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Renowned Freshwater Scientists to Converge in Duluth

Discussions focus on problems and solutions for the world's large lakes

"Big lakes - Big world" is the theme for the 54th International Conference on Great Lakes Research, which is drawing more than 600 scientists from around the world to Duluth, Minn., for the first time ever. The conference, convened by the International Association for Great Lakes (IAGLR), will be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC), May 30 - June 3.

A media conference will be held May 31 at 10 a.m. in the DECC Board Room with plenary speakers Marianne Moore and Sally MacIntyre, along with other scientists and conference organizers. Included in this release are five story leads that involve the work of Minnesota scientists who are available for interviews for pre-conference stories.

The plenary speakers showcase research pulled from around the globe to Duluth.

  • Marianne Moore, aquatic ecologist from Wellesley College, co-leads a team of Russian and American scientists who are analyzing a 60-year dataset for Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest, largest (by volume) and most biotically diverse lake in the world. Moore is the opening keynote speaker on May 31 at 10:40 a.m.
  • Sally MacIntyre, a physical limnologist/oceanographer from the University of California - Santa Barbara, will give a plenary address titled "Climate Related Variations in Mixing Dynamics in the African Great Lakes" on June 1 at 11:10 a.m.
  • John Goss, Asian carp director, Council on Environmental Quality in Washington D.C., chairs a team of federal, state and local agencies working together to prevent Asian carp from establishing populations in the Great Lakes. He will give an address titled "The Asian Carp Control Strategy" on June 2 at 11:10 a.m.

"Scientists don't Twitter and Facebook about their research. They come together to discuss and question and be amazed by the findings of their colleagues," says Randall Hicks, IAGLR conference organizer and UMD professor. "And the research is driven by relevance to real problems we're facing around the world, like the spread of invasive species. This is our opportunity to compare notes and learn from each other."

For more information, visit the conference website: www.iaglr.org/conference.

What Happens on Land ... Doesn't Stay There (This ain't Vegas!)
Sess16: Linkages Between the Landscape and Great Lakes Coastal Ecosystems
 
In a challenged economy, making the most of limited funding is critical to managing water resources wisely. Does it make sense to spend $10 million