Intern Blog: Crystal Hall conducts research with USGS

October 10th, 2018 by

Crystal Hall is interning with Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) as a recent graduate of Purdue University Northwest (PNW) with a B.S. in Biology and a concentration in Ecology. Funded by IISG and mentored by Leslie Dorworth, an aquatic ecology specialist with IISG and PNW, Hall is positioned with the U.S. Geological Survey to carry out work that moves projects forward through IISG, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

When I started my internship working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise other than something with fish. To be honest, I still don’t fully know. Over the six months I have spent at USGS, I have learned a great deal of information and have gotten to know a wonderful group of people.

I have worked on several projects and learned new things from each:

Round Goby Mesocosm

The purpose of the round goby mesocosm project is to look at the shed and decay rates of round goby DNA in water and sediment. Several round goby were placed into a tank, and weekly water and sediment samples were taken for environmental DNA (eDNA). After a set amount of time, the round goby were removed and weekly water and sediment samples continued to be taken to see how long before no round goby DNA was detected. Throughout this project, I learned a lot about eDNA and how concentrations are different in water and sediment.


Crystal Hall sits at a work station, separating zebra mussels from quagga mussels

Hall separates zebra mussels from quagga mussels on June 4, 2018. (Photo U.S. Geological Survey)

On the Cladophora project, we deployed EXO2 water quality sondes in the Great Lakes and collected samples of dreissenid mussels and Cladophora algae from several depths and quadrants for biomass and nutrient processing. Researchers are seeking to understand the influence of phosphorus on Cladophora growth. I have learned to successfully identify zebra mussels from quagga mussels. And I’ve learned that it is not zebra mussels invading the Great Lakes anymore—it’s quagga mussels.

Area of Concern

We test for E. coli in the water at Whihala Beach and Hammond Port Authority, which are part of the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern. This information is used to notify the public of whether the beach is safe for swimming. Scientists used to test several other beaches in the area as well, but many were removed from the project because the water quality improved and met standards.

Artificial Reef

A year ago, an artificial reef was put in at Jeorse Park Beach by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of a large-scale restoration project for the beach. The U.S. Army Corps were hoping the reef would attract a number of native fish species that had once been in the area. In the artificial reef project I’m working on, I am assisting a master’s student with research that aims to see if this artificial reef has actually attracted native fish, or if round goby have colonized the reef since they’re attracted to rocky substrate.

Monthly water samples are taken and filtered for eDNA from several locations at Jeorse Park Beach, including surface water samples at the reef and water samples right above the substrate of the reef. After the sampling is complete, the DNA will be sequenced using fish primers for fish found in Lake Michigan to determine the composition of fish in the water based on the eDNA. Part of the project will be comparing the eDNA to traditional methods of monitoring (e.g., electroshocking).


I’ve learned so much. Before this internship, I knew nothing about freshwater reefs and artificial reefs. I didn’t know that breakwalls altered the flow of water in a way that can cause a buildup of E. coli and lead to unsafe water conditions. When I began my internship, everyone would talk about ongoing projects and try to inform me about the details of each one, but there was a lot that I didn’t understand. I’m proud to say that has changed, and now I am able to explain to others the projects we are doing, why we are conducting research in certain ways and what we are hoping to find.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to intern at USGS through Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and to work with a great group of people. I have definitely gotten more out of my internship than I was ever expecting, and while I still don’t know what I would like to do as a career choice, I’ve discovered that working on projects like these is certainly an option and something I very much enjoy.

Learn more about our internship opportunities online, or contact Angie Archer at (765)496-3722,

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

Knauss Fellowship takes Katherine Touzinsky around the world

January 15th, 2015 by

As the 2014 Knauss season wraps up, IISG-sponsored graduate student Katherine Touzinsky wrote in to update us on her work at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since we last heard from her in August. 

