Last Day on the Lake Guardian

July 26, 2011

Lake Guardian teachers demonstrate the deployment of the zooplankton net to NERR teachers

Man Crew COSEE Superior 2011

Today was a sad day on the Lake Guardian. As we watched the sun rise over the Apostle Islands, a sight—or rather, a dream washed our eyes with pinks and purples and the mixed colors of sandstone. However, as we watched this we all knew that our last day on the boat was upon us. It was for that reason that late last night people who had no job or task to do were still milling around the labs and watching their colleagues work the decks, sampling zooplankton and phytoplankton. Fortunately, we had a couple of long awaited programs (long awaited for the week long event that is). Our first treat this morning was the “isotope lecture” by lead scientist Joel Hoffman (Isotope Ubermensch). Dr. Hoffman enlightened and delighted the anxious crowd of teachers with warm-up jokes and quirky isotope anecdotes. He turned up the heat when he threw in race cars and the addition of “two isotopes walked into a bar…” by Dr. Greg Boyer. Dr. Hoffman drew gasps of “oohs” and “ahs” as he demonstrated how isotopes pinpointed snowfall originating from the Great Lakes during the great Groundhog Blizzard of 2011, opening our eyes to the wonders of isotopic meteorology. When we were joined by the group of teachers studying the St. Louis Estuary, we were treated with our second delight of the day. This group, which was sponsored by the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), revitalized our group by making us the teachers of the sampling equipment and the students of methods they were using to test turbidity and water clarity. This week has been a lightning bolt of energy and time for all of us. No one can believe the week has come to an end; alas, it has. Everyone has left the wet lab as John and I finish typing, and though there will be one more blog for our research trip, this is sadly our last night to be with each other, so we are saying goodbye for now. Remember, to join the COSEE group next year on Lake Huron…that’s where the Merrill sank if you don’t remember and join Sandy tomorrow for her retrospective of the last minutes of COSEE 2011.

Day 6: A Day of Small-Group Research

July 25, 2011

A new day starts that 12:00 AM and so does this blog entry. Due to the type of research that we are conducting, all of our testing needs to take place after sundown. By this point in the trip all of us are pretty use to staying up late, waking up in the middle of the night, and getting up before dawn to do our part in the research. At midnight, we were dropping the rosette for water analysis, taking benthic samples from the lake floor, and trawling for larval fish and macrofragments of plastics. We have been doing these things for days now and have them pretty down pat, but for some reason getting soaked with water is just part of the process. After collecting all the samples, we spent the next couple hours scraping nets, filtering water, examining samples under the microscopes. Before calling an end to the beginning of the day the handful of us still up went to the front of the ships to view the moonless night sky unfettered by light pollution from the northern cities.

Being on a ship gets you used to many oddities; sleeping in bunk beds, sharing a bathroom with five other people, NOT flushing the toilet when you are done using it, having every meal prepared for you and not even having to do the dishes, the constant rocking of the boat, and the loud hum of the engine. With almost all of the researchers sleeping at 7:30 in the morning after a long night of sampling, one of those oddities got us all up. The engines stopped and the boat slowed and that was enough to wake us all up wondering why we had come to an unscheduled stop. Due to a calculation error we had arrived at our next research spot an hour and a half early. Within minutes, the deck was alive with teachers ready for another set of samples. Everyone was excited because this spot was going to be testing waters at 237 meters deep. Think about that. That is 777 feet. Only twelve of the fifty states have buildings that are taller that! One of the reasons we were so excited about this spot is that we all decorated Styrofoam cups, shoved them in pantyhose to secure them to the rosette, and lowered it down the 237 m offshore of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The pressure was so great that the cups were compressed to nearly half their size!

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We then headed off to the mouth of the Bad River of the Chequamegon Bay without stopping, which took the rest of the day. That was fine with us because we had a lot of work to do on board. We are all presenting our small group research projects on Wednesday and needed the time to wrap things up.

Janet, John, Paul, and Jim have been researching the presence of plastic in Lake Superior. Using a mantatrawl drug to the side and behind the boat to avoid the wake, a sample is taken for one hour at 2 knots. They also have been taking shoreline samples for plastics.

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Lori W., Jillian, Lori S.D. and are collecting zooplankton samples and comparing nearshore samples to offshore. They are looking for difference in abundance and biodiversity in relation to possible nutrient and temperature differences.

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Mark, Diane, Sara, and JoAnn are collecting phytoplankton samples and comparing nearshore samples to offshore. They are looking for the relationship between phytoplankton and nutrient loading and therefore human population centers.

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Sandy, Lynn, Cindy B., and June are researching different chlorophyll levels using the hydrolab (data sond) that we were trained with earlier on our voyage. They are comparing different levels and different locations to find the greatest abundance of chlorophyll in the lake.

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We also learned a few lessons with Cindy H. and Rosanne to bring to our own classrooms covering watersheds, fisheries, and aquatic habitats to wrap up our day.

