Stories tagged Great Lakes

Sep
28
2013

A lake carrier heads out on Lake Superior from Duluth: As with the world's oceans, researchers have now detected plastic pollution in all the Great Lakes.
A lake carrier heads out on Lake Superior from Duluth: As with the world's oceans, researchers have now detected plastic pollution in all the Great Lakes.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Over the past couple years, Science Buzz has posted several stories (here and here) about the humongous patches of garbage and plastic debris found floating in the world's oceans. It's a serious problem and one that should raise red flags for anyone concerned with the Earth's environment. But even more troubling is the recent news that plastic particles have now been found in all five of the Great Lakes lining the border of the USA and Canada. Unlike the large globs of plastic clogging areas of the ocean, the plastics polluting the Great Lakes are microscopic particles detectable only in a microscope. But they're no less disturbing.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, professor of chemistry at SUNY-Fredonia has been gathering water samples and reported finding high concentrations of plastic particles in the chain of freshwater lakes. One of the researchers involved is environmental chemist Lorena Rios-Mendoza from University of Wisconsin-Superior. Both she and Mason have studied the Great Trash Island (aka Trashlantis) in the Pacific Ocean but has now turned their attention to the Great Lakes.

Most of the plastic found in the water is visible only under a microscope, but has been found in all five of the Great Lakes, both in the water column, and in lake sediment. The amount of micro-plastic varies between lakes with Lake Erie - the shallowest and smallest by water volume - containing the largest ratio and Lake Superior - the largest and most voluminous - a much smaller ratio. But it doesn't matter; the point is that we're polluting some of our important sources of fresh water with plastic.

It's thought that cosmetics with could one of the sources, since the industry relies heavily on using micro-beads in its products. These tiny plastic particles used on our faces, skin, and teeth, eventually get washed off into the water supply where they're too small to get filtered out. But cosmetics certainly aren't the only source. Plastic refuse obliterates the shoreline in Haiti
Plastic refuse obliterates the shoreline in HaitiCourtesy tedxgp2
Think of the ungodly amount of plastic material we use and discard every year. Surprisingly, only about five percent of the bags, bottles, cups, electronics, etc. get recycled; most plastic trash ends up in landfills where it slowly degrades and eventually finds its way into the world's favorite garbage dump: the oceans.

“We have no idea how long some of these plastics stay in the ocean, could be more than 40 years,” Rios-Mendoza said. She also worries if organic toxins in the water can attach themselves to the tiny plastic particles, and end up in the food chain. In this regard, Rios-Mendoza has been sampling Great Lake fish to see if such toxic particles are present in their guts.

It's important to remember that only 3 percent of the world's water is freshwater and the five Great Lakes - Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie - together contain 20 percent of that freshwater. That's a large portion of a relatively scarce and essential life ingredient. Last fall, I posted an interesting graphic that illustrates nicely Earth's total water supply versus fresh water and puts things in perspective.

Lake Superior: Plastic pollutants have now invaded the upper Great Lake.
Lake Superior: Plastic pollutants have now invaded the upper Great Lake.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Rios-Mendoza and Mason have been collaborating with a research and education group called 5Gyres Institute that monitors and studies garbage patches found in five subtropical gyres in the world's oceans. Rio-Mendoza presented a preliminary study of their work on the Great Lakes at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society. The team's future studies involve pinpointing the sources of plastic pollution and acquiring a better understanding of how plastics degrade in the environment.

"We all need to become aware of how much plastic we use in our lives and avoid using single-use products. Don’t buy water in plastic bottles or cosmetic products with micro beads. Bring re-usable bags to the store with you. Simple things like this make a big difference, but it’s also important to keep talking about this issue and raising awareness about how it affects the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans.” --- Dr. Sherri Mason“

By the way, here in Minnesota, and situated at the western tip of Lake Superior, the city of Duluth was recently proclaimed to have the best tasting drinking water in the state. By best-tasting, I'm assuming they mean it has no taste whatsoever since water is described as a colorless, tasteless liquid. Whatever the case, I always thought Duluth's drinking water was the best while growing up there (my grandparents lived in a Twin Cities' suburb and I never liked the taste of their softener-treated water).
In another water-related story, it's estimated that life on Earth can survive for at least another 1.75 billion years until we move out of the habitable zone and our oceans (and other water sources) will evaporate in the increased heat. So it's probably best that we take care of what water we have - it needs to sustain us for a long time.

SOURCE and LINKS
National Geographic story
Red Orbit story
The World's Largest Dump
The Great Pacific garbage patch
Star Tribune story on Duluth's water

Feb
19
2012

The Blue Heron: the Large Lakes Observatory's research vessel is owned by the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The Blue Heron: the Large Lakes Observatory's research vessel is owned by the University of Minnesota-Duluth.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Last October, I attended the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting held here in Minneapolis. The convention presented plenty of opportunities to hear the latest ideas in geology, paleontology, and planetary science but the highlight for me was being able to join a GSA field trip on Lake Superior aboard the research vessel, the Blue Heron.

Blue Heron interior: Mid-deck area includes monitoring station, right, and one of two dry labs, background left, serving as a snack table during our trip.
Blue Heron interior: Mid-deck area includes monitoring station, right, and one of two dry labs, background left, serving as a snack table during our trip.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The 86-foot vessel is owned by the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) and operated by the Large Lakes Observatory (LLO), an organization created in 1994 for investigating the geochemical and geophysical properties of large lakes, and their global impact. To accomplish this research, the LLO required a worthy vessel for limnological research, and the Blue Heron was purchased just three years later.

The vessel docks at the Corps of Engineers Vessel Yard on Park Point (aka Minnesota Point), a natural sand bar separating Duluth’s harbor basin from Lake Superior. The ten-mile spit was created by the lake’s wave action on material deposited by the St. Louis river, and is supposedly the largest freshwater sand bar in the world. Field trip leaders Doug Ricketts, the marine superintendent at LLO, and Charlie Matsch, professor emeritus of geology at UMD, greeted arriving participants and divided us into two groups. While one group spent the morning on Lake Superior, the other visited geological highlights in the Duluth area with professor Matsch. In the afternoon the groups switched places.

I joined the morning shift on the lake with a dozen geologists made up of GSA attendees from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and City University of New York. Besides Doug Ricketts and the ship’s five crew members, regents professor Tom Johnson, and the director of the LLO, professor Steve Colman, were also on hand to help demonstrate and explain the Blue Heron’s research capabilities.Lakebound through the harbor: As we head toward Lake Superior, regents professor Tom Johnson, left, and  director of the LLO, professor Steve Colman, discuss the morning agenda with one of the field trip passengers. The yellow tow fish used for profiling the lake bottom sets on the deck in the background.
Lakebound through the harbor: As we head toward Lake Superior, regents professor Tom Johnson, left, and director of the LLO, professor Steve Colman, discuss the morning agenda with one of the field trip passengers. The yellow tow fish used for profiling the lake bottom sets on the deck in the background.Courtesy Mark Ryan

Safety first: Blue Heron chief mate, John Simenson, goes over some of the vessel's safety rules.
Safety first: Blue Heron chief mate, John Simenson, goes over some of the vessel's safety rules.Courtesy Mark Ryan
We shoved off right on schedule, heading across the harbor toward the Superior entrance on the Wisconsin end of the sand bar. The crew spent this time going over the ship’s safety rules - how to descend ladders, which alarms meant what, how to communicate with the bridge - that sort of thing. We then made a quick tour of the facilities. The Blue Heron is equipped with a wet lab on the open deck and two dry labs inside, and all sorts of data gathering equipment for geophysical, geochemical, and biological sampling. These include multibeam sonar for profiling the lake bottom and sub-bottom, several coring instruments for collecting sediment samples, and water samplers able to collect at various depth levels in the water column while also measuring such things as temperature, depth, pH levels, and conductivity. There’s gear for tracking lake currents, and plankton nets and a trawl for gathering biological data. Inside, both above and below deck, computers record, display and analyze the gathered data. Many of the off-ship instruments can be monitored and controlled on-board from computer consoles.

