Great Lakes researchers gathering to share latest findings and future ideas

On April 1 and 2, members of the GLRRIN Lake Michigan network are gathering for a bi-annual research meeting to discuss pressing issues facing Lake Michigan food webs, such as aquatic invasive species and climate change. Attendees have various backgrounds, but include university partners (e.g., Purdue University, Notre Dame) and federal and state agencies (e.g. NOAA, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, International Joint Commission). The meeting is convened by representatives from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Michigan Sea Grant, Wisconsin Sea Grant the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, and the USGS Great Lakes Science Center.

Presentations and information from IISG researchers will include work on nutrient levels, fisheries, aquatic invasive species, contaminants (existing and emerging), climate change, and additional areas. 

Both days will be available online as a webinar, but space is limited. You can register for day 1 here and day 2 here

For more information about ongoing Great Lakes research projects, recent findings, and previous meetings, contact IISG’s Carolyn Foley and Tomas Höök.


In the news: Refinery malfunction allows some oil to spill into Lake Michigan

A malfunction at an Indiana refinery allowed oil to spill into Lake Michigan, but officials report that there appear to be no negative effects on the lake. 

"It remains unclear how much oil spilled into the lake or how long the discharge continued. Workers at the refinery reported an oil sheen on the water about 4:30 p.m. Monday, and an official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the leak was plugged by the time he arrived at 9 p.m.

Mike Beslow, the EPA’s emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Initial reports suggest that strong winds pushed most of the oil toward a sandy cove on BP’s property between the refinery and an Arcelor Mittal steel mill. A flyover Tuesday afternoon revealed no visible oil beyond booms laid on the water to prevent the oil from spreading, Beslow said.

'There is no known impact to wildlife or human health at this time,' Beslow said.

Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect, said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman. Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore."
Read the complete article at the link above.


In the news: Taking the Asian carp fight right to the fryer

Eating Asian carp as a management strategy for the invasive species isn’t exactly a new idea, but support is growing especially in Peoria and along the Illinois River. 

From the Peoria Journal-Star
"The swarms of Asian carp that infest the Illinois River may not want to hear this, but they’re good to eat.

Clint Carter from Carter’s Fish Market in Springfield demonstrated that as he prepared a carp taste test on Tuesday at Dixon Seafood Shoppe, 1807 W. Main St. in East Peoria. 

After demonstrating how to slice a boneless filet off the whole fish, Carter fried up samples in Dixon’s kitchen. “I’m trying to find ways to get people to enjoy this fish,” he said. 

Taking note of Carter’s preparations were Mike White of Whitey’s BBQ in East Peoria and Jeff Westbay of the Bass Pro Shop, both planning to take part in the first annual Flying Fish Festival planned on the Illinois River here July 11-12. 

Along with a bowfishing tournament expected to draw some of the country’s top archers to target the high-flying fish, the festival will also offer Asian carp food samples, said John Hamann, rural economic development director for Peoria County."
Read the complete article at the link above.


In the news: National survey reveals climate change concerns among coastal professionals

Oregon Sea Grant led the charge on a recently complete climate change survey looking into information and attitudes about the subject among coastal professionals. Oregon was joined by Illinois-Indiana, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington’s Sea Grant programs in compiling the information. 

"Three quarters of coastal professionals surveyed - and 70% of all participants - said they believe that the climate in their area is changing—a marked contrast to results of some national surveys of the broader American public which have found diverse and even polarized views about climate change and global warming.

The Sea Grant survey was developed to understand what coastal/resource professionals and elected officials think about climate change, where their communities stand in planning for climate adaptation and what kinds of information they need, said project leader Joe Cone, assistant director of Oregon Sea Grant.  Sea Grant programs in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois-Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington—states that represent most of NOAA's coastal regions—took part, administering the survey at various times between January 2012 and November 2013. 

Among 30 questions, survey participants were asked how informed they felt about climate change in their area and whether they thought that the climate in their area is changing. Participants identified where their agencies and communities stood in planning to adapt to climate change, and hurdles they have encountered and overcome. They also identified climate-related topics important to their work and how much information they had about those topics."
Read the complete article at the link above.


In the news: Grand Calumet AOC project, harbor dredging resume

Harbor dredging in Indiana, part of the cleanup efforts in the Grand Calumet Area of Concern, is set to resume next month. 

