July 12, 2016 by Deanna Erickson and Samantha Smingler
Deanna says: As the R/V Lake Guardian rolled out of Houghton MI and back into the open lake yesterday evening, the sky got darker and darker. Somewhere offshore of the Ontonagon River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula a front was cruising over the lake. I’ve never seen so much lightening in my life. The sky was lit up like Bentleyville, the annual Christmas display in Duluth. Ashland, Wisconsin was already under thunderstorm warnings and power outages struck Northern Wisconsin. We stood outside on the ship’s starboard, watching as long as we could until Owen, one of the lanky marine techs, told us we had to come inside. It was reasonable. We had already lost our first-string navigation equipment earlier in the day due to a lightning strike on the water right next to the ship, albeit temporarily.
Samantha says: The Chief Scientists talk things over with Captain John and the marine technicians to see if there
is a way to get to another station in. Sitting in one place doesn’t help us get out of the storm or help us collect data. The new plan: skip the station we are at and forge ahead to the next location to see if the lightning and wind is better, and it’s safe enough to be on the back deck and use equipment. (Each station is specific point on the Lake Superior we hope to collect data from. The selection is based on where data was collected in previous years, so we can compare changes over time, and others are selected to ensure we survey a variety of habitat and environmental conditions.) Now that it’s after 20:00 (10pm), many of us try to get a little sleep before we wake up at 02:00 (2am) to see if the weather will clear. Trying to sleep is a bit more challenging with the rocking of the boat, the loud fog horn- which goes off every few minutes for other boats in the area who will not be able to see the Lake Guardian.
02:00 Update – weather is still bad, everyone who came down to the Wet Lab is sent back to bed…no complaints!
The Next Morning…
Deanna says: With clearer skies, I crawled out of bed at 6:30AM and collected a water quality profile in my pajamas with the Chief Scientist and a few other bleary eyed crew. We collect temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity (a measure of salts and minerals in the water, with higher levels often being associated with human input) and phosphorescence or the reflection that phytoplankton (aka, algae) produces when a light is shined. Huge plumes of cloudy clay filled water pouring out of rivers along Lake Superior’s south shore, a result of the overnight rains. Over the course of the day, we learned that roads were washed out all over Ashland and the marina in Saxon Harbor had been destroyed.
Samantha: After sampling 3 sites in Chequamegon Bay area we
mustered in the Wet Lab (where we run the water chemistry, but also a large room with tables and chairs for meetings) for presentations from a few guest speakers. Randy Lehr from Northland College shared the research efforts towards understanding climate change in the Chequamegon Bay and surrounding tributaries that enter Lake Superior. Then Jay Glase and Brenda Moraska Lafrancois from the National Park Service shared the data that has been collected from underwater water monitoring stations at the Apostle Islands, as well as bathymetry data (showing the shape of the bottom of the Lake) at Sleeping Bear, Isle Royale and Pictured Rocks National Parks.
At port in Washburn, WI we take the chance to get a little walk land side and enjoyed dinner together. After dinner included sharing stories, stopping at the local stores, and adventuring to an artisan well for fresh water! We spend the night in port getting some extra hours of sleep. Tomorrow is another chance to get out on the water…kayak style.
A few fun pictures from ship life: