Plastics pollution report highlights latest research and brainstorming

August 16th, 2017 by

This year’s International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR) conference in Detroit, Michigan, was the most attended IAGLR conference ever, and IISG helped organize one of its popular sessions.

Sarah Zack, pollution prevention specialist, and Carolyn Foley, assistant research coordinator, along with Melissa Duhaime, a microbiologist at the University of Michigan, co-chaired a session titled “Plastics research in the Great Lakes: identifying gaps and facilitating collaboration.” This session was well-attended throughout the day, with as many as 70 people there for individual talks.

“While research on the effects of plastic contamination in the oceans has been building for some time, similar knowledge in freshwater systems is lacking,” said Zack. The talks in this session brought together recent studies, including citizen science initiatives, from the Great Lakes and beyond, looking at prevalence and impacts of plastics in waterways as well as some possible solutions to plastic contamination.

IISG hosted a discussion at the end of the day focused on microplastics, which are particles that are less than 5 millimeters in size, which is smaller than a pea. Microplastics, including beads, fragments, or fibers, are a major concern in the Great Lakes, as effects on fish and other members of the food web are not well known.

More than 20 conference attendees stuck around after a long day of talks. Fueled by snacks provided by Alliance for the Great Lakes, they shared their thoughts on microplastic-related datasets available to researchers and outreach specialists, defined the data that is needed to better understand the effects of microplastics in the Great Lakes, and listed organizations who are leading efforts to address this issue.

“Conferences are a great time to bring scientists together to brainstorm about the next great idea and to figure out where research gaps can be found,” said Zack.

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.

Sustainable communities intern helps Indiana protect natural resources

July 31st, 2013 by
As summer begins to wind down, so do IISG’s summer internships. For John Saltanovitz, though, working as an intern at Purdue University’s Sustainable Communities Extension Program is just the beginning. With a summer full of hands-on outreach experience under his belt, John plans to pursue a career as an environmental engineer so he can continue to help communities and organizations better use and conserve natural resources. 
Many of the issues surrounding community sustainability—such as land use planning, pollution prevention, and water conservation—were not new to John when he started working with IISG’s Kara Salazar earlier this summer. As a senior working towards a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science and a life-long resident of Northwest Indiana, he was even familiar with some outreach efforts already underway in the Lake Michigan region. His summer internship gave him a chance to apply what he has learned over the years and work firsthand with communities. 
“We hear a lot about sustainability in our classes and talk about what needs to be done” said John. “This internship gave me a chance to do something instead of just talk it. It’s really exciting to be working on things that you always said you wanted to do.” 
Much of his summer efforts went towards developing a guide for conducting “green” meetings and events. At the heart of the guide is a checklist of best practices that advise anyone planning or managing events, helping them make sustainable decisions. Some of these best practices include relying on public transportation, composting leftover food, and reducing waste. Throughout his internship, John worked directly with Purdue Extension educators and specialists, the guide’s primary audience, to determine what information they needed and develop the checklist. The Best Practices Guide for Green Meetings and Events will soon be sent to Purdue Agriculture Communications for peer review and editing before publishing the finalized version through Extension. 
In addition to his work on the guide, John helped develop a new Purdue Master Gardener advanced training program for rain gardeners, provided content on education strategies for the Tipping Points and Indicators Project, contributed information to the new Sustainable Communities website, and led outreach activities at the IISG booth during the Wabash Riverfest in West Lafayette. He was also involved in planning for IAGLR, and joined three other IISG interns as a volunteer during the week-long conference.
“Through his enthusiasm, detailed work, and dedication, John has truly helped to advance new program offerings and education materials that will support sustainability programs in communities state-wide,” said Kara. “I look forward to continuing to work with John as we complete the peer review and editing process for the Best Practices Guide for Green Meetings and Events publication.”

