Great Lakes

Chequamegon Bay – Day 6: Separating Samples

The Art of “Elutriation”

By Will Bartsch

The Lake Explorer II

The Lake Explorer II

The benthic survey is progressing nicely. The Lake Explorer II has already sampled all of the deep spots that it can safely access and was docked yesterday.

The 90-foot vessel can operate safely in water as shallow as five meters. However, much of Chequamegon bay is shallower than that. So, we’ve enlisted other boats to join the effort. The Prairie Sounder, being able to operate in one meter of water, got an early start and has been out taking Ponars (a heavy metal sampling device as described in my first post; see below for more about this) in the shallow, coastal areas of the Bay near Ashland. In anticipation of needing another small vessel that can operate in shallow areas, we towed the Research Vessel Tullibee from Duluth on Monday. The Tullibee is 26 feet long and has a cathedral hull that offers extra stability, and was also taking Ponars.

More About Ponars

A ponar

Deploying a Ponar.

A Ponar is a metal contraption that is designed to be lowered to the bottom of the lake using an overhead cable and winch. It is lowered in an open position and, because it is so heavy, will sink into soft or sandy sediment. Upon hitting bottom, the locking mechanism releases. This allows the jaws to close and collect a sample when it is retrieved. Because it needs to sink into the sediment to work properly, it is not an effective sampling method for areas with hard or rocky bottoms. Even sporadic gravel can cause problems as it doesn’t allow the jaws of the Ponar to properly shut.

Once the Ponar is out of the water, its contents are emptied into a large bin. The next step is to separate the sample into two parts. The first part is all the benthic organisms. The second part is everything else that we don’t want: mud, clay, rocks, sand, sticks and other large organic detritus.

Elutriating

Elutriating a sample.

This process is called elutriation. To elutriate, we mix the sample with water in a hinged basin that has an outlet connected to a fine mesh net with a bottle at the end. After mixing we pour the top water, along with any benthic creatures that were suspended in the process, into the bottle. This is repeated multiple times until only the things we don’t want remain in the basin. The sample that is captured in the bottle is preserved with ethanol and taken back to the lab.

Next we will investigate sites to deploy the benthic sled. We’ll let you know how it goes.

 About the Author: Will Bartsch is an ORISE fellow with EPA’s Midcontinent Ecology Division, part of the Agency’s Office of Research and Development. He primarily analyzes data collected as part of the NationalAuthor Will Bartsch Coastal Condition Assessment survey, and works on early detection methods for invasive species in Great Lakes coastal embayments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Life Aboard the Lake Explorer II – Day 4

By Julie Barker

Research Vessel Lake Explorer II

Research Vessel Lake Explorer II

Yesterday was the fourth day of our efforts sampling the benthic community of Chequamegon Bay. We all got a break over the weekend, but for the next five days, the Lake Explorer II (LE II) will be home to the nine of us contributing to the sampling effort.

What is life like on board? The LE II has five “staterooms” (bedrooms), four of which sleep two, and one that sleeps three (that’s my room).  Each has a bunk bed, a small desk, a sink, and a space to keep your personal items (most rooms have high-school-type lockers).  One of my favorite things about the staterooms is that each of the bunk beds has curtains that allow the occupant some privacy while sleeping, reading or just taking a break.

By now you may be wondering about bathrooms on the boat.  Referred to as “heads,” there are two, and there are two showers aboard.  We also have laundry machines available for longer trips.  All of the potable water used on the vessel comes from a large storage tank that is filled before every trip.

The galley is where we eat and socialize.

The galley is where we eat and socialize.

The primary social area on the vessel is the “galley” (kitchen).  There are always yummy snacks there.  Often a group of us will spend time there in the evenings playing board games like Scrabble, or watching a movie (although we usually never finish because we are all too tired from the workday to stay up).  On a typical research trip we eat all of our meals aboard the LE II because we are out in the middle of Lake Superior or docked/anchored in some remote area.  However, since this research trip is based out of Ashland, WI, we have been eating breakfast and lunch aboard the vessel and going out in the evenings to explore the different restaurants in the area.