"Since 2012, the project has dredged roughly 400,000 cubic yards of sediment out of an estimated backlog of 1.6 million cubic yards and stored it in a confined disposal facility. Prior to 2012, dredging hadn’t occurred in 40 years because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that the previous open-water disposal method was unacceptable.

The canal is part of the EPA’s Grand Calumet River Area of Concern because of its historical contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycylclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals.

Aaron Harke, a project manager with the Durocher Marine division of Kokosing, said the dredging start date depends on ice conditions on Lake Michigan. A boat that is used in the project is moored in Chicago with no way to get it to East Chicago, he said."
Read more about the continued work on this AOC at the link above. 

*Note: This project is concurrent with but not related to ongoing cleanup work in the Grand Calumet AOC being performed by the U.S. EPA and its Great Lakes Legacy Act partners


New aquatic ecology specialist joins IISG

Jay Beugly has joined the team as IISG’s newest aquatic ecology specialist. Located a Purdue University, he works closely with our research team to increase public awareness of the Michigan City nearshore buoy and help boaters, anglers, and beachgoers make use of the data. He also helps coordinate research and outreach activities on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. 
Jay has a Master’s degree in biology from Ball State University, where his work on river and stream ecology earned him the 2009 Outstanding Graduate Student in Fisheries Award. He is currently working towards a PhD in aquatic community ecology.


U of I course combines social science, urban planning, and sediment remediation

A group of urban planning graduate students from University of Illinois have just returned from Milwaukee—but this wasn't your typical weekend excursion. They spent their time interviewing government employees, business owners, members of the community, and others affected by clean-up efforts on the Milwaukee Estuary, where industrial toxins threaten water quality and aquatic wildlife. And the information they collected will go a long way to ensuring that future restoration and remediation projects across the region leave nearby communities stronger than they were before. 

It is all a part of an IISG-funded project investigating the relationship between sediment removal projects and a community’s vulnerability to environmental hazards like natural disasters, pollution, and changing weather patterns. Social vulnerability depends on a lot of factors—average income, education levels, public engagement, and more. Using the Milwaukee Estuary and Grand Calumet Areas of Concern as models, U of I researchers Bethany Cutts and Andrew Greenlee are investigating how these factors change—for better or worse—when a community becomes involved in sediment removal projects. 

This project stands apart from much of the research on community vulnerability. It is localized, focused on vulnerability over time, and supplements census data with qualitative information on community attitudes and perceptions of remediation. Because of these differences, its results will be a significant boost to the tool government agencies currently use to determine and reduce social vulnerability, the Social Vulnerability Index. Cutts and Greenlee are calling their tool the Social Vulnerability Index Plus (SoVI+). 

When it is done, SoVI+ will help groups involved in remediation, including IISG, better prepare communities for the aspects of cleanup that may increase vulnerability—like restricted road access and heavy truck traffic. EPA could also use the new tool to prioritize sediment remediation in areas where it will be most beneficial.   

Work is just beginning, but the project promises a lot of data collection and analysis over the next few years. That is where the students come in. They are all part of the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity, an inter-departmental course focused on identifying historical demographic changes in the researched regions, as well as developing and piloting interview strategies that Cutts and Greenlee will continue to use well after the course is complete. Beyond being a big step forward for the research project, the workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to be a part of the design and implementation of a multidisciplinary, mixed-method research project—what one student called “the holy grail” of research. Situated at the intersection of social and economic shifts, environmental restoration, planning, and policy, the course and the research can have tremendous benefits for ongoing and future remediation projects and the coastal communities. 

Photo A: Natalie Prochaska, Juliana Wilhoit, Andrew Greenlee, Annie Contractor, Vinisha Doshi, Nancy Smebak, and Rachel Wilson take a break from their work in Milwaukee. (Not pictured: urban planning graduate student and workshop member Carolina Chantrille.)

Photo B: U of I students take part in a “Ski the AOC” event to learn more about ongoing remediation efforts and the community.


New pollution prevention outreach position now accepting applications

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is seeking a pollution prevention outreach specialist to help advance our pharmaceutical and personal care products program. The selected applicant will be tasked with creating outreach materials, helping interested communities establish pharmaceutical take-back programs, and maintaining unwantedmeds.org and the program’s social media platforms. The pollution prevention specialist will also represent IISG at outreach events and related conferences. 