The last time I wrote for the IISG blog, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for how far the Knauss Fellowship had taken me—both figuratively through professional and personal development and literally by zig-zagging across the country. Since then, the travel and learning has not slowed down. I have eaten lunch on a dredging rig in the Gulf of Mexico, visited a research laboratory in Athens, Greece, attended a conference on deltas and climate change in the Netherlands, and explored the Everglades learning about the impending consequences of invasive species and climate change. 
The fellowship is now coming to a close, and the tides are changing at work. The open-ended learning ended a few months ago when I committed the majority of my time to a new and exciting project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Ever since the devastation of 2011, when over 14 weather and climate-related events—Hurricane Sandy being the most noteworthy—resulted in an unprecedented loss of lives and property, many federal agencies have begun their own investigation of climate change and disaster preparedness under the broad headline of “resilience.”
Resilience is an ambiguous word that can mean different things depending on the case and application, but most definitions include four key aspects: prepare, resist, recover, and adapt. Because the Corps is in charge of the nation’s water resources infrastructure, there is a huge need to investigate these concepts and research the best way to apply resilience to Corps policy and practice. I have been offered the opportunity to assist with much of this initial research. While it is intimidating to face such a huge issue and figure out how to recommend solutions for such a huge and venerable organization like the Corps, I wake up every day excited to learn more.
This coming February, we are working on a joint U.S. Army Corps and NOAA workshop to quantify resilience in Mobile Bay, AL. I will help test the method by working with community experts from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and the local port authorities to be vetted later this spring by the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board. 
Despite all of this excitement, I know that my Master’s thesis is still waiting for me.  Luckily, I have been given the opportunity to continue working in Washington D.C. at the Corps headquarter office and will work part-time on my thesis. I’m brainstorming possible locations to work on the thesis—it would be great to say that I wrote a chapter or two in the Library of Congress!
The Knauss Fellowship has been an unbelievable opportunity that continues to unfold! 

Knauss Fellow Katherine Touzinsky shares her experiences

August 4th, 2014 by
It’s been a few months since IISG-sponsored graduate students Sara Paver and Katherine Touzinsky began their Knauss fellowships. We were curious to hear about their experiences so far and thought you might be too. We heard from Sara a few weeks ago. This week we check-in with Katherine, an alum of Purdue University who is spending the year with the US Army Corps of Engineers.

“This year has been overwhelming, in a good way. I never thought I would find myself working for the US Army Corps of Engineers. That being said, I also can’t imagine a better fit for my Knauss Fellowship. I went to Purdue University as a fellow in the Ecological Sciences and Engineering (ESE) interdisciplinary program because, as an ecologist, I thought it would be valuable to gain insight into the way engineers and other scientists think. In addition to the courses and thesis work I completed in the Forestry Department at Purdue, the supplementary education I received through ESE was eye opening and fascinating. I loved the practice of big-picture thinking, and this year with the Corps has solidified that love. It has prompted intellectual growth and self-realization. I’m moving on from studying human-ecological invasive species interaction to thinking about nationwide systems like marine transportation, flood risk management, and how to prepare for an uncertain future. 

 Living in Washington, D.C. has been an amazing experience in itself. Not only is my job exciting, but I moved out to D.C. with 50 other Knauss fellows—a built-in network of brilliant and ambitious people who have a true passion for the environment and for communicating science to those outside of academia. It has been so exciting and valuable to get to know the other fellows because I know they are people who will stay in my network the rest of my life. When else do you get to move to a new city with 50 new friends to explore it with? 

In the past six months, I have spent a total of 11 weeks on the road—touring parts of our nation’s largest engineering projects that the public never sees, working on introducing new technologies to district projects, helping to facilitate workshops and conferences with environmentalists, regulatory personnel, and project directors from around the world, and learning about the staggering amount of resources and manpower involved in managing our waterway systems. 

I am currently writing this post in a coffee shop outside of Portland, Oregon (yes, the coffee is great). I spent the past two days touring both the Bonneville Dam and The Dalles on the Columbia River with five engineers from the Engineering Research and Development Center. We worked with the dam operators on addressing some research and development (R&D) solutions to issues they have at their project sites—from fish ladders, to corrosion, to wear and tear from boats and barges coming in and out of the navigation locks. R&D can address all of these problems, and big-picture thinking while planning R&D projects is the key to a sustainable future. The Portland District projects were breathtaking—two of the largest power generating dams in the country. 

