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Minnesota Sea Grant Research in 2010

Minnesota Sea Grant recently selected four research projects for funding. The award money, provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant College Program and matched by the University of Minnesota, totals $753,257. The 2-year projects begin in 2010.

Do Vertically Migrating Animals Fertilize the Deep Chlorophyll Layer of Lake Superior?

Investigators: Stephanie Guildford, Tom Hrabik, and Donn Branstrator
University of Minnesota Duluth

Analogous to spreading manure on cropland, fish and invertebrates venturing en masse from Lake Superior’s deep waters to feed near the surface at night could spread essential nutrients to the algae layer that forms each growing season at about 30 meters deep. Researchers speculate that this unquantified internal cycle contributes to the outstanding discrepancy between measures of carbon input and carbon output in Lake Superior. This study is the first full top-to-bottom characterization of pelagic primary productivity. A combination of hydroacoustic data, measures of primary productivity, and examinations of nutrient use and exchange promise to yield results that will help Great Lakes fisheries make better-informed decisions about harvest rates and predictions associated with climate change. Results will add to ongoing contaminant studies and ecological research.

Sediment Analysis Shows How Humans Altered Lake Superior Over Time

Investigators: Euan Reavie, Amy Kireta, and Terry Brown
University of Minnesota Duluth

Lake Superior’s contemporary physical and ecological state is the product of continuous human activity: mining, logging, commercial fishing, community development, shipping, pollutants, environmental laws/awareness, and more. Researchers will assess how Lake Superior has responded to human activities over the past 300 years by examining sediment samples retrieved from Lake Superior’s floor. They will analyze the sediment cores for relics of diatom communities, pollen indicators, chemistry, and physical composition. They expect the greatest differences to coincide with community development in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by a shift toward recovery. The research will complement previously funded Sea Grant research (Hecky, Johnson, Werne, 2009-2010) and span both local and global influences. The results will contribute to protecting Great Lakes ecosystems as well as supporting sustainable practices.

Examining How Land Use Influences Aquatic Conditions in the St. Louis River Estuary

Investigators: George Host1, Janet Silbernagel2
1University of Minnesota Duluth
2University of Wisconsin-Madison

This bi-state research will result in detailed analyses of habitats in the St. Louis River Estuary. The analyses, particularly those of reference and compromised habitats, will guide future monitoring, restoration, and land use. Researchers will quantify land-based characteristics that affect aquatic conditions—impervious surfaces, road density, and point-source pollutants. They will then evaluate how these characteristics combine to influence water quality, aquatic plant communities, and aquatic invertebrate communities at mouths of estuary tributaries. The St. Louis River Estuary is a complex mosaic of high quality plant, animal, and aquatic habitat intermingled with areas of heavy industrial use, contaminated sediments, and urban effluents. It is an EPA Area of Concern and a candidate for a National Estuarine Research Reserve. The project will develop innovative methods to educate teachers, local governments, environmental managers, and the public—including real and virtual tours, augmented reality games, and GPS-based 'treasure' hunts.

Examining the Ability of Enterococci Bacteria to Live in Soils and Sands of the Great Lakes

Investigators: Gary Dunny, Michael Sadowsky, Suzanne Grindle
University of Minnesota Twin Cities

The EPA has proposed that coastal states, including Great Lakes states, use enterococci counts to assess fecal contamination of beaches and water. The advantages of using enterococci over E. coli or coliforms include their superior survival in sewage, manure, and water. Enterococci have a stronger positive correlation with cases of gastroenteritis reported by swimmers. However, like E. coli, enterococci survive outside of mammal bodies, so populations might reproduce in Lake Superior sand and soil, which this research will determine. The results will help refine enterococci contamination standards that precipitate beach closures. The work will yield tools and approaches applicable to other coastal areas and aid agencies like the EPA, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

By Sea Grant Staff
December 2009

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