This 12-month, 75-percent position requires a Bachelor’s degree—Master’s preferred—and experience with online, print, and in-person communication. Occasional travel may be required. 

Applications will be accepted until April 7. For complete details on this position, including qualifications and application instructions, visit the University of Illinois job listing. For questions or additional information, contact Lisa Merrifield.


Work continues on unraveling the Lake Michigan food web

Research into the Lake Michigan food web has increased in the last decade, but there are still a lot of questions—exactly what is eating what, and how is that dynamic affected by environmental changes? To find answers to these and other questions, researchers from federal and state agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations will come together next month in Ann Arbor, MI. The two-day meeting will feature discussions on past and current food web studies and end with a plan for future research.   

The meeting kicks off April 1 with presentations on several Sea Grant- and EPA-funded studies. IISG’s Tomas Hook, Sergiusz Czesny, director of the Lake Michigan Biological Station, and Bo Bunnell of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center will discuss the state of Lake Michigan fish populations, including the results of a three-year investigation of the differences in nearshore food webs across the lake. Harvey Bootsma, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and NOAA’s Henry A. Vanderploeg will also be onsite to talk about recent findings on the diets of phytoplankton, algae, and other species at the bottom of the food chain. Additional presentations, orchestrated by IISG’s Paris Collingsworth and featuring IISG-funded scientist Cary Troy, will talk about research on the physical dynamics of the lake and steady flow of nutrients brought in by stormwater runoff—two important factors affecting food web structures. Paris will also introduce plans for upcoming monitoring and field activities in Lake Michigan as part of the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative.  

Conversations on the second day will turn to planning. IISG research staff will team up with representatives from the Wisconsin and Michigan Sea Grant programs to lead discussions on data still needed to understand how invasive species, contaminants, climate change, and other factors are affecting the Lake Michigan food web. Meeting attendees will also have an opportunity to briefly talk about their research and where they hope to go next. The gaps and next steps identified will help Lake Michigan Sea Grant programs identify research projects to fund in the coming years. 

This meeting is the third of its kind since 2008. And, like those before it, this year’s meeting is coordinated by IISG and GLRRIN Lake Michigan partners from Wisconsin Sea Grant, Michigan Sea Grant, the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, and the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. Previous meetings helped launch the 2010 Lake Michigan Intensive Monitoring Field Year and resulted in roughly $1.7 million in funding for food web projects. 

To learn more about the meeting and how to attend, contact Carolyn Foley. And stay tuned for instructions on how to stream this meeting in real time.  


Invasive species info and thoughts of spring at Chicago’s Flower & Garden Show

It may not always feel like spring these days, but warmer weather is just around the corner. While we wait for the last snow to melt and the ground to thaw, you can experience the bright colors and wonderful smells of spring during the Chicago Flower and Garden Show. Kicking off this weekend at Navy Pier, the event will spotlight new gardening designs and techniques. And, courtesy of IISG’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) team, visitors can also learn more about invasive species and the role gardeners can play in halting their spread. 

Our team will be on hand all week to talk with visitors about AIS and offer tips for finding beautiful native and non-invasive aquatic plants that can be used in place of potentially invasive species. And be sure not to miss Greg Hitzroth’s talk on Sunday, March 23 at 2 pm. Whether you are a veteran water gardener or just starting out, his talk will give you the information you need help prevent the spread of invasive species. 

Visit the link above to read more about the show and to see the entire schedule. To learn more about our work on aquatic invaders, visit our AIS webpage.


Caitie McCoy’s career profile offers a glimpse at the myriad Sea Grant job options

With spring break happening now and many students considering their internship and career options as graduation approaches, this time of year usually brings up the questions like “where should I work?” or “what career options are out there for me?” 

IISG’s environmental social scientist Caitie McCoy was recently profiled on Sea Grant’s marine careers website, and offered a glimpse at some of the ways her background has allowed her to join Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, work with several other affiliated organizations and communities, and do hands-on work in helping to protect and preserve the Great Lakes environment. 

