December 14th, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
June 1st, 2015 by iisg_superadmin
The latest edition of the UpClose
interview series takes readers behind-the-scenes of Great Lakes plastic research.
In 2012, chemist Lorena Rios-Mendoza
took part in the first-ever sampling of microplastics in the lakes, a project that revealed that Lake Erie has a higher concentration of minute particles than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Since then, she has led a number of studies to improve understanding of the chemicals that build up on the surface of microplastics and how photodegradation affects those chemicals and the plastics themselves.
UpClose with Lorena Rios-Mendoza is the tenth issue of the award-winning Q&A series that gives readers an insider’s view of research on emerging contaminants. The series kicked off in 2012 with Timothy Strathmann
, an environmental engineer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Later editions featured the work of John Kelly, a microbiologist at Loyola University Chicago, Rebecca Klaper
, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Dana Kolpin
and Barbara Mahler
Each interview highlights a unique component of emerging contaminant research—everything from tracing their source to understanding how they impact aquatic life. Readers also learn about the complex, and sometimes tricky, process of conducting field studies and the potential implications of research on industries and regulations.
October 16th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
During the summer of 2014 sixteen science teachers from all around the Great Lakes region spent a week on board the U.S. E.P.A ship R/V Lake Guardian on Lake Erie as part of the Shipboard and Shoreline Science Workshop. Sponsored by the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, Ohio Sea Grant, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, teachers were connected with scientists in first hand explorations of the ecology, geology, and bio-geochemical processes of Lake Erie.
Fifth grade middle school science teacher David Murduck was introduced to many ideas for his classroom and field activities from his experience on the research ship:
Although I knew the experience on the R/V Guardian
was going to be amazing, I never dreamed that the workshop would have such an impact on my students. Towards the beginning of the school year my class spends a lot of time learning about the importance of qualitative and quantitative observation. This year my students were able to apply their understanding of metric measurement while learning about the Great Lakes. Students were engaged in an activity where they had to use yarn to outline, label, and organize the shorelines of the Great Lakes to scale. After graphing the shoreline metric distances, students compared the total shoreline distances of the Great Lakes to the U.S. shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Students then compared and contrasted the size of the Great Lakes to the total volume of water each lake holds, the metric mass of commercial fish caught, and the human population surrounding each Great Lake. This activity enabled me to reinforce the importance of metric measurement as we used metric rulers, triple-beam balances, and graduated cylinders in class. This also set the stage for in-depth discussion of the Great Lakes and the problems they face.
As the year progressed, students learned more about the Great Lakes, and specifically the Lake Erie watershed that they live in. Students learned about research that scientists aboard the R/V Guardian were completing. Research included a study of native and invasive species by Ruth Briland of The Ohio State University, a study of the presence of plastics by Sam Mason from State University of New York, and a study of chemicals and E. coli bacteria by Steve Mauro from Gannon University. This led to a better understanding of the importance of water quality. Macro-invertebrate studies and the use of water quality monitoring equipment lent for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allowed real-world application as students studied water in local tributaries of the Lake Erie watershed.
Follow-up allowed students to complete individual in-depth research related to invasive species of the Great Lakes. This information was presented with the use of visual projects such as PowerPoint, dioramas, or posters in class.
Students then applied what they had learned throughout the year by participating in an important stewardship project. With a unique partnership between our school and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, students planted native oak trees for the park. Park ranger John DeMuth came to each 5thgrade science class and discussed how the invasive Privot plant forces out native plants along the Cuyahoga River. He explained that native plants have deeper root systems that hold the soil more securely and slow erosion of the river banks. He also explained that unlike the past when pollution was the main
problem in the Cuyahoga River watershed, invasive species are now the real concern.
In culmination, with the help of high school horticulture students from the Trumbull County Technical and Career Center and park rangers from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, my students learned teamwork as they used gloves, eye protection, and loppers supplied by the national park to cut and stack the invasive plants along the river bank. National park employees later use controlled use of herbicides on the stumps to kill the plants. What an amazing year!
September 15th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Even before zebra and quagga mussels arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s, the future looked a little bleak for native mussels. The invaders came close to wiping them out entirely. But small populations in Lake Erie appear to not only be surviving the invasion, but thriving.
