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$1.5 Million to Support New Coastal and Aquatic Research

Photo: Smallmouth bass swimming underwater. Photo by Brian Borkholder

The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program is planning to fund six new research projects that span the next two years. The program's $1.5 million investment, which includes support for six graduate students, comes through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Sea Grant Program and is matched by the University of Minnesota. The funded projects listed below address regional economic and environmental challenges relevant to Lake Superior and Minnesota's coastal communities.

Opening the Black Box of Winter: Ice Cover and Biological Productivity in Lake Superior

Project Lead: Ted Ozersky, Large Lakes Observatory, University of Minnesota Duluth

Researchers are braving the depth of a Minnesota winter to understand how ice cover affects Lake Superior's physical and chemical dynamics and, in turn, the phytoplankton and zooplankton that live there. During the next two winters, the researchers will lean over the side of a small boat or stand out on the ice to measure light and temperature profiles; water chemistry parameters; and species, abundance and depth distribution of phytoplankton and zooplankton. By examining winter water, an understudied facet of Lake Superior's annual cycle, the researchers will advance a growing awareness of how changes in ice cover here and in other large cold lakes change biological productivity and aquatic foodwebs.

Solving a Biocorrosion Challenge in Freshwater Ports

Project Lead: Randall Hicks, Department of Biology, University of Minnesota Duluth

After discovering bacterial activities are accelerating corrosion in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and other freshwater ports, scientists are investigating ways to reduce corrosion rates. To do this, they will fasten steel samples below the waterline within the harbor. Some samples will remain untreated while others will be coated with non-toxic antifouling biochemicals or antifouling bacteria. Over the following year, the samples will be scrutinized for evidence of corrosion and changes in their bacterial communities. The goals of this study are to identify non-toxic methods of impeding microbial attachment and growth or modify existing microbial communities to reduce corrosion.

Oil, Water, Wind: What if Oil Spilled into a Large Lake?

Project Lead: Lian Shen, St. Anthony Falls Laboratory and Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Computer simulations are helping scientists predict the way oil droplets might move within the water column of lakes like Superior. This study will improve the accuracy of existing predictions by incorporating realistic wind and wave conditions along with surface currents, turbulence and properties of oil into advanced computational tools. By overcoming some of the limitations identified in existing models, the results of this study could be useful in risk analyses and, should there be a spill, could help predict its trajectory.

Understanding Harmful Algae Blooms in Minnesota's Inland Lakes

Project Lead: Andrew Bramburger, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth

Examining relationships among geographic, climatic and water quality stressors, and algal responses will allow researchers to assess whether harmful algae blooms are increasing in frequency in Minnesota inland lake systems. The study involves quantifying fossil pigments and other paleolimnological artifacts to determine historical trends. The researchers will also examine modern algal assemblages and water quality characteristics to understand current harmful algae bloom patterns. The study results will guide regulatory actions and best management practices. They will also shed light on the usefulness of algae bloom monitoring and prediction networks.

Tracking Muskellunge in the St. Louis River Estuary

Project Lead: Paul Venturelli, Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Are Muskellunge (Muskies) in the St. Louis River Estuary occupying restored habitats? Are they using Lake Superior? Researchers aim to better understand the movement patterns and habitat use of Muskies in the estuary through stationary acoustic receivers and mobile tracking. The researchers will also conduct genetic analyses to determine if fish from two stocked strains show different tendencies. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources set restoration targets for Muskies in the estuary. This research will help refine population estimates and complement the state's spring survey. It will also identify critical areas for Muskies, a culturally, economically and ecologically important game fish.

Understanding Methylmercury Production and Bioavailability in the St. Louis River Estuary (Jointly conducted with Wisconsin Sea Grant)

Project Lead: Nathan Johnson, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota Duluth

w/ Matthew Ginder-Vogel, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kristofer Rolfhus, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Jeff Jeremiason, Gustavus Adolphus College

Scientists and natural resource managers plan to tease apart the processes that cause elevated mercury levels in sport fish within the diverse biogeochemical setting of the St. Louis River Estuary. Methylmercury, the bioaccumulative form of mercury, is primarily produced by natural microbial activity in wetlands, soils and sediments. Its production reflects organic carbon, aquatic vegetation and sulfur concentrations. The researchers will collect water, sediment and biota from a variety of locations in the estuary and analyze them for total mercury and methylmercury. This work will inform decisions concerning beneficial use of dredging materials, habitat restoration and consumption advisories.

Posted on April 19, 2016

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