Tim Hoellein

October 4th, 2016 by

Every month, the Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL), a close partner with IISG, selects an outstanding scientist who embodies the CGLL mission and inspires people to take action to improve the health of the Great Lakes watershed.

This post originally appeared  on the CGLL website.

Tim Hoellein
Associate Professor
Research Institution: Loyola University Chicago
Home state: Illinois

 What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

My interest in ecology is firmly rooted in where I’m from. I grew up in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, near Erie, and later lived in Pittsburgh and went to college in Buckhannon, West Virginia. My experiences in natural areas were places like Presque Isle, Point State Park, and Seneca Rocks. These are some of the most beautiful places in the world. The lakes, hills, rivers, and four seasons speak directly towards a sense of identity for those of us from the area. It is a landscape of extremes, because this region also has a heritage of heavy industry. Manufacturing and mining are important components of our cultural identity and provide the basis for commerce and quality of life. However, the history of mineral extraction, manufacturing, and contaminant storage left a legacy of insidious pollution throughout the region. My motivation for research in water pollution is rooted in that view so common in the Great Lakes and western Pennsylvania: the green and blue of Presque Isle in one direction and the smoke and metal of Erie’s industrial waterfront in the other. My overarching career goal is to work towards a restoration of ecological integrity within the urban and industrial areas where we work and live.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

I study the interaction between common pollutants and the organisms living in streams and rivers of the Great Lakes region. Water quality in the lakes strongly depends on what we put into the tributaries. The pollutants I study include nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which when in excess contribute to noxious algae blooms in the lakes, and small plastic particles, which affect microorganisms, insects, and fish that sustain aquatic food webs. In particular, I’m interested in how those materials move through streams and rivers, and whether they can be broken down, processed, or retained in streams before they go downstream. This requires first determining the sources of nutrients and microplastic, then measuring the interactions with those materials and microorganisms active in decomposition, and then determining how far downstream the chemicals are transported and how they are incorporated into food webs.

Describe an experience you have had working with educators or the community. What was something that surprised you or that you especially enjoyed about the experience?

I was fortunate to spend a week on Lake Michigan aboard the research vessel Lake Guardian, with a group of teachers from throughout the Great Lakes. We collected samples from the surface water and sediment throughout the lake, and I walked the teachers through the process of isolating plastic particles, including digestions, filtration, and counting particles on the microscope. One of my favorite things about the experience was the enthusiasm that the teachers brought to topic, and how each of them used their own unique talents to come up with creative ways to explain our work in their classrooms. One of the teachers brought a video camera to interview me, detail the collection and counting processes, and give his students Tim_Hollein__boatand understanding of how and why we were doing this work. Another used video editing skills and a Go-Pro camera on the sampling equipment to put together fantastic videos of the devices we sent to the bottom of the lakes. This reinforced to me that teachers are at their best when they are using their talents, enthusiasm, and dedication to convey information in creative ways. I try to carry that spirit with me in my role as a teacher in the college classroom.

Why do you think it is important for scientists to share their research with educators?

In my role as a scientist and teacher, I’ve added to my focus on my studies and students, by looking for more creative ways to share the mission of my work, which includes community service, speaking with students of all ages, and engaging the general public and teachers whenever possible. I’ve found the time spent doing this spreads the message of the research to a broader audience, and deepens my appreciation for the career I’ve developed. Speaking with educators like those on the research cruise on the Lake Guardian was one of the best ways for me to communicate in this way, as the teachers can take that information to their schools and classrooms.

What do you think are the most critical skills for students interested in a career in science?

Science requires a combination of lots of different skills. There are the obvious ones like attention to detail, curiosity about the natural world in all its forms, and the ability to think logically.  One often overlooked ingredient for making a good scientist is an open mind with creative impulses. In order to make the step from one project to another, or the first step in a new project, a scientist has to come up with a new question to answer. This requires being interested in lots of different topics, being able to think about combining facts and ideas in new ways, and then creatively and carefully explaining those ideas to collaborators, funding sources, and students.

Contact Tim Hoellein at

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

Intern update: Abigail Petersen

August 19th, 2016 by

Abigail Petersen spent the summer as a community sustainability intern with IISG Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist Kara Salazar at Purdue Extension. Abigail graduated in May from the University of Illinois in natural resources and environmental sciences. She will be pursuing a Master’s degree in this fall in agriculture education at the University of Illinois.