When you want to get a good vantage of your surroundings from the boat, the best place to go is the bridge (where the captain drives, controls, and monitors the vessel).  We do all our sampling and sample processing (which we will describe in an upcoming blog post) off the large back deck of the vessel. Although we are not doing much laboratory work on the LE II for this trip, the vessel does have a large science area.  We have been using this space primarily for research planning and organizing the benthic samples we have collected so far.

Back deck where we work.

Back deck where we work.

Overall, life on the boat is comfortable, enjoyable, and a unique experience.  Sampling trips such as these have been a great way to get to know my co-workers, and I’m sure we are all creating a lot of good memories.

Julie BarkerAbout the Author: Julie Barker is an ORISE fellow with EPA’s Midcontinent Ecology Division, part of the Agency’s Office of Research and Development. She has been participating in field study assessments of coastal embayments, and her research includes investigating how wetland-nearshore interactions affect coastal fisheries, and exploring if underwater video can be effectively used to detect invasive species.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Starting from the Bottom: Sampling the Benthic Community of Chequamegon Bay, Lake Superior – Day 1

By Will Bartsch

Today is the beginning of a twelve day effort to thoroughly characterize the benthic community of Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay. The benthic zone is the lowest level of a body of water, including sediment at the bottom of a lake or ocean. The invertebrate organisms that live on the bottom of lakes and oceans form an important part of the lake’s food web. Because they all have varying degrees of sensitivity to environmental degradation, the presence or absence of certain species can help us determine the condition of the entire aquatic system.

Research Vessel Lake Explorer II

Research Vessel Lake Explorer II

At 8:00 am this morning, the Research Vessel Lake Explorer II cruised out of the Duluth Superior harbor on its way to the Chequamegon Bay.  The Lake Explorer II is a 90′ long EPA vessel that is based in Duluth, MN. It can accommodate up to eleven people. The six crew members and scientists aboard will reach their destination after approximately six hours of cruising.

 

By the time the Lake Explorer II arrives at the Chequamegon Bay, three other scientists in the 26’ Research Vessel Praire Sounder will have already started collecting Ponar samples of the sediment. A Ponar is a heavy, metal sampling device that is lowered from the boat into the soft sediment below. Its jaws automatically close upon retrieval and a sample is brought to the surface. During this survey we will take close to 300 Ponar samples and an additional dozen benthic sled samples (I’ll tell you more about the sled in a later post; stay tuned).

Chequamagon Bay - Sampling Sites

Locations of the survey’s sampling sites in the Chequamegon Bay.

On this twelve day sampling journey, we will travel all around the Chequamegon Bay to get samples that will give us an accurate characterization of the entire benthic community. To choose these sampling locations – or sample points – we used a method called Generalized Random Tessellation Stratified (GRTS). This method uses a spatially-balanced, random selection technique to ensure good areal coverage of the study location and minimize the chance of bias that can come from oversampling particular habitat types.

Throughout this project, my colleague Julie Barker and I will be chronicling our efforts in the field and writing a blog post every few days. We hope that you enjoy the posts and learn more about the methods used to characterize aquatic environments.

Author Will BartschAbout the Author: Will Bartsch is an ORISE fellow with EPA’s Midcontinent Ecology Division, which is part of the Agency’s Office of Research and Development. He primarily analyzes data collected as part of the National Coastal Condition Assessment survey, and he works on early detection methods for invasive species in Great Lakes coastal embayments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Three Years Later: EPA Continues to Clean Up Kalamazoo Oil Spill

Three years ago today, EPA responded to one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.  When we arrived on scene, oil from a ruptured pipeline was pouring into the Kalamazoo River – a Great Lakes tributary.

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Site of the 2010 Enbridge oil pipeline spill

At the time of the spill, it was raining hard and oil was carried quickly downstream in the fast-moving river – flowing over dams and flooding riverbanks.

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

Oil completely covered the surface of the river

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Taking Care of the Great Lakes is Like Taking Care of Ourselves

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By Cameron Davis

The day before Memorial Day, we’re visiting my friend Kathy Bero. As I wrote this looking out over south central Wisconsin’s hills, growing green with spring, I feel lucky she’s around.

Kathy and I met nearly 30 years ago when she was helping to save the Great Lakes in Milwaukee. She was outgoing, smart and dedicated to the public interest. It was more than seven years ago while we were catching up on the phone, when I heard those words you never want to hear from anyone you love: “I have cancer.”

Though she had two young kids with her husband, I was strangely unconcerned. “Don’t you worry,” I told her. “That cancer has no idea who it’s up against.”

I should have been concerned. She had infiltrating ductal carcinoma that morphed into stage four inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC has an 11 percent survival rate after 10 years. As if that wasn’t enough, 11 months later, she was also diagnosed with a mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Today, after using conventional treatment and foods with disease-fighting properties, she shows no signs of cancer.

Always the advocate, Kathy’s experience led her to research and dig into causes and cures. What she came to realize was that food can be medicine. Kathy went on to establish NuGenesis, which serves as a community-based model for education, sustainable organic farming and research, integrating food with medicine.

Kathy’s experience reminds us that, just as clean water is a key to life, so is clean, healthy food.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA the Administrator. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Our World of Water

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By Cameron Davis

Spring time commemorates a number of environmental awareness days.

Held on March 22 every year, World Water Day is a product of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that was held in Rio de Janeiro.

Then comes Earth Day every April 22, an idea sprung from the mind of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (hailing from one of our Great Lakes states!). The first Earth Day was in 1970, the same year that Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” surged in the music charts.

This month brings National Drinking Water Week, May 6-12, originated by the American Water Works Association some 30 years ago.

These global and national commemoratives are great reminders about why we need to care about H20. But we don’t really have a Great Lakes commemorative day.

So let’s make one up later this month. We have several opportunities. First, we have webinars and public meetings coming up for input on the next Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.  For details about webinars and public meetings in Buffalo on May 28, Milwaukee on May 30, and Cleveland on June 5.

Second, we could target every Friday before Memorial Day; this year, on May 24. That’s when the official summer beach season opens at hundreds of these special, sandy places. What better way to celebrate the Lakes that we love than by providing your thoughts at one of these forums and toasting to the Lakes on the beach with drinking water from the Great Lakes? After all, we are what we drink.

What do you think about a Great Lakes Day?

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Career Advice from Amy

By: Kelly Siegel

I learned so much interviewing Marta about her position at the EPA, I decided to sit down with another EPA employee, Amy Mucha.

What is your position at the EPA?

I am an Environmental scientist and project manager in the Great Lakes National Program Office.  I get to use a variety of skills in my job which is developing, designing and managing projects to clean up the worst areas of the Great Lakes.   

What is a typical day like for you?

My day is usually a combination of reviewing data; meetings/conference calls to coordinate my projects and all the activities related to it; communicating with various stakeholders including members of the public, states, industries and academia; working on funding issues like contracts and interagency agreements.

What is the best part of your job?  

That my work has impact – I help clean up the Great Lakes!  Knowing I’m doing my part to aid in such a great effort is very satisfying.  In addition, there is often field work as well and our program has its own sampling vessel, called the Mudpuppy II, and I usually spend a week or two each year in the field taking samples.

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

Not always – I’ve always had an interest in science though.  My training was in basic science when I went to a Federal Government job fair and I applied to work at the EPA.  Being at EPA meant that I could apply that training to real world situations which I enjoy and that really developed my interest in the environment.  Now it’s hard to imagine working in another area, environmental work really involves so many disciplines and ‘puzzles’ to solve.

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?  

Besides my lab training in basic science I also have a PhD in environmental toxicology; so I’ve taken many classes over the years.  The most directly useful classes were my graduate levels statistics classes and organic chemistry – I still use a great deal of those skills now in analyzing data and assessing my sites.  However, the practical work that went into completing my theses – where I learned experimental design and how to address key research questions -was what gave me critical skill of building an analytical framework for problem solving.  That ability still helps me tremendously in how I do my job every day.

