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 specialists among the presenters scheduled for next week’s IAGLR 2013 conference

May 30th, 2013 by
IISG staffers will join hundreds of scientists, environmentalists, and government representatives June 2-6 at the Conference on Great Lakes Research. Spread across each day of the conference, their presentations will cover vital work on Sea Grant education initiatives, new tools that help officials protect aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes region, and more.
Robin Goettel and Terri Hallesy will kick things off Tuesday morning with a close look at education strategies that improve Great Lakes literacy. Later in the session, Caitie McCoy will discuss a program piloted last year at two schools near the Grand Calumet River. The program was designed to teach students living in Areas of Concern about the science behind restoration projects. Attendees will also hear from Terri and others about Undo the Chemical Brew, a project that has collected 2.7 million unwanted pharmaceutical pills for safe disposal since 2010. 

On Wednesday, members of the AIS outreach team will talk about resources they’ve developed to help water gardeners avoid invasive plants that are likely to spread in the Great Lakes. The resources are part of a larger effort to develop and implement risk assessment tools that can be used by resource managers and policy-makers to determine which commercially-sold aquatic species pose the greatest threat to the region. 
IISG members will also be a part of several presentations on Wednesday and Thursday about environmental indicators communities can use to make sustainable land-use decisions. During the session, Brian Miller, Kristin TePas, and Marty Jaffe will introduce two web-based tools that help officials understand land use impacts on local aquatic environments and take steps towards securing the long-term health of the region’s natural resources. 
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

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. 

IAGLR 2013 panels to focus on new and historic contaminants

May 15th, 2013 by

IISG’s Laura Kammin will co-chair a two-part session on the impacts and management of contaminants at this year’s Conference on Great Lakes Research, June 2-6 at Purdue University. Researchers will present on a range of issues, including contaminant testing, impacts to wildlife, and pollution trends over time. With 24 presentations spread over two days from researchers, resource managers, and industry representatives, it will be the conference’s largest session. 

Presentations begin on June 5 with new research on pollutants that are a longstanding problem in the Great Lakes region, including PCBs, mercury, and chemicals used in driveway sealants. Research on these legacy contaminants will focus on their concentrations, dispersal, and environmental impacts in the years after federal regulations barred their use. 
Day two of the session is dedicated to emerging contaminants, which have more recently been detected in the Great Lakes. Among the presentations is a study that found flame retardant in the eggs of herring gulls exposed to the pollutant. Other presentations will introduce techniques for identifying new contaminants, the impacts of pharmaceutical hormones on fish, and changes in bacterial communities caused by a common nanomaterial. 
“The sheer number of contaminants and breadth of potential impacts makes sessions like these very important,” said Kammin, IISG pollution prevention program specialist. “To truly improve the health of the lakes, we must have a better understanding of these legacy and emerging contaminants.” 
Additional session co-chairs include Marta Venier, Maria Sepulveda, and Bernard Crimmins. 
Prior to the session, 15 researchers and students will also present findings related to legacy and emerging contaminants during the conference poster session on June 4. 
The International Association for Great Lakes Research’s (IAGLR) 56th Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research is sponsored by IISG and Purdue University. The four-day program includes research sessions, panel discussions, keynote speakers, and workshops on a variety of topics. To view the entire program, visit the conference website. 
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