August and September will bring trips to district projects in California and Hawaii and conferences in the Netherlands and Greece. I’m looking forward to what the next six months will bring. I truly can’t imagine a more exciting year.”

**Photo: Katherine standing near The Dalles navigation lock with Oregon’s Mt. Hood in the background.  

In the news: Lakes Michigan, Huron on the rise

March 11th, 2014 by
Water levels in the Great Lakes, especially the Lake Michigan and Huron combo, have been a concern in recent years. But with this winter’s heavy snow and ice coverage, the water levels of both lakes may rise as much as 14 inches this spring and summer. 
“This winter, the abundance of snow and near-record ice cover are the reasons for the rebound in water levels, according to Keith W. Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist with the Corps’ office in Detroit.
Snowfall around Lake Michigan is 30% higher than any time in the last decade, and ice cover on the lake is flirting with a record.
On Tuesday, ice on Lake Michigan reached 92.45%, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s the second highest level since the record of 93.1% in 1977…
But the winter of 2013-’14 can only have so much effect on the lakes. Water levels are cyclical and rise and fall due to a series of events over many months and years, Kompoltowicz said.
Even if the next six months mirrors the rainy spring of 2013, Kompoltowicz said, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron might reach within a few inches of the lakes’ long-term average. The Corps doesn’t make predictions beyond six months.”
Read more about the lake levels and the potential effects at the link above.

In the news: Visualizing some of the methods for keeping Asian carp out of the Lakes

February 4th, 2014 by
Following the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ report on Asian carp entering the Great Lakes (and methods to prevent them), there have been some articles looking more closely at the methods. 
From Quest
“Because of this, engineers have been encouraged to develop just about any solution to keep carp at bay — or out of one.

One such solution was the electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which was meant to keep Asian carp from swimming through the CAWS and into Lake Michigan. Of the identified 18 points of entry into the Great Lakes, the Army Corps believes the CAWS point is the most critical.

The barrier consists of three electrodes arranged in a line. These electrodes power a barrier much like an electric fence for dogs. Fish swimming into it receive an electric shock sufficient enough to stun them and keep them out — in theory. According to a report issued by the Army Corps in December, 2013, the barrier is effective against adult carp, but smaller fish of two to four inches long were able to find a loophole
…It’s a big risk to take when plans require billions in funding. Still, an appropriate plan may pay off in the long term. Recent studies suggest that controlling the spread of invasive species already present in the Great Lakes can cost up to $800 million annually.”
Read more about the options at the link above, including a large graphic that helps visualize some of the suggested methods for controlling or preventing Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

In the news: The long-term costs of Chicago’s connected waterways

January 15th, 2014 by
The most recent report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding invasive species and threats to the Great Lakes recommends a pricey but perhaps necessary project – separating the Chicago River and Lake Michigan from each other. 
From The Atlantic Cities
“Over the last decade or so, a huge range of interests — from environmental groups to fishermen to shipping experts to politicians — have raised the alarm over just how much this artificial connection has created an opening for invasive species such as the Asian carp to make their way through North America’s waterways. And the costs associated with the damage caused by these species have been high enough to prompt serious consideration of closing off the link between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.

How high? First, consider the figure $18 billion. That’s the estimate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released last week to re-insert a physical separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi system. The full report, the Great Lakes and Interbasin Mississippi River Study, was commissioned by Congress to address the growing threat of invasive species in the area known as the Chicago Area Waterway System. The final report details a wide spectrum of actions — ranging from essentially maintaining the status quo to engineering a complete separation over a 25-year period — but doesn’t offer recommendations on which course to take.”

Visit the link above for the complete article, which includes very interesting numbers related to the threat of invasive species (and the long-term costs of managing/controlling them if no action is taken).