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

Get involved in a project you care about, whether it’s recycling, environmental justice, urban gardens, climate change, or saving the Great Lakes.  The key is to grow your passion – from that it will be clear what training you need to take you where you want to go. 

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Breaking the Ice

By Cameron Davis

Midwesterners as a general rule are a friendly bunch. They don’t gripe much. Even harsh winters—for which the region is legendary—typically draw commentary, not complaints.

So while recent temperatures are eliciting lots of opinions on city streets and in offices, one thing that’s not drawing as many comments is Great Lakes water levels. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lakes Michigan and Huron (hydrologically counted as the same lake) reached record low levels in December, the lowest recorded levels since the previous record, in 1964.

Warmer air temps mean warmer water temperatures, both of which mean falling lake levels. Warmer water temperatures mean the Great Lakes don’t get as much ice in winter time. Ice seals in water and reduces evaporation.

‘So what?’ you might ask because most people don’t use their coasts in wintertime.

Though lower levels may mean wider beaches for summer recreating, there are many other impacts that hurt recreation. Warmer water temperatures can mean more swimming advisories as conditions improve for harmful pathogens. Boats can have a more difficult time getting in and out of their ports as lake levels drop, which means more sediment can be stirred up when dredging needs to happen so boats can move. The list of impacts goes on.

Check out the Corps’ forecasts for yourself.

And, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a new “dashboard” to help you understand water.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Lakefront Lunacy

By Cameron Davis

When my cousin/godson Jamie issued the challenge in late December to join him and about a dozen of his college friends to dive into the cold waters of Lake Michigan on January 1, I couldn’t resist. After nearly three decades of working on and recreating around the Great Lakes, this was something I’d never done before.

On January 1, the outside air temperature was 20 degrees. The water temperature along the lakefront: a mild 34 degrees.

As we sat in the parking lot at Evanston’s Lighthouse Beach waiting for everyone to arrive, my brother in law Charley wondered out loud: “do you think anyone else will show?”

A text from Jamie came in. Some of his friends “got the time mixed up” and—not surprisingly—would not be showing up. “Jamie will show,” I reassured Charley (and myself). “He’s got good mettle.”

A few minutes later, Jamie arrived, a single soldier among his battalion that was AWOL. We marched stolidly toward the icy water’s edge, peeled off layer after layer of clothing until we were only in our bathing suits, then plunged into the breaking whitecaps.

Actually, the dive wasn’t all that bad. The numbness took a bite out of whatever pain we would have normally felt. Still, I was happier after the fact, than during.

With all my instincts screaming, “don’t do it!” as I walked to the water, I still did it. But there was one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do: call this ritual the “polar bear plunge.” After all, we don’t have polar bears in the Great Lakes. If you ever contemplate doing something crazy like jumping into these frigid waters to celebrate a new year, we now have a more indigenous name for it: lakefront lunacy.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Great Lakes Christmas Tree Ship

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By Cameron Davis

On November 22, the Rouse Simmons listed badly, caked in ice from water and snow during one of storms for which the Great Lakes are known this time of year. Its cargo: more than 5,000 Christmas trees bound from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago.

Hermann Schuenemann had been part owner and captain of the Simmons for years. And he came from a sailing family. So it was still a surprise when the schooner went down off the coast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, that fateful day, one hundred years ago.

Rallying, Herman’s wife Barbara and two daughters continued the business in Herman’s wake, bringing trees into the Chicago River for sale.

The tale is now legend in the Midwest, not only for the fate of Herman and his ship, but the tenacity of his wife and daughters. But today, the “Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship,” is more than an enthralling true story. It lives on in exhibits at the Rogers Street Fishing Village in Two Rivers.  It lives on through plays.  And it lives on through the U.S. Coast Guard’s cutter, Mackinac.

But most of all, it lives on through an appreciation of all the Great Lakes continue to deliver to us: water, jobs, recreation and an unparalleled quality of life.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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