Out on the big lake: Lake Superior is the deepest and largest of the Great Lakes, and contains ten percent of the world's fresh surface water.
Out on the big lake: Lake Superior is the deepest and largest of the Great Lakes, and contains ten percent of the world's fresh surface water.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The R/V Blue Heron is outfitted to carry five crew members and six researchers and can stay on the lake, around the clock, for 21 days between port calls. It’s used mainly on Lake Superior, the largest and least studied of the Great Lakes. Shipboard amenities are sparse (there’s no television or DVD) but include eleven bunks, a full galley for food preparation, dining table, shower, and of course, the "head", or as you landlubbers like to call it, the toilet. Internet service is sometimes available when the vessel is near shore.

Yellow fish deployed: The EdgeTech CHIRP/sidescan sonar is submerged and towed behind the Blue Heron for gathering bottom data.
Yellow fish deployed: The EdgeTech CHIRP/sidescan sonar is submerged and towed behind the Blue Heron for gathering bottom data.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Upon entering Lake Superior, the crew set to work demonstrating some of the vessel’s science gear, which is pretty much the same kind of instrumentation used in oceanographic research. Just beyond the Superior entrance, the EchoTech CHIRP/sidescan sonar tow fish was lowered from the Blue Heron’s stern. This bright yellow instrument is towed underwater behind the vessel as it makes several passes over the lake bed, and able to gather hydrographic and bathymetric data. One function is to send out an intermittent, low frequency “chirp” pulse that can penetrate the sub-bottom and record changes in its geophysical properties. The sonar data is processed using on-deck computers.The first demonstration was a scan of the underwater channel of the Nemadji River, a Wisconsin tributary to the lake. The mouth of the Nemadji has been drowned by a process called post-glacial rebound or more scientifically, differential isostatic rebound. During the last ice age, a mile thick sheet of ice covered the region and placed enormous pressure on the earth’s crust, depressing it downward. As the glaciers retreated, that enormous weight was gradually removed, and the lake basin began to rebound (a process still going on today). But the northern and eastern ends of Lake Superior basin are rebounding at a faster rate, tilting the water southward and to the west and subsequently flooding those areas of the shoreline.

CHIRP/sidescan sonar monitors: Left display shows a sidescan view of the bottom.  Right monitor reveals CHIRP sub-bottom profile of drowned channel of the Nemadji river.
CHIRP/sidescan sonar monitors: Left display shows a sidescan view of the bottom. Right monitor reveals CHIRP sub-bottom profile of drowned channel of the Nemadji river.Courtesy Mark Ryan
As the submerged tow fish was doing its stuff, we all gathered at a couple workstations in the lower deck dry lab to watch as images appeared on the computer screens. In one, you could plainly see the distinct profile of the Nemadji’s drowned riverbanks. Lower deck dry lab: Marine superintendent Doug Ricketts explains the R/V Blue Heron's data gathering capabilities to field trip participants.
Lower deck dry lab: Marine superintendent Doug Ricketts explains the R/V Blue Heron's data gathering capabilities to field trip participants.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The other monitor displayed bathymetric information being picked up by the duel frequency sidescan sonar. Printouts of the lakebed topography, created from a mosaic of stitched-together scans, were laid out on a worktable with several charts and maps.

Yellow tow fish retrieval: Blue Heron marine technician Jason Agnich (left) and seaman Peter Norick haul in the EdgeTech sidescan sonar tow fish.
Yellow tow fish retrieval: Blue Heron marine technician Jason Agnich (left) and seaman Peter Norick haul in the EdgeTech sidescan sonar tow fish.Courtesy Mark Ryan
For the next demonstrations, the Blue Heron moved out several miles onto the big lake. We’d all been warned of the lake’s fickle weather, and told to bring proper attire, just in case. Having been raised in Duluth, I was well acquainted with Superior’s moodiness, especially in autumn, so I brought along rain gear, a jacket, and an extra sweatshirt, expecting the worst. But I was most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt. Cloud cover was sporadic, and while the water temperature was only around 49 degrees, the air temperature hovered in the mid to upper 70s during the entire excursion. We couldn’t have hoped for a nicer day; a perfect Duluth day, as we used to call them.

