At the WATER Institute, students, teachers and scientists help contribute to our knowledge about Lake Michigan and the impact human activities and exotic species have on the Lake.
WHY WE STUDY AQUATIC ENVIRONMENTS
"Change" is alteration in a continuum of processes (e.g., natural, economic, social, etc.). Understanding change requires knowing what was there before, and what is happening there now. To attain this, time series analysis (often spanning many years) is crucial. Change should be studied objectively by scientists without agenda, and acted upon by others using that information. We in the ACCESS Labs are objective scientists, and we train others in either production or interpretation of scientific facts.
Water properties (the physical, chemical and biological characteristics) within Lake Michigan are important both to the organisms living within the lake, and to the human populations living around the lake.
Water quality plays an important role in controlling productivity and composition of plankton, which in turn affect other organisms in the aquatic food web, including fish such as perch and salmon. For the human population, the lake serves as a major source of water for domestic, industrial and recreational use.
Water characteristics are altered by a variety of human activities including agriculture, industry, sewage production, urban application of fertilizers and herbicides, and burning of fossil fuels.
Most of these activities are particularly intense in the southwestern basin of Lake Michigan, which is adjacent to dense urban populations. In addition to direct anthropogenic impacts, water quality and ecosystem functioning may be altered by introduction of exotic species, which has occurred repeatedly over the past century, and will likely continue.
HOW WE DO IT
In order to determine how human activities and exotic species introductions are affecting the water quality and general functioning of the Lake Michigan ecosystem, the Great Lakes WATER Institute operates a time series study program in the Milwaukee region of the lake.
Time series study sites extend from the Milwaukee Harbor to a pelagic station 16 kilometers offshore, and include a perch spawning reef and an urban water intake area.
A suite of measurements is made at hourly to monthly time intervals at these locations, including temperature, water clarity, water chemistry, phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance, and bacterial and plankton productivity.
Some of these measurements are made directly from the research vessel, Neeskay, while others are made in the WATER Institute laboratories.
In addition, continuous near-real-time water quality and meteorological measurements will soon be available from a monitoring buoy that has been installed in the lake.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Time series study, along with measurements taken by the Linnwood water treatment plant since the 1930's, makes it possible to determine how Lake Michigan's ecosystem may be changing over time, and what causes of those changes might be.
By making a large variety of measurements over long time periods, scientists not only are keeping their finger on the pulse of the lake, but they are able to answer fundamental questions about interactions between physical, chemical and biological processes in large lakes.
In addition, the study provides support data and serves as a logistic platform for the development of new aquatic science technologies and for specific research projects.