Throughout the summer, I was able to see community development programs from the very beginning stages of curriculum development all the way through the final stages of implementation and training.

I had the opportunity to learn Purdue Extension’s processes and duties through observation and through being involved in the process, and I think the experience will contribute to my success in the future. This was truly an invaluable summer of experiences that has provided me with opportunities that have helped me shape my future career and also inform my future coursework.

One of the most prominent experiences I’ve had this summer was participating in the creation of the curriculum for the Health and Wellness and Enhancing the Built Environment Program. This program takes the Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces curriculum a step further by specifically focusing on improving health and wellness as a goal of enhancing public spaces through community input.

I attended two planning meetings where the team designed the curriculum and made major decisions about the direction of the program regarding the topics, theoretical frameworks, and resources. Sitting in on this process as well as making some minor contributions was a wonderful experience that will definitely help me in my future graduate school work and career path.

When returning to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to begin my Master’s in agriculture education, I will take these experiences with me and use the skills and knowledge I’ve gained to make informed decisions about curriculum design and development to make positive impacts in communities.

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

Middle schoolers get their hands wet at Peoria 4-H STEM camp

July 26th, 2016 by

At the start of July, IISG and the Illinois Water Resources Center took part in the annual 4G STEM Camp in Peoria, Illinois. The camp, coordinated by University of Illinois Extension 4-H and Bradley University, introduces seventh- and eighth-grade girls to careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The forty participants gladly retreated from the hot sun and humid weather to a Bradley University laboratory to learn about green infrastructure, a water management approach the city of Peoria is relying on to help with its combined sewer overflow (CSO) issues.

“What do you think this area looked like 500 years ago?” asked IISG and Illinois Water Resources Center Stormwater Specialist Eliana Brown who led the workshop.

Hands shot up as the campers described the prairies and forests they imagined once covered the land compared with the homes and businesses that make up the city today.


Tynasia McCalain, 12, acts a “rainmaker” as part of the workshop.

Brown’s point was driven home with the use of an activity that simulates the problems with developing land without providing a way to capture stormwater that otherwise washes into local waterways.

Using water, cups, and sponges as stand-ins for rainstorms, the Illinois River, and the Peoria landscape, the girls were able to draw parallels with the issues that Peoria is facing.

“There are many things happening in Peoria related to the river that engage city employees and landscape designers,” said Judy Schmidt, 4-H metro youth development educator at Illinois Extension and one of the camp’s organizers. “It seemed like a perfect time to engage the girls in discussions about how they are impacted by the quality of the water in the river and how they impact it as well.”


Illinois Water Resources Center intern Ashley Rice, center, helps out the campers with workshop.

Elizabeth Setti, who will be going into seventh grade at Washington Gifted School, came away from the session with a better understanding of the problems and the possible solutions.

“It was really interesting to see how we had new ideas to make the sewage not overflow,” Setti said. “I knew about the rain barrels, but I didn’t know about the rain gardens.”

It will take at least twenty years to come close to solving Peoria’s CSO concerns with green infrastructure, and with the right resources the girls can help with the effort.

“I want to empower them to transform their community and to be that generation that creates the change that has to happen. They have to be the ones to do it,” said Brown.

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

IISG “Hooks” IAGLR leadership

June 9th, 2016 by

IISG Associate Director of Research Tomas Höök has been elected president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) for the 2016-2017 term. IAGLR, which got its start in the 1950s, is an organization made up of scientists conducting research of large lakes throughout the world.

Höök, currently the vice president, has been member of the organization since his days in graduate school at the University of Michigan.

“We try to keep IAGLR functioning smoothly and facilitating exchange of research information regarding large lakes of the world,” said Höök. That said, we are also exploring opportunities to grow IAGLR. Specifically, we are seeking to hold meetings in addition to the annual conference on Great Lakes research. Ultimately, we hope to better connect Great Lakes researchers with environmental managers, communicators, and educators.”

This year’s IAGIAGLR_SessionsLR conference was held in Guelph, Ontario from June 6-10 and several IISG researchers presented and chaired sessions.

