Day 4 Aboard the Lake Guardian

July 23, 2011

Day 4 on the EPA Lake Guardian and we’ve packed a lot of action into every moment. Operating a fully-equipped research vessel out on this mammoth body of water is a costly endeavor and researchers have much to accomplish in a tight timeframe. Scientists work around the clock gathering samples and preserving the specimens for analysis back in their labs on land. Data gathered in this single week can fuel a year’s worth of research for any of our scientists and there’s no‘re-do’ – they can’t hop a fishing boat to resample a 400 foot water column!

Our teacher cohort has ramped up quickly under the patient supervision of the researchers as we operate the sampling equipment at all hours of the day. Three key station types are run during a 24 hour schedule:

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Coordinated Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) – As part of a five year rotation of monitoring among the Great Lakes – one lake each year – this protocol includes dropping the ‘Rosette” apparatus to gather samples along the water column from surface to lake bottom and an important data profile of the water column, sending out nets to catch tiny plants and animals (phytoplankton and zooplankton), and taking sediment samples from the floor of the lake.

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COSEE River Transect (CRT)-Designed to evaluate the impacts of rivers on near shore lake ecosystems, the CRT stations follow 20 meter deep contours near the mouths of three different rivers. A profile is done of the water column using the “Rosette,” and plankton and larval fish are collected, with the initial processing of samples occurring in on-board labs.

Manta Trawl – Shaped like its ocean namesake, the wings of this 6 foot wide water sampling device skim the lake surface and gather any buoyant debris in a long trailing net. A device typically used in marine environments to gather plastic litter samples, our COSEE Lake Superior 2011 cruise is the Manta’s inaugural trip in the Great Lakes, initiating Dr. Lorena M. Rios-Mendoza’ research on the impact of plastic pollution in our inland seas.

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Last night provided us with a new look at life and research on a ship as the previously tranquil seas gave way to high winds and 4-8 foot waves, making sampling difficult and stomachs turn. After battling the adverse weather conditions with waves breaking over the stern deck, at 4 AM the decision was made to suspend further data collection and find safe harbor.

Day broke with the ship docked near the Lily Pond of the Keewenaw Penninsula and impending inclement weather caused us to modify the day’s schedule. We will resume a very ambitious sampling schedule Sunday, as we head back out to open water.