Teachers and scientists give high marks to IISG’s Educator Day at IAGLR 2013

July 10th, 2013 by

From Robin Goettel, IISG associate director for education:

Scientists and teachers had a unique opportunity to interact, network, and connect research with education during The Center for Great Lakes Literacy’s Educator Day at last month’s IAGLR 2013 conference in West Lafayette, Indiana. Among the many goals of the IISG-coordinated session, providing opportunities for teachers to share their science education needs with researchers and identifying ways to incorporate the latest Great Lakes research into their lesson plans were high priorities.  

The exchange of ideas was not only productive, but was a welcome and highly valued experience for all of the participants. The feedback received from both researchers and educators was outstanding, and offered a number of suggestions to guide another session like this in the future. 

Said one teacher of the event, “I was impressed! My experience with IAGLR exceeded my expectations. I was hoping to simply gather more information to ‘grow’ my Great Lakes curriculum. However, I was able to network with other teachers and scientists which I found so much more valuable than walking away with a stack of Great Lakes lesson plans.” 

Another educator was grateful for the opportunity to meet and talk to working researchers. “I am very thankful for the chance to interact with professionals in the field. Not only does attending scientific conferences refresh learned concepts, but allows for new learning, insight, and expansion of awareness. It also provided fresh ideas for project-based learning and the opportunity to network with potential collaborators.” 

The participating scientists were also glad to brainstorm ways that their work could be incorporated into classroom lessons.

“I always enjoy talking with teachers who are ‘in the trenches’ with younger students. They are faced with a different set of challenges (and opportunities) than we have at the college level. It was nice to hear that there are current efforts to better integrate math and science. It was also interesting to hear what teachers introduce in their classrooms to motivate and engage students in STEM areas.” 


IISG interns relate their IAGLR 2013 experiences

June 10th, 2013 by

Three of IISG’s interns were among the hundreds of scientists, researchers, educators, and more in attendance at last week’s IAGLR 2013 conference. Each of them wrote in to tell us more about their experiences at the conference, and some interesting things they took away from the sessions. 

Emily Anderson, interning with IISG’s environmental social scientist Caitie McCoy, learned more about the major issues facing the Great Lakes: 
“During the week I spent at the IAGLR conference I gained a greater understanding of how researchers, policy makers, and citizens alike have to be included in the conversation for the Great Lakes to be restored, conserved, and used sustainably. Through the talks I attended I learned a lot about how harmful algal blooms, personal medications, and impermeable surfaces can affect the health of the Great Lakes, but what I found most interesting was witnessing the cooperative efforts between the United States and Canada. I found it so encouraging to watch as representatives from the two countries shared data and other resources to face the challenges affecting the health of the Great Lakes region jointly. The IAGLR conference was a magical experience for me; I saw with my own two eyes the genesis of future policy and research. Most importantly for my position as an IISG intern, I now understand where Sea Grant fits into the equation of Great Lakes protection with research, education, and outreach.”
Allison Neubauer, a Great Lakes education intern working with IISG’s Kristin TePas, was aware of a number of environmental issues, but was still surprised to learn about the wide range of current and potential problems facing the Great Lakes:
“The greatest take-away from my week at IAGLR would have to be the myriad issues affecting the Great Lakes, and the critical importance of continued research and education to addressing them. In spite of my general understanding of environmental science and the Great Lakes, I was woefully under-informed about the more-than-50 different issues that had entire sessions devoted to them.
For this reason, my favorite part was sitting in on the educator-scientist roundtable discussion. The goal was to bring real issues into the classroom with place-based learning. Teachers and researchers alike proposed many exciting ideas for incorporating Great Lakes research into science lessons. It was awesome to see how enthusiastic educators were about collaborating with scientists and going the extra mile to make science more relevant and fun for students. In my mind this was the most important facet of the IAGLR conference because students need to be exposed to real, current issues surrounding them and affecting the vital resources of the Great Lakes. I think this collaborative effort could spark career-building education for future scientists and very possibly inspire them to be Great Lakes researchers giving their own talks at an IAGLR conference years from now.”
Cait Lackey, who will be working with Greg Hitzroth and the IISG aquatic invasive species team, was excited to learn more about the many areas where Sea Grant works to help protect and preserve the Great Lakes: 
“Prior to the IAGLR conference my knowledge about the Great Lakes was limited. At the conference I learned that there are a multitude of issues facing the Great Lakes, many of which I wasn’t familiar with. Some of my favorites included the effects that the Great Lakes have on tourism, marketing strategies for invasive species in the Great Lakes, and the use of landscape architecture for restoration ecology.
At IAGLR I also learned about the various roles Sea Grant plays in protecting the health of the Great Lakes. Just from meeting other Sea Grant employees and interns and hearing some of their presentations, I learned that the Sea Grant staff works to educate many people and audiences including teachers, students, fisherman, local residents, and retailers. I also learned that Sea Grant staff works to research and present solutions to problems the Great Lakes currently face. I had the opportunity to see presentations given by Sea Grant Staff that involved a great deal of research and development, and attending the IAGLR conference showed me that the work Sea Grant participates in is detailed, diverse, and at times very challenging.”
Find out more about IAGLR and the annual conference at the link above, and follow IAGLR on Twitter as well.

IAGLR Day 3: Great Lakes get low grades on basin health report card

June 5th, 2013 by

IISG’s science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post: 

“The Great Lakes got their report card this morning during a three-part presentation by members of the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC). It wasn’t good. In two of the three categories used to evaluate the health of the basin—water quality, aquatic wildlife, and landscapes and natural processes—the lakes were declared ‘fair and deteriorating.’ It was only in the third category, which covers things like habitat restoration and land use, that the region showed clear signs of overall improvement. 

Most of the drivers behind worsening water quality and wildlife health likely sounded familiar to everyone in the room. Clodophora, a green algae common in the region, is washing up on more and more shorelines and threatening drinking water. New contaminants are being introduced to aquatic ecosystems. Invasive species are out-competing native fish and permanently changing the food web. And coastal wetlands used by fish for spawning are disappearing. 
What was not as familiar, at least to me, were concerns over the spread of nutrients throughout the lake. In recent years, nutrients that are carried into the lakes in stormwater runoff, like phosphorus, have built up along the coastline instead of being pushed to deeper waters. In nearshore waters, these trapped nutrients mean more algae; so much more that it can block sunlight and reduce oxygen that fish and other wildlife need to survive. Offshore, though, the loss of nutrients means that there is not enough phytoplankton for wildlife to feed on. Paul Horvatin, one of the presenters, told the room that it is still unclear why the nutrients are not moving as they should. 
But there were some improvements over past years. The most notable to me was the growing number of restoration and dam removal projects that are opening up new waterways for fish to spawn, restoring the natural flow of rivers and tributaries, and reconnecting habitats, some of which have been divided for close to 100 years. The region has also seen improvements in land use practices, such as reforestation and increased reliance on green infrastructure. Extensive development and agriculture in the southern part of the Great Lakes basin, though, have caused enough damage in the past that more modern changes to land use practices and policies will take time to really show results. These ecosystems are more stressed then their northern counterparts and will require ongoing restoration and impact mitigation.”

