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2014-2016 Research Projects

Minnesota Sea Grant awarded over one million dollars to fund research projects spanning 2014-2016.The funding, which is provided by the National Sea Grant College Program and matched by the University of Minnesota, comes with an additional $687,000 to support six graduate research assistants. The projects are:

Decision-Support Tools to Address North Shore Tourism and Climate Change

Project Summary

This project helps North Shore community leaders and the region's nature-based tourism industry to better understand the vulnerabilities, opportunities and risks a changing climate could bring to the region. The adaptive planning and visualization tools resulting from this project will help guide Minnesota's coastal communities and their policies as they manage both tourism and altered weather patterns. These tools will be based on findings from recreation visitor surveys, climate and hydrologic modeling, economic trends analyses and interviews with local decision makers and resource professionals.

Community Resilience in Response to Flooding

Project Summary

This research examines how two communities along the St. Louis River, a major Lake Superior tributary, fared during and after a catastrophic flood. A civil engineering component to this study assesses infrastructure in both communities that could be compromised in future floods. In addition to identifying strategies for improving communication and outreach during crises, the project discovers qualities that aid a community's ability to rebound after an extreme weather event.

How Nitrogen, Sulfates and Sulfides Influence Wild Rice

Project Summary

The research team is teasing apart the biogeochemical interactions between sulfate, nitrogen and the productivity of wild rice beds. With Sea Grant funds, they are specifically interested in quantifying the conversion of sulfate to sulfide and the detrimental effects of sulfide on northern wild rice populations. Their previous research has shown that nitrogen controls the productivity of wild rice, but sulfide depresses seed production and seedling survival. Proposals to increase mining in northern Minnesota (and thereby the probability that sulfate will enter natural waterways) raise questions about how sulfate and sulfide may affect wild rice beds downstream. This research will help ascertain if the current state standard for sulfate sufficiently protects Minnesota's wild rice beds.

The History of Aquatic Conditions in the St. Louis River Estuary

Project Summary

Researchers are examining sediment layers, and their fossilized diatoms and chemical makeup, to comment on ecological and water quality trends in the St. Louis River Estuary over the last 300 years. The St. Louis River Estuary is one of 43 Areas of Concern identified in the Great Lakes by the U.S. and Canadian governments. This research will help quantify the success of rehabilitation programs through environmental reconstructions. The results are expected to show spatial variability as well as the difference that modern sewage treatment made in improving water quality.

Uncultured: Improvements on Beach Monitoring and Tracking Sources of Fecal Bacteria using DNA Methods

Project Summary

Technological advances are allowing researchers to examine nearly all the microbes in an environmental sample without needing to culture the microbes themselves. Using such an advance, a metagenomics DNA sequencing approach, this project will establish a "library" of fecal bacteria commonly found in the western Lake Superior watershed. The researchers will use this library to determine the distribution, diversity and abundance of human and animal fecal bacteria in two areas within the St. Louis River Estuary and one on Lake Superior's Park Point Beach. By developing a cost-effective and rapid method to accurately trace fecal pollution to sources, the researchers expect to improve the predictive power of beach monitoring tests, which currently trigger unnecessary beach closures and advisories.

Risk, Response and Weather

Project Summary

Researchers are studying the interplay between human and hydrological systems in two watersheds in the Lake Superior basin near Duluth, Minnesota. They plan to find out how development and weather affect peak stream flow in each of these watersheds while also assessing the communities' capacities to respond to severe weather events. The researchers expect to model strategies that the two communities could use to prepare for an uncertain climate future. This project is the result of a unique push by the National Sea Grant Program Office to support more social science research.

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