While some of the group watched the crew prepare for the next presentation, others enjoyed lunch (sandwich, chips, fruit and a cookie) at the galley dining table. During my lunch break Tom Johnson told me the story of how the university came to own the research vessel. In her previous life, the Blue Heron was known as the Fairtry a commercial fishing trawler that fished the Grand Banks in the northwest Atlantic (like the Andrea Gail in The Perfect Storm). UMD purchased it in 1997 and Tom sailed it from Portland, Maine, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and across the Great Lakes to Duluth. Despite some minor engine problems at the start, he said it was a fantastic two-and-a-half week trip. Over the next winter, the Fairtry was converted into a limnological research vessel and re-christened the Blue Heron.

Water sampling carousel: GSA field trip participants listen as LLO's Doug Ricketts, center, goes over some of the geophysical and geochemical data gathered by the Blue Heron's water sampling carousel.
Water sampling carousel: GSA field trip participants listen as LLO's Doug Ricketts, center, goes over some of the geophysical and geochemical data gathered by the Blue Heron's water sampling carousel.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Meanwhile, out on the back deck, the crew was ready to launch the next instrument, a carousel of canisters called Niskin bottles used for sampling the water column. Topside control: Marine tech Jason monitors the submerged water sampling carousel, which can be controlled to collect water samples at different levels, as well as additional water quality data.
Topside control: Marine tech Jason monitors the submerged water sampling carousel, which can be controlled to collect water samples at different levels, as well as additional water quality data.Courtesy Mark Ryan
This device is lowered into the lake and controlled remotely from the deck, and can collect samples at various depths into any one of its dozen canisters. It can also measure temperature, conductivity, pH balance, transparency, dissolved oxygen levels and other tests. After deployment, marine technician, Jason Agnich, sat at a computer workstation just inside the hatch, and easily controlled the carousel with a joystick while monitoring its progress on a couple electronic displays.

Gravity corer: Marine technician Jason Agnich helps launch the gravity corer, retrieves the sample, and lays it out on the wet lab workbench for study.
Gravity corer: Marine technician Jason Agnich helps launch the gravity corer, retrieves the sample, and lays it out on the wet lab workbench for study.Courtesy Mark Ryan
We moved a little farther down lake where two coring instruments, a spider-framed multi-corer, and an arrow-like gravity corer were put into action. The first can collect several shallow core samples by lowering it by winch to the lakebed, while the latter is dropped like a giant dart deep into the sub-bottom sediment for one large core.

Sediment sample examination: Tom Johnson, left, and Steve Colman examine one of the sediment samples collected by the Blue Heron's multi-corer from the bottom of Lake Superior.
Sediment sample examination: Tom Johnson, left, and Steve Colman examine one of the sediment samples collected by the Blue Heron's multi-corer from the bottom of Lake Superior.Courtesy Mark Ryan
After each was raised back to the surface, the collected core samples were removed from their tubing and laid out on the wet lab table for study. We all huddled around the workbench as each core was cut open with a knife so participants could take a closer look. The sediment cores were composed of a densely packed fine-grained mucky silt as brown as milk chocolate, and appeared more appropriate for a scatological study than a geological one, to me anyway. But that didn’t stop some of us from taking home a small plastic bag of it as a souvenir.