“Majoring and interning in the environmental sciences can lead you to a very exciting career,” Caitie told us. “My career has taken me places I never thought I’d go. If you had asked me my freshman year of college what I’d be doing 10 years from now, I would have told you about my dreams of taking care of animals at wildlife sanctuaries, interpreting at national parks, or researching bird population dynamics. I never expected that I’d be traveling around the Great Lakes to do outreach on contaminated sediment remediation. I didn’t even know about sediment remediation until I read the job announcement for my current position. There are a lot of meaningful careers out there that most students have probably never heard of. Don’t be afraid to give odd-sounding internships and jobs a chance. There are only so many open positions for marine biologists, park rangers, and Environmental Protection Agency scientists, but the world also needs social scientists, hydrologists, and GIS analysts. Keep your options open!” 

Read more about Caitie’s experience as a member of IISG’s staff, and explore Sea Grant’s marine careers website for information about the career options available to everyone with an interest in marine science, coastal economies, environmental issues, and protecting and preserving the beauty of our coastlines.


In the news: Grass carp found to be making their way into the Great Lakes

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. 

From UPI.com
"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.


In the news: Lakes Michigan, Huron on the rise

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.


New scholarship program offers funds for community stewardship projects

A new funding opportunity is now available for Illinois and Indiana teachers interested in incorporating Great Lakes science, geography, and social studies into their classrooms. The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant EMPOWER Scholarship provides $500 to help plan and implement a community stewardship project focused on local watershed issues. Applications for the two available scholarships will be accepted until April 30.  

Teachers in grades 4-12 can fill out the application form and submit it to Terri Hallesy via e-mail or fax. Selected teachers will be required to share information about classroom activities, student products, and successes at the end of the project.

The EMPOWER scholarship is the latest in IISG’s ongoing efforts to improve science, geography, and social studies education with professional development for teachers and innovative curriculum. To learn more about upcoming training opportunities and classroom resources, visit IISG’s Education page.


Najwa Obeid, IISG-sponsored Knauss Fellow, shares her work with the National Science Foundation

Najwa Obeid’s experiences as a Knauss Fellow at the National Science Foundation can perhaps most accurately be described as diverse. And that diversity, she said, will go a long way in helping her achieve her goal of working on water and coastal policy.

Her greatest exposure to policy came while participating in an ecosystem-based management working group with representatives from agencies like the Department of the Interior, NOAA, the U.S. Navy and EPA. Ecosystem-based management is a type of resource management that focuses on whole ecosystems instead of individual species or resources and is one of nine policy recommendations included in the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The group - officially known as the National Ocean Council ecosystem-based management interagency subgroup - was charged with determining what this recommendation meant for each agency and identifying work priorities and pilot projects. In her role with the National Science Foundation, Najwa identified science and knowledge gaps and connected the group with academic experts.  

“I have a better idea now of how things do and should work, particularly when there are a lot of agencies involved,” said Najwa, a Ph.D. candidate at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Reading about the work is one thing, but being immersed in it adds much more value.”  

Before her time with the working group, Najwa helped launch the new Coastal Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability program, part of the Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE), and facilitated peer review and award decisions for grant proposals. She also analyzed data on past OCE proposals to better understand award trends and determine how best to change or modify current OCE policy.  

And, like her co-fellow Will Tyburczy, Najwa has some advice for those considering a Knauss fellowship. 

“If you have any sort of interest in policy or want to be involved with work that has a faster and more direct social impact,” she advised, “give it a try. It is a very unique and educational year.”


In the news: Targeted bacterium could be the solution to invasive mussels

Quagga and Zebra mussels have been a problem for waterways including the Great Lakes for decades, but there may finally be a targeted solution that can significantly reduce their numbers without disrupting other organisms. 

"Now the mussels may have met their match: Daniel P. Molloy, an emeritus biologist at the New York State Museum in Albany and a self-described 'Bronx boy who became fascinated by things living in water.'

Inspired by Rachel Carson’s 'Silent Spring' in high school, Dr. Molloy, now 66, has long been a pioneer in the development of environmentally safe control agents to replace broad-spectrum chemical pesticides. 

Leading a team at the museum’s Cambridge Field Research Laboratory in upstate New York, he discovered a bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens strain CL145A, that kills the mussels but appears to have little or no effect on other organisms

As a result, New York State has awarded a license to Marrone Bio Innovations, a company in Davis, Calif., to develop a commercial formulation of the bacterium. The product, Zequanox, has been undergoing tests for several years, with promising results. (Dr. Molloy has no financial ties to the company.)