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DAY 5: Wetlands, Guts and Gay

July 24, 2011

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After waking up from a taste of Houghton our day started while still docked with another delicious meal in the galley. Following the scraping of plates and filling of coffee mugs we headed to the wet lab for a lecture. Dr. Joel Hoffman inspired us with his enthusiastic overview of costal wetlands. The lecture came to abrupt halt as the boat pulled away from the dock and we headed to the O2 deck to marvel at the well engineered lift bridge. We clicked away with our cameras and chitter chatter as we peered at the massive columns of steel that the bridge was comprised of. Little did we know that the task of gut processing was in our near future.

Following a 15 minute float we docked at Michigan Tech and stepped off the ship onto the land of rebar. Michigan Tech is in the middle of a 40 million dollar building project complete with boat house, state of the art laboratories, and extra space for visiting scientists who will contribute to the research of the Great Lakes.

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We met with Marty Auer who provided us with a tour of the new facility, still in progress and then headed over to a lecture and lab. Dr. Auer provided us with information about the new facility and current research at Michigan Tech. We found the lab to be engaging as we studied features of the lake bed, identified a variety of plankton and donned our purple latex gloves and dissected the stomachs of lake trout.

Dr. Charlie Kerfoot, from Michigan Tech, led us on a world wind tour of the historic copper mining sites of the area. We piled into two vans and headed to Gay, MI with several relevant stops along the way. Including the historic Quincy mine, Torch Lake and massive piles of Stamp Sands on the beaches at Gay.

The waters of Superior called to us and we answered. We arrived at the boat a few minutes after our scheduled departure and were elated the Captain Bob hadn’t sailed on without us. We headed out through Portage Lake and channel and met Mother Superior an hour later. We now await our first testing station and anticipate fun times on the back deck and in the labs.
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Day 4 Aboard the Lake Guardian

July 23, 2011

Day 4 on the EPA Lake Guardian and we’ve packed a lot of action into every moment. Operating a fully-equipped research vessel out on this mammoth body of water is a costly endeavor and researchers have much to accomplish in a tight timeframe. Scientists work around the clock gathering samples and preserving the specimens for analysis back in their labs on land. Data gathered in this single week can fuel a year’s worth of research for any of our scientists and there’s no‘re-do’ – they can’t hop a fishing boat to resample a 400 foot water column!

Our teacher cohort has ramped up quickly under the patient supervision of the researchers as we operate the sampling equipment at all hours of the day. Three key station types are run during a 24 hour schedule:

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Coordinated Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) – As part of a five year rotation of monitoring among the Great Lakes – one lake each year – this protocol includes dropping the ‘Rosette” apparatus to gather samples along the water column from surface to lake bottom and an important data profile of the water column, sending out nets to catch tiny plants and animals (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and taking sediment samples from the floor of the lake.

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COSEE River Transect (CRT)-Designed to evaluate the impacts of rivers on near shore lake ecosystems, the CRT stations follow 20 meter deep contours near the mouths of three different rivers. A profile is done of the water column using the “Rosette,” and plankton and larval fish are collected, with the initial processing of samples occurring in on-board labs.

Manta Trawl – Shaped like its ocean namesake, the wings of this 6 foot wide water sampling device skim the lake surface and gather any buoyant debris in a long trailing net. A device typically used in marine environments to gather plastic litter samples, our COSEE Lake Superior 2011 cruise is the Manta’s inaugural trip in the Great Lakes, initiating Dr. Lorena M. Rios-Mendoza’ research on the impact of plastic pollution in our inland seas.

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Last night provided us with a new look at life and research on a ship as the previously tranquil seas gave way to high winds and 4-8 foot waves, making sampling difficult and stomachs turn. After battling the adverse weather conditions with waves breaking over the stern deck, at 4 AM the decision was made to suspend further data collection and find safe harbor.

Day broke with the ship docked near the Lily Pond of the Keewenaw Penninsula and impending inclement weather caused us to modify the day’s schedule. We will resume a very ambitious sampling schedule Sunday, as we head back out to open water.

July 23, 2011 - The work begins

What a privilege it is to work with scientists! For some of us the day began at midnight and for others, it was simply a continuation of their day: day of taking and processing samples. Some of us headed to the labs to search out the smelt larvae hidden within the gelantinous daphnia while others were on deck to pull in the specimens. Some of that included sifting through lake bottom sediment taken from depths ranging from 280-600 feet. Others headed to the biology lab for the magical mystery search to find blue-green algae. So far the search continues for the elusive buggers!

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We received word that the ship was passing through the Apostle Islands to which we immediately dashed up to the top deck to stand in awe of the magestic view. The Apostle Islands offer a variety of recreational activities for the outdoor enthusiasts.

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Another day comes to an end on this amazing lake we call Superior. Yes she is indeed!
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