Average density of native mussels before the arrival of zebra mussels was two per square meter in Lake St. Clair. By 1990, zebra mussel density was at 1,600 per square meter.
“By 1992, native mussel populations are almost gone from the southeastern portion of the lake and declining rapidly in the northwestern portion of the lake,” said [Dave] Zanatta, [a biologist at Central Michigan University].
By 1994, there were almost no native mussels left in the lake, with zebra now at 3,000+ per square meter.
“But there was reason for hope,” said Zanatta. “Remnant populations of native mussels were beginning to be found in coastal wetlands in western Lake Erie in the late 1990s.”
More recent research funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative also reveals that native mussels have maintained genetic diversity, a key to any species’ long-term survival.
Again from The Voice:
Zanatta’s research adds further evidence that progress continues to be made on one of the impairments of the St. Clair River – the degradation of fish and wildlife habitat – that led to its classification as an environmental Area of Concern in 1985.
His work also sheds light on the complex ecological impacts of invasive species generally.
With some environmental observers predicting a doomsday scenario for native game fish if Asian carp are able to establish themselves in the Great Lakes, for example, Zanatta’s mussel research suggests that the outlook for native fish might be significantly more positive than forecasts suggest.
To read the full article, click on the link above.
**Photo of zebra mussels courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant.
August 13th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
When researchers and the media talk about Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes, they are typically referring to bighead and silver carp, the two voracious phytoplankton eaters that are wreaking havoc in places like the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. But the species most likely to establish in Lake Erie may actually be a third member of the Asian carp family: grass carp.
From The Voice:
“Grass carp are a different kind of fish and pose different kinds of risk than bighead and silver carp,” said Jeff Tyson, administrator of the Lake Erie Fisheries Program Administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Tyson addressed a meeting of environmental writers at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab in Lake Erie on Aug. 18. “We know we have some grass carp in the system. Grass carp impact the system through their impacts on structure and vegetation. They consume huge amounts of vegetation.”
Grass carp could put Lake Erie at risk “by damaging habitats and damaging fish in communities given the documented reproduction of grass carp in large rivers,” according to the Ohio Asian Carp Tactical Plan, 2014-2020. “Grass carp can also decimate submersed aquatic vegetation that is critical to migrating waterfowl and other water birds.” Read more.
**Photo courtesy of Eric Engbretson, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bugwood.org.
August 6th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
The recent contamination of drinking water in Toledo, Ohio brought the risks of algal blooms center stage and raised serious concerns for the future. Questions on everybody’s mind are what are toxic algal blooms, what causes them, and what can we do? Michael Brennan, IISG’s water quality outreach specialist, has some answers:
Regional scientists have been concerned about algal blooms like the one we saw a few weeks ago for some time. Its unique conditions make western Lake Erie particularly susceptible to algae blooms, both toxic and non-toxic. Warm temperatures, shallow, slow-moving water, and excessive nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations create optimal conditions for algae to thrive during summer months.
Let’s step back a bit. Algal blooms are essentially overgrowths of algae triggered by excess concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus carried in stormwater runoff from lawns, leaky septic systems, golf courses, and agricultural fields to nearby waterbodies. The severity of a seasonal algal bloom is directly related to annual rainfall accumulation and the number of severe rainfall events
Non-toxic blooms occur all over the Great Lakes. Occasionally, the algae associated with blooms—a cyanobacteria—releases a toxin known as microcystin. This is the toxin responsible for contaminating the drinking water of over 500,000 people in the Toledo area.
But even non-toxic algal blooms are harmful. When rapid algal growth dies off, decomposition sucks oxygen out of the water, depriving freshwater organisms of the oxygen needed to survive. Decomposition also slowly releases nitrogen and phosphorus back to the water column, setting the stage for the cycle to start again next season.
There are no quick fixes in Lake Erie or any of the other lakes. But there are things we can do. Better stormwater management through green infrastructure is key. Unlike impervious surfaces, the plants and trees used in green infrastructure can absorb water and filter out pollutants before it reaches a waterbody.