Jay Beugly, aquaculture ecology specialist, presented on the usefulness real-time buoy data provides to a variety of stakeholders, ranging from recreational boaters to weather service professionals in the southern basin of Lake Michigan. Fellow IISG collaborators Carolyn Foley, Angela Archer, and Tomas Höök, along with Cary Troy of Purdue University, and Ed Verhamme, of LimnoTech were also part of the project.

A presentation by Community Outreach Specialist Kristin TePas shared best management practices for setting up and conducting science-based videocalls with K-12 classrooms. She also co-chaired a session on Great Lakes education and outreach.

Carolyn Foley, assistant research coordinator, shared her work on the contribution and effects of different terrestrial nutrient sources on the diets of small-bodied fishes in nearshore Lake Michigan.

Paris Collingsworth, Great Lakes ecosystem specialist, presented findings from research derived from two programs that monitor phosphorus and chlorophyll in Lake Erie.  The goal was to paint a more complete picture of lower food web level dynamics. Collingsworth also co-chaired a session dedicated to ecological connections in Lake Michigan.

In addition to contributing to eight presented projects, Tomas Höök a co-chaired a session on the global stressors on large-lake ecosystems.

Peoria students bringing the bright side to the South Side

March 4th, 2016 by

Adrienne Gulley, IISG pollution prevention outreach specialist, meets with five enthusiastic high school students from Peoria, Illinois. Gulley brought along the “EnviroScape,” a plastic model she uses to demonstrate how pollution affects water quality. The students belong to the selective 4-H Spark Tank, a program developed by University of Illinois Extension. Their goal is to “change the face of the South Side of Peoria through a beautification project” by building a hoop house—similar to a greenhouse. The students plan to raise native Illinois plants and vegetables to distribute to the community. Construction kicks off this spring.

Students brave winter weather to study water quality

March 11th, 2015 by
Earlier this year, AP science students at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep traded in their textbooks for field equipment to study water quality in the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Hydrolab allows students to monitor water characteristics like dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity with sensors similar to those used by scientists at the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office. The teacher, Dianne Lebryk, borrowed the equipment through the Limno Loan program to help students better understand the connection between water quality and man-made landscapes. 

Several students wrote in to share their experiences working with the Hydrolab. We wrap things up today with Gayin Au. 

Under the circumstances of an extremely frosty cold weather, our environmental classmates were still very eager to head out and experience the Hydrolab. As soon as we reached the river by our school, we saw a lot of trash in the river. The water looked very dense and had a very dark green color. 

Two people were responsible for holding the Hydrolab since it was quite heavy. The others stood back to watch. I was surprised that we were able to get results really quick; at first I thought it would take a lot of time to process the information.

Goose poop, which is high in nitrate, dissolves and mixes into the water and plants use this nitrogen to keep them nice and fertilized. However, the river is also greatly harming the living things in it. The water lacked oxygen, meaning it will be more difficult for living things in there to survive. It also might mean there aren’t enough plants underwater to keep the normal level of oxygen up. It was greatly contaminated, and fish and other organisms will be affected, making them act unusually.  

The lab was really quick and useful. It showed us the oxygen level, how much algae is in there, how polluted the river is in general, and more. The river goes by so many things that can affect it. Human trash, fertilizer, and goose poop (common near our school thanks to large fields of grass) all affect the quality of water. 



Website of the week: Bringing science to life has never been so easy

January 28th, 2015 by

A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy. 

For over two years, the Limno Loan program has been shaking up science class across the Great Lakes region. Coordinated by IISG and the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, the program gives students an opportunity to collect water quality data from local waterways with the same kind of monitoring sensors used by scientist aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. 

And now, teachers can take their Hydrolab projects one step further with help from IISG’s new Limno Loan site. In addition to information about the equipment and the parameters it measures, the site provides lessons and activities to help teachers K-12 better integrate the Hydrolab into their aquatic science sections. 

The activities, most of which were created by educators who used the equipment in their own classrooms, focus on demonstrating the connections between water quality, aquatic food webs, and human activities. Sample water quality data sheets are also available. 
The website also provides a unique opportunity for classes to share their data and compare it to information collected by fellow students across the region. 

New activities will be added as they are developed, so be sure to check back later. You can also read more
 about how the Limno Loan program has helped improve student understanding of Great Lakes sciences in our Winter 2012 Helm

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