View of the Blue Heron's wet lab: Lake bottom sediment samples are examined on the workbench.
View of the Blue Heron's wet lab: Lake bottom sediment samples are examined on the workbench.Courtesy Mark Ryan
View from the Blue Heron: As the research vessel heads back to port, autumn colors brighten up Duluth's distant hillside.
View from the Blue Heron: As the research vessel heads back to port, autumn colors brighten up Duluth's distant hillside.Courtesy Mark Ryan
As we made our way back toward the harbor, I stood at the starboard rail and took in the beautiful autumn colors lighting up the lake’s distant North Shore. We were three, maybe four miles offshore but I was able to pick out my old stomping grounds in Duluth’s east end. The old neighborhood – like much of the city - was built up on terraces formed by past shoreline configurations of prehistoric Lake Superior. Duluth’s Skyline Parkway, a boulevard that skirts the hilltop across the length of the city was built on an old gravel beach line of Glacial Lake Duluth when the water surface was nearly five hundred feet above its present level. The bridge over the mouth of the Lester River was just barely discernible from where I stood but it was easy to spot the large swath of dark pine forest that encompassed Lester Park and Amity creek (the western branch of Lester river) where my friends and I used to hang out. It’s also where Charlie Matsch would guide our group later in the afternoon. He brought us there to examine the Deeps, my favorite old swimming hole carved out of the massive basalt flows that extruded from what’s now the center of Lake Superior during the Mid-continental rifting event that took place nearly a billion years ago.

Harbor bound: The Blue Heron heads back to port through the Duluth canal.
Harbor bound: The Blue Heron heads back to port through the Duluth canal.Courtesy Mark Ryan
We returned to port through the Duluth entrance, and as we entered the canal captain Mike King announced our arrival with a blast of the Blue Heron’s air horn. Duluth’s landmark Aerial-Lift Bridge, already raised for our return entry, responded in kind with a shrill loud blast of its own. Tourists lining the pier called out and waved as we passed the old lighthouse and rolled toward the harbor. We all waved back and I have to say it was kind of a thrill, for me anyway, after having participated in the same ritual, oh probably a hundred times in the past but always from the pier not from a vessel.

Return to harbor: The Blue Heron heads back to port after passing under Duluth's landmark Aerial-Lift Bridge.
Return to harbor: The Blue Heron heads back to port after passing under Duluth's landmark Aerial-Lift Bridge.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The Blue Heron swung in through the harbor, and soon we were back at port where we started at the Corps of Engineers Vessel Yard. Charlie Matsch was there to greet us and take for the second leg of the field trip.

Charlie took us first up the hillside to the rocky knob near the landmark memorial Enger Tower where he showed us some interesting exposures of gabbro, an intrusive rock common to the geological formation known as the Duluth Complex. Much of the bluffs west of downtown Duluth are composed of this dark, course-grained mafic rock. Now, I admit I enjoy a geological outcrop as much as the next guy (especially when a real geologist is explaining it), but it was the sweeping view from the hilltop that drew my attention. The Blue Heron: cuts through Duluth's harbor for another excursion on Lake Superior.
The Blue Heron: cuts through Duluth's harbor for another excursion on Lake Superior.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The lake and harbor and much of the St. Louis river bay stretched out below us in an array of vivid blues contrasting with the bright reds and golds of autumn. On one side of the harbor, bridges, railroads, and structures of industry jutted out on Rice's Point toward Wisconsin, paralleled on the other side by the slender ribbon of Park Point. As I took in this grand vista, a small, barely discernible bluish blur of movement caught my eye. There, cutting through the harbor, the Blue Heron headed southward toward the Superior entrance for another run on the great lake.

More photos on Flickr
More about Blue Heron
Lake Superior facts
Lake Superior video

Here's a nifty new video just out from Environment Canada reminding us of the importance and challenges of preserving and properly maintaining the fragile ecosystem of the Great Lakes we share with our neighbor to the north.