Knauss Fellows head to D.C. to find and begin their new positions

December 13th, 2013 by
Two student applicants sponsored by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant were selected as Knauss fellowship winners this year, and last month they traveled to the nation’s capital to find their respective positions working on water resource and environmental issues. 
Katherine Touzinsky and Sara Paver both wrote in to update us on the positions they selected and the specific areas where they will be focusing their energies. 
“Placement week – what to say?” Katherine writes. “Over the course of three days, I had 17 interviews for different positions, and each and every one seemed like something I had dreamed up. It was one of the most stressful and exciting experiences I’ve ever had. 
I was placed as a navigation R&D advisor for the US Army Corps of Engineers. The US Army Corps of Engineers provides vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters. I get to take a leadership role in research and development by helping to manage a national R&D agenda, make decisions about technical approaches, and integrate technical teams from federal, academic, and industry sectors. And I’ll get to actively participate in actual research projects too. For at least one week each month, I will be traveling to national DoD labs to meet scientists, get to know their research, and work to make connections between them and other governmental and non-governmental sectors.
I’m in the second year of my master’s program in ecological sciences and engineering (ESE). My thesis work is on the plasticity of Asian carp between the Illinois and Wabash Rivers, and I’ve been lucky enough to work closely with bowfisherman through most of my Asian sampling and extension activities. Right now I’m trying to choose whether or not I will continue on for my PhD and if so, on what topic. I’ve gained some crucial insight on my interests through working with ESE – what I love about ecology is studying interactions and, more broadly, systems. I’m so excited about the Knauss Fellowship year because it is going to let me get a bird’s eye view of the intersections between high-level government, scientists and researchers, the ecology of specific areas, and end users (fisherman, recreationalists, commercial operators, etc.).”
Sara also found placement week to be quite the experience. “Knauss placement week was a fun, speed-dating-esque marathon. It provided an amazing opportunity to get a glimpse of the breadth of work being done within NOAA and other host agencies. I really enjoyed meeting and talking with representatives from various host offices as well as incoming, current, and former fellows.

I selected a position at the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences. Part of my responsibilities will be to facilitate peer review and award decisions for proposals submitted to the Ocean Section, including the Coastal Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (Coastal SEES) program.  I am really excited to be exposed to cutting-edge research and to see the grant review process first hand. I think that reading and participating in the review of the Coastal SEES proposals will be particularly enlightening due to their interdisciplinary nature.

I am graduating in December with a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, having studied aquatic microbial ecology in Dr. Angela Kent’s lab. I am looking forward to broadening my understanding of how policy and the needs of society influence science and how science, in turn, informs policy. I plan to return to microbial ecology research armed with this knowledge following my year as a fellow.”
To learn more about the fellowship program, visit the National Sea Grant College Program Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship website. And to find out about all of the fellowships available to undergraduate, graduate, and post-grad students, visit our fellowship page.

In the news: Illinois senators help strengthen the state’s Asian carp prevention efforts

July 24th, 2013 by

Senators Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois recently passed an amendment that would prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from moving critical invasive species prevention functions out of their current Chicago location .

From CBC News:

“An amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill has passed and prevents the removal of critical functions and staff from the District Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago. The Windy City is home of the frontline fight against Asian carp entering the Great Lakes.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat, proposed the amendment after U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to move Chicago district office functions to Detroit.

The senators believe the move, had it been made, would have potentially affected more than 200 employees who oversee projects such as Asian carp electric barriers and Chicago locks and dams designed to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.”

Read the complete article at the link above to learn more. 

New section of Grand Calumet river restoration work begins

May 6th, 2013 by
Dredging and restoration work on another section of the Grand Calumet river is set to begin this spring, removing more than one million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river bottom and rebuilding local wetlands. 
Caitie McCoy, IISG’s environmental social scientist, provides some more information about the upcoming work: 
“Work will start April 22 on a project that will dredge (remove) or cap (isolate from the ecosystem) 1.2 million cubic yards of river bottom sediment contaminated with PAHs, oil & grease, PCBs, and heavy metals like cadmium and copper. Volume-wise, this would fill about 300 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Along with restoration of more than 50 acres of wetland habitat, this work will take place for approximately three years from Kennedy Ave to Cline Ave…

This work is funded by US Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana Department of Environment, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Shirley-Heinze Land Trust, Save the Dunes, municipalities, and other local and federal partners. The US Army Corps has also begun dredging in the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, and is on track to dredge 300,000 cubic yards through August this year.”

This editorial in the Times of Northwest Indiana provides more information about the project. 
Skip to content