IAGLR Day 2: Lowdown on Great Lakes water levels

June 4th, 2013 by
IISG’s science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post: 
“It was during a presentation today on the impacts of climate change to water levels that I learned a startling fact: Lake Erie’s water level trends have in essence made a 180 degree turn. Historically, water levels in the Great Lakes are at their highest in summer when increased rain and stormwater runoff add more water to the lakes than they lose to evaporation, and levels are lowest in the winter months. In recent decades, though, this trend has been reversing, leaving water levels higher in January than they are in June. 
According to data collected by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL), one of the biggest driving forces behind this shift is increased evaporation over the lake during the hot summer months. 
Evaporation is also a primary culprit in Lake Superior’s falling water levels. Here, though, warmer water temperatures that mean less ice in winter are causing greater evaporation across seasons. And less water is entering the lake from rain and stormwater runoff.
The story is different still in Lakes Michigan and Huron, where water levels reached an all-time low in the 1990s and have largely stayed there since. 
Of course, there is still some variation in water levels year over year. The water in Lake Erie, in fact, rose by almost 3 feet over the course of just four months in 2011. But these jumps, as the presentation attendees were told, appear to be the exception to the rule. In these three lakes, water levels are trending down.”

IISG’s science writer reports in from IAGLR 2013 – Day 1

June 3rd, 2013 by
IISG’s science writer, Anjanette Riley, is at the 2013 International Association for Great Lakes Research conference at Purdue University. She’ll be blogging from the sessions all week providing an inside look at the newest research on the health of the Great Lakes. Here’s today’s post:  

“There is more food for Asian carp in Lake Michigan than people thought. In a morning filled with new insights into these invasive species’ biology and potential impact in the Great Lakes, this fact rang the loudest for me. I have read some of the research in recent years speculating that Asian carp could not survive in much of the Great Lakes, which have less of the phytoplankton and zooplankton than the ravenous eaters need. What my fellow session attendees and I learned this morning, though, is that the plankton population has been underestimated. There are more–much more–of the smallest species living in the nearshore waters of Lake Michigan than previously believed. 

According to researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey, the cause of the miscalculation is a common testing method that uses a filter too large to trap many of the microscopic species in the lake. Additional testing measures show that the number of some plankton species found in the lake is roughly the same as in rivers where Asian carp are known to thrive, like the Ohio and Missouri Rivers. And there are plankton species in the lake that are not found in many of these waterways. Taken together, this means that likelihood that Asian carp can make Lake Michigan their home may be higher than previous data has indicated. 
The session this morning also taught me that carp will branch away from their favorite dish to eat the particulates from decomposed animals and plants that line the floors of lakes and rivers. These exist in much higher numbers than plankton and their stock is continuously replenished as aquatic matter dies. Although it is still unknown whether Asian carp would choose this food over others (or eat it only when there is nothing else), this could mean that plankton in the Great Lakes may not have to bear the brunt of the carp’s huge diet alone if the invasive fish were ever to take up residence.”

Food web complexity one of several panel topics at upcoming 2013 IAGLR conference

May 22nd, 2013 by
Dozens of researchers and government representatives will come together next month to present the latest research on Lake Michigan’s ever-changing food web during the Conference on Great Lakes Research. The session, held June 3-4, will be chaired by IISG’s Tomas Hook, along with David Bunnell from the U.S. Geological Survey and Hank Vanderploeg from NOAA.  

Presentations will discuss a range of issues that help determine just what eats what in the lake. Several will focus on what happens to the diet of native species when invaders like quagga mussels, round goby, spiny water flea deplete food resources. Others will introduce how shifts in phosphorus and other nutrient levels may be behind recent changes at the bottom of the food web and compare the eating habits of forage fish over the last two decades. 


The session is a part of ongoing regional efforts to improve understanding of the complicated relationships between the many different microbes, plants, and animals that call Lake Michigan home. Since 2010, IISG and other partners in the Great Lakes Regional Research Information Network have funded several studies on the links that form the food web.  

“While researchers have been studying the Lake Michigan food-web for several decades, many of the interactions remain poorly described,” said Tomas. “And we are learning that there are very important regional differences in food web structures across Lake Michigan.”


In addition to serving as co-chair, Tomas will join researchers from across the Great Lakes to present the findings of three studies slated for the session. For a description of these and other presentations, visit the session schedule and click on the presentation titles.   

The International Association for Great Lakes Research’s (IAGLR) 56th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research is sponsored by IISG and Purdue University. To view the entire program, visit the conference website. 

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