Zequanox killed more than 90 percent of the mussels in a test using tanks of water from Lake Carlos in Minnesota, said James A. Luoma, a research biologist with the United States Geological Survey in La Crosse, Wis. A control group of freshwater mussels, unionids from the Black River in Wisconsin, were unharmed."
Read the rest of the article at the link above.


Shortest month of the year was long on social science accomplishments

February was a busy month for those interested in improving coastal outreach and education with social science. The topic took center stage at national and regional conferences. And IISG’s Caitie McCoy—along with other members of the Great Lakes Social Science Network—was onsite for each to discuss new research and provide tips for engaging the public, collecting reliable qualitative data, and evaluating projects. 

It all started with the NOAA Social Coast Forum in South Carolina. During the two-day event, Caitie talked with representatives from academia, government agencies, non-profits, and the private sector about everything from how social science has improved risk communication to the best ways to engage Great Lakes tribes in sediment removal projects. The biggest draw, though, was her presentation on the effectiveness of a new severe weather warning system with fellow Sea Grant social scientists Jane Harrison and Hilarie Sorenson along with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student Katie Williams. 

The system is part of NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation, a collaborative project designed to boost community resilience to tornadoes, storm surges, and other extreme weather events. It is intended to keep broadcast meteorologists and emergency managers up-to-date on expected impacts with messages like “tornadic winds could throw automobiles into the air” and “the entire neighborhood will be destroyed.” Caitie, Jane, Hilarie, and New York Sea Grant’s Katherine Bunting-Howarth were brought on board to ensure that messages meet the needs of those who rely on them most when the big storms hit.

Just a few days later, Caitie, Jane, Hilarie, and others brought social science information and recommendations to Superior, Wisconsin for the St. Louis River Estuary Summit. The summit brought together researchers, natural resource managers, educators, and members of the community interested in protecting this tributary to Lake Superior. 

For her part, Caitie reported on a needs assessment conducted last year to learn how local communities feel about remediation and restoration efforts in Spirit Lake, one of several sites that make up the St. Louis River Area of Concern. The case study uncovered several important views and concerns that will help Caitie and other members of the outreach team tailor their efforts to these communities. For example, learning that residents often struggle to see how remediation efforts fit together will help them design simple messages that connect cleaning up Spirit Lake with the ultimate goal of removing the St. Louis River from the AOC list. Although clean up won’t begin until at least 2015, the needs assessment has already influenced outreach and helped Caitie develop strong relationships within the community that will help the project move forward. 

The St. Louis River cleanup and Caitie’s work to improve public engagement here and at other AOCs is possible because of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Legacy Act. 

(Photo credits: Photo 1: St. Louis River AOC, courtesy of EPA
Photo 2: Caitie McCoy and former intern Emily Anderson near the St. Louis River AOC)


Lake Erie "dead zone" research includes work by IISG specialist

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Tomas Höök, associate director for research, was part of a team of researchers involved in a comprehensive study on Lake Erie’s health and measures needed to protect it.

From Phys.org
"The report from the multi-institution EcoFore-Lake Erie project states that a 46 percent reduction in the amount, or load, of phosphorus pollution would be needed to shrink Lake Erie's Central Basin hypoxic zone to a size last seen in the mid-1990s—a time that coincided with the recovery of several recreational and commercial fisheries in the lake's west and central basins.

Phosphorus is a nutrient used in crop fertilizers. Excess phosphorus washes off croplands during rainstorms and flows downstream in rivers that feed the Great Lakes. Once in the lakes, phosphorus can trigger algae blooms. When the algae die and sink to the lake bottom, oxygen-consuming bacteria feed on them and create hypoxic zones in the process. Many fish shun these oxygen-starved waters, which significantly reduce the amount of suitable habitat available to the fish.

The study, accepted for publication in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Great Lakes Research, calls for Central Basin phosphorus reductions considerably higher than other recent recommendations, including a proposal issued last year by the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force aimed at avoiding Western Basin toxic algae blooms. The new report is a synthesis of the major findings from the EcoFore-Lake Erie project, created in 2005 and supported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research."
Read the rest of the article at the link above.