Individuals can help prevent algal blooms as well. Homeowners and gardeners can adopt natural lawn and landscaping practices that conserve water and reduce stormwater runoff. Most of these practices are simple and cost-effective, like applying nitrogen fertilizer only in fall, removing weeds by pulling and hoeing, and limiting watering to the mornings and evenings.
**Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources
April 28th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Steve Mauro’s research into the impacts of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) on bacterial communities may have started as a small side project, but it has become so much more. The Gannon University dean gained national attention in 2011 when he and his research team discovered that small concentrations of fluoxetine are killing E. coli in the nearshore waters of Lake Erie. Today, Mauro continues to investigate exactly where and how fluoxetine and other pharmaceutical chemicals, both individually and combined, are changing the microbes that keep aquatic ecosystems healthy. And it is this work that brought IISG to his office bright and early on a June morning.
In this issue of UpClose, Mauro goes beyond his work on PPCPs to talk about the importance public outreach and about new efforts that are making it easier for forecasters and beach managers to predict when E. coli levels may make a trip to the beach more trouble than its worth.
April 16th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Asian carp may be getting a foothold in waters near Lake Erie according to recent water sample analysis.
“Multiple water samples taken from the Muskingum River last fall carried the environmental signature of bighead carp, an invasive species threatening the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. A report released Friday by the Nature Conservancy — in conjunction with the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and researchers from Central Michigan University — indicated 10 of the 222 samples from the river tested positive for bighead carp eDNA.
Asian carp have been established in the Ohio River for more than a decade, but these eDNA results indicate the fish could be present in the Muskingum some 80 miles north of where the Muskingum joins the Ohio at Marietta.
The Muskingum has a series of old dams and deteriorating locks, but if the genetic evidence is accurate, those have not provided a significant impediment to the carp moving up the river system.”
Read more about the findings at the link above.
March 12th, 2014 by iisg_superadmin
Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes that is most affected by toxic algal blooms, and finding the cause for them is the first step in reducing or preventing them. Scientists may be closer to understanding just what causes these harmful blooms.
“Algal blooms and dead zones in Lake Erie were severe during the 1960s, caused primarily by large releases of phosphorus from sewage and industrial plants. The 1972 federal Clean Water Act and the 1978 bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led to dramatic reductions in phosphorus from these sources and a rapid improvement in water quality.
Lake Erie, however, saw a reemergence of the algal blooms and the growth of the dead zone in the mid-1990s, and the problems are worsening. In 2011, for example, Lake Erie experienced its most severe bloom of toxic algae on record. Last fall a toxic algal bloom in the lake forced officials to shut off a public water supply system in Ohio.
The new studies, part of the Ecological Forecasting (EcoFore) Lake Erie project led by researchers at the University of Michigan, found that the current targets to reduce phosphorus to alleviate algal blooms in Lake Erie may not be low enough to revive the dead zone. That conclusion informed the International Joint Commission’s recommendations in February for improving Lake Erie’s water quality.
The findings, and those of other studies from across the Great Lakes region, are delivering an ever clearer picture of the specific causes of nonpoint phosphorus runoff, algal blooms, and dead zones. The basic drivers of these problems are no longer unknown. The new research fills a critical void in information that has been often cited as a reason that strict regulations on nonpoint pollution sources, including agriculture, were not regulated under the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.”
Read the complete article and findings at the link above.
While much of the press about a carp invasion in the Great Lakes has focused on the bighead and silver varieties of Asian carp, a new study is showing that grass carp are making their way into and threatening the Lakes as well.
“Grass carp, a plant-eating species of the invasive Asian carp family, have also been found spawning in Lake Erie and its many tributaries…
Though fears over invading Asian carp have largely centered on bighead and silver carp — which gulp down large amounts of plankton, the all-important food-source foundation for a healthy aquatic ecosystem — the new study suggests conservationists should pay attention to grass carp too.
Grasses are also an important nutritional source for native fish species, and as its name suggests, grass carp could prove detrimental in that department.
The U.S. government has already spent upwards of $200 million trying to slow the encroachment of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. Many worry their growing presence will turn the Great Lakes into one giant carp pond — ruining ecological diversity and the multi-billion dollar fishing industry in the region. Regional authorities remain in discussion with federal agencies over further mitigation efforts.”
Read the complete article at the link above.