Michigan Tech Research Institute Projects

In addition to its Cladophora efforts, the Michigan Tech Research Institute is working on three other projects as part of the federally funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Everything you wanted to know about the Great Lakes

“The goal of this project is to make one place where everyone can get data on the Great Lakes,” says Nate Jessee, an assistant research scientist. “It’s the synthesis of many products we’ve produced.”

Known formally as the Great Lakes Observation System Area of Concern Tributary Monitoring program, the project gives visitors the latest information on a variety of topics at the website. Anyone from anglers to the Department of Natural Resources can check out Great Lakes maps for data on lake surface temperature; sediment plumes; color-producing agents (chlorophyll, dissolved organic carbon, and suspended minerals); harmful algal blooms; the type of land cover, such as forests, agriculture, wetlands, and urban; and lake-bottom type (sand or algae).

The site is updated from May through November using satellite data and is frequented regularly by government resource managers. “We have terabytes and terabytes of data,” says Jessee. “We hope to help others bring back diversity and the finest possible recreation to the Great Lakes.” Learn more at www.glosaocmapping.org.

Finding Phragmites

Great Lakes Phragmites (pronounced frag-MY-tees) comes in two types: good and bad. The good type is a native reed that plays well with others, says research scientist Colin Brooks. “The bad type is an invasive exotic that gets fifteen feet tall, crowds out native plants, and takes over wetlands,” he says. “In Phragmites marshes, the only things we’ve seen are slugs and aphids. Even mosquitoes don’t like Phragmites habitats.”

Brooks’s research lab is using satellite imagery to map the bad Phragmites in the US coastal regions of the Great Lakes, so resource managers trying to control it can find it. Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, also of MTRI, leads the Phragmites mapping project.

Phragmites may be on the move. The invasive form now grows mostly south of a line that runs roughly between Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, Traverse City, and Green Bay. Farther north, mostly the native version of Phragmites is found. But if it gets warmer and lake levels drop, the invasive form may come north, and the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service want to know where it is and where it might show up because of climate change. “Our product will help with decision making. It’s great to have a map, and it’s even better if people use it,” said Bourgeau-Chavez.

Maps of Phragmites in the US coastal Great Lakes region and MTRI’s field data are available at http://www.mtri.org/monitoring_phragmites.html.

Beyond Cladophora: Toxic algal blooms

Cladophora isn’t the only problem alga in the Great Lakes. Western Lake Erie is undergoing one of the worst algal blooms of Microcystis in decades. Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, have also shown up in Green Bay and Saginaw Bay.

“This is a record year for HABs,” says research engineer Michael Sayers. Concentrations have skyrocketed in portions of Lake Erie, from 35 micrograms per liter to 1,000. The blue-green algae are toxic, killing fish and endangering other wildlife and human health. They thrive in nutrient-rich, stagnant water.

Sayers and other members of the MTRI team are developing algorithms that describe the extent of HABs dating back to the early 2000s. “The trick is to tell blue-green algae from regular algae, but we’re coming up with a nice algorithm using satellite data,” he says. “It’s very robust. Our goal is to help the people who are trying to remediate this.”

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.