Aug
20
2010

Beating the heat in Duluth, MN: Fearless swimmers take advantage of Lake Superior's record temps.
Beating the heat in Duluth, MN: Fearless swimmers take advantage of Lake Superior's record temps.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Last week, Lake Superior, which is bordered by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, recorded its highest average surface temperature ever, a balmy 68.3°F. People seeking relief from a very hot summer have been flocking to the shores and beaches and actually swimming in the lake! That is so unlike the Lake Superior I remember growing up in Duluth. Sure, we liked to spend a day on the sand beaches of Park Point or lounging on the rocky outcrops along the North Shore but swimming was usually not an option. On average, Lake Superior’s overall temperature is barely above freezing (39 °F), and back then it seemed you couldn’t even wade in ankle-deep without having your breath sucked out of your lungs and thinking your feet had fallen off. Standing knee-deep in the water for even a short time was unbearable and a true test of endurance. And for guys, going any further was just plain crazy, unless you wanted verifiable (and excruciating) proof of Costanza’sTheory of Shrinkage.

Those hell-bent among us would sometimes make a mad suicide dash across the burning sands and actually dive into the frigid waters only to set off the mammalian diving reflex and cause their vital organs to start to shut down. Their only hope was if the lifeguards were watching and were properly certified in CPR.

Temperature ranges on Superior have been recorded for more than three decades. In recent years, the normal average surface temperature for Lake Superior during the month of August has been only 55°, so this dramatic rise in the average is unusual. As expected, many people are quick to point a finger at global warming as the cause for the rise. That’s not a bad guess considering the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just proclaimed the year 2010 as the hottest on record, globally.

But physicist Jay Austin at the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Large Lake Observatory has been closely tracking the lake’s surface temperatures, and predicted the record high back in July. He says the warm water this summer is at least partially due to a recent El Niño event that had an unusual effect on the lake this past winter.

“2009 was a very strong El Niño year,” Austin said. “And that El Niño year led to a year at least on Superior where there was very little ice.”

That lack of ice led to a quicker and earlier warm up of Lake Superior’s surface waters. The other Great Lakes showed similar increases in their average warm temperatures as well. Although ice usually forms on the lake surface during the winter months, Lake Superior rarely freezes over completely. The last time was in 1979.

The following video illustrates the contrast between last winter and the one prior to that. Each day on their Coast Watch website, NOAA posts 3 or 4 photographs taken by a satellite in geosynchronous orbit above Lake Superior. Early in 2009 I began collecting the images regularly thinking they could come in handy for a future Buzz story such as this. From March 2009 to May 2010 I collected something like 1100 satellite photos. Edited together, they make for an interesting time-lapse video that illustrates the weather patterns over the big lake from one winter to the next. At the start of the video (March 2009) ice-cover is apparent over much of the lake and can be seen building then melting away as the spring thaw brings warmer temperatures. But later in the video, as summer passes into fall and fall into winter, no ice appears at all over the expanse of the lake’s surface. Other than that I don’t know how informative the time-lapse ended up being but it’s certainly interesting to watch, particularly the wind and cloud patterns seen flowing off the lake starting in late January 2010.

"This year is just tremendously anomalous," Austin said. "This year ranks up there with the warmest water we have ever seen, and the warming trend appears to be going on in all of the Great Lakes."

The big question is what effect these warmer temperatures have on the lake’s ecology? Austin admits it’s hard to say.

"Fish have a specific range of temperatures in which they like to spawn," he said. "It may be that for some fish this very warm year is going to be great for them, but for others, like trout which are a very cold-adapted fish, it's not going to be great."

One problem for the trout could be that scourge of the Great Lakes, the jawless sea lamprey. Lampreys are invasive parasites and attach themselves to lake trout and live off their blood. It’s unknown what changes, if any, the warmer waters will have on their life-cycle. They may lay eggs faster and in larger quantities, increasing their populations, and their impact on the trout species.

Lake Superior has probably passed through its peak time for temperature this summer so more than likely the 68.3°F record will stand for the rest of the year. If you want to keep track you can go to the Michigan Sea Grant website where you can follow all the Great Lakes’ daily surface temperatures. But who knows? This summer may not be the height of the 30-year warming trend. Let’s see what next year has in store.

Personally, I’m concerned these warm water temperatures will spoil us. Being able to endure extremely cold temperatures is a Minnesota tradition, and helps build character. It makes you tough and able to withstand all sorts of adversity as well as the harshest of elements. Which brings to mind the time when my wife (then girlfriend) and I were in Glacier National Park and decided to go for a swim in St. Mary’s Lake. There were only a few other people goofy enough to be swimming in the glacial lake at the same time. It didn’t surprise us to learn they were all from Minnesota.

We were so proud of ourselves.

SOURCES and INFO
Minnesota Public Radio story
Lake Superior facts
More about Lake Superior
Great Lakes info

Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, now there's an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Enbridge, the company responsible, is trying to keep the spill from reaching Lake Michigan.

Asian Carp
Asian CarpCourtesy kate.gardiner
ScienceBuzz is covering the danger Asian carp present to the Great Lakes. Last week a 19.6-pound, 34.6-inch bighead carp became entangled in a fishing net about six miles from Lake Michigan.

“Asian carp are like cockroaches; when you see one, you know it’s accompanied by many more you don’t see,” said Henry Henderson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

You can learn more in The New York Times

Jun
11
2010

Lake Erie offshore wind potential
Lake Erie offshore wind potentialCourtesy Less Salty

Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo)

LEEDCo is leading efforts to build, install, and deploy an offshore wind farm on Lake Erie. An initial five wind generators (20-megawatts, enough to power 16,000 homes) are to be located near Cleveland, Ohio, with a 2012 completion target. The expected cost is projected to be $100 million.

The 20 MW venture is just the initial phase. If the test phase is successful, LEEDCo would like to see the Lake Erie wind farm generating up to 1000 MW of energy by 2020. ConsumerEnergyReport

LEEDCo recently announced a long-term partnership with GE who will provide the 5 direct-drive wind turbines for LEEDCo’s 20-megawatt offshore wind project.

Obstacles to the Great Lakes wind project

Many hoops and hurdles need to be traversed before obtaining major financial commitments. (learn more at Cleveland.com

  • Approval from at least 16 federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. LEEDCo has yet to file any permit applications but does meet weekly with an interagency task force, the Lake Erie Offshore Wind Team, that Strickland created 18 months ago.
  • Concerns that the turbines will harm birds and bats. A $350,000 study is under way, including radar, laser and acoustic identification of bird and bat flight paths. The proposed site will need a four-mile radius of air space in which few if any birds have been detected.
  • How to anchor the towers in Lake Erie. Engineers must determine whether to sink steel piles down to bedrock, typically some 60 to 80 feet below the "glacial till" on the lake bottom. If pilings are needed, officials are uncertain whether the region still has the capacity to produce enough of the heavy steel that would be required.
  • A way to get the power to shore. Underwater cables from the turbines to shore would need right-of-way approval from the state.
  • The impact of winter ice. Plans call for an ice cream-cone shaped foundation at the water's level, which forces the ice down and breaks it, hopefully saving on cost, LEEDCo's Wagner said.
  • A means of paying for the project. Financing details are still tenuous -- and could be more complicated than the engineering, said Wagner.
  • Feb
    08
    2010

    Viral hemorrhagic septicemia: a fish infected with the virus
    Viral hemorrhagic septicemia: a fish infected with the virusCourtesy Dr. Mohamed Faisal
    No… not a rock bass (even though it has a red iris). Nor any normal walleye you might be lucky enough to snag. This fish you might not even need to actually catch. It could be floating next to the boat along with most of the other fish in your favorite river, lake, or reservoir. That is if the dreaded VHS continues to spread and strike us deep in the land of 10,000 lakes. Move over zebra mussel, Eurasian milfoil, and the Asian carp, VHS is viral hemorrhagic septicemia and the latest migrant in the spread of invasive species.

    Viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) is a virus. It is a small invading critter that can be quite infectious. Not all fish will show obvious signs. Those that do can exhibit hemorrhaging in the eyes, around the fins, or on the gills. Bloating, erratic behavior, bulging eyes, or even lesions could also be present. On the inside, the disease will attack the liver, kidneys, spleen or swim bladder. Those fish that do survive can still be infected and spread the disease. Blood, urine and even the reproductive fluids of infected fish can pass on the virus. Larger fish can get it from eating smaller infected fish.
    Fish kill: sights like this are all the more possible with the new viral invader
    Fish kill: sights like this are all the more possible with the new viral invaderCourtesy JoelDeluxe

    The disease can be wide spread and is known to affect up to 28 different species of fish. Some of the fish kills have numbered in the tens of thousands. Many of our popular game fish are susceptible. Walleye, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Smallmouth Bass, Perch, Crappies, Bluegills, Sheepshead and many others are on the list. Even some species of shiner bait fish have been found to carry the disease. While deadly for many fish, the disease is of no harm to humans. The warmth of our bodies is too hot for the virus to survive.

    The virus has been known for many decades, but until recently was mainly a scourge of European fish farms. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia was first detected in American coastal waters in 1988, among the salmon populations of the Pacific Northwest. Then in 2005, tested fish showed up positive between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, and were confirmed in samples harvested two years earlier. Now, local news just recently reported on a Cornell study that found VHS diseased fish in the bay waters of the Duluth-Superior harbor on the western edges of Lake Superior. Make no mistake… the ‘bleeding fish’ disease is here at our doorstep.

    Guests of the inland waterways will be reminded to be vigilant in safe boating and fishing practices by local resource managers. Be mindful not to transport fish, plants, or bait from one water body to another. Keep those live-wells empty, and dry or rinse that boat! It will fall upon all of us to remain vigilant. Let’s not allow this disease to become a crippling blow to our native fisheries. If we do, it is possible that we’ll witness many seasons of massive fish kills.

    More good VHS information:
    Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources

    Univ. of Wisconsin Sea Grant

    Jan
    23
    2010

    Great Lakes fishing industry endangered

    Asian carp
    Asian carpCourtesy kate.gardiner
    The commercial fishing industry in the Great Lakes, worth more than $7 billion a year, is threatened by Asian carp. Asian bighead (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) and silver (H. molitrix) carp imported in 1970 to remove algae from catfish farms escaped into the Mississippi River during a flood. Since then they have outcompeted other fish. Along some stretches of the Illinois River, the carp make up 95 percent of the biomass. In December, the State of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the State of Illinois to close of locks between Chicago-area waterways and Lake Michigan.

    "We cannot allow carp into the Great Lakes. It will destroy our Great Lakes fisheries, the economy," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in a prepared statement." New York Times

    Supreme Court denies appeal to protect Great Lakes ecosystem

    On Jan 19, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Michigan's request to block Asian carp invasion of Great Lakes (Scientific American). The Supreme Court didn't reveal any of the reasoning behind its ruling, which simply read: "The motion for preliminary injunction is denied."

    White House appeal

    Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, is "asking for an immediate summit at the White House with the administration to shut down these locks, at least temporarily, until a permanent solution can be found.”

    The AP reported the White House response to be:

    “The Obama administration clearly understands the urgency of this critical issue, and we look forward to meeting with them on the threat the Asian carp poses to the Great Lakes.” Dayton Daily News

    Yellow submarine: While the Beatles' Yellow Submarine looks very funky, the actual research yellow submarine cruising about in Lake Superior is much more plain.
    Yellow submarine: While the Beatles' Yellow Submarine looks very funky, the actual research yellow submarine cruising about in Lake Superior is much more plain.Courtesy Wongx AT
    In a collision of Beatles and Gordon Lightfoot song topics, an unmanned, small yellow submarine is puttering about the depths of Lake Superior, providing lake quality data to researchers back on shore. Launched earlier this week, the seven-foot-long, $74,000 device is on a two-week test run to see if it can prove to be a more cost-effective way of monitoring the lake's water quality than by using people on boats.

    Is the sub's color a tribute to The Beatles? Not really. Creator Jay Austin of the University of Minnesota-Duluth told the Star-Tribune: "Yellow's the international color of research. It's an easy color to see in the water, so it's very typical to paint your equipment yellow. I've got a research buoy that's the same color."

    And so far into the mission's run, no sign of any Blue Meanies in the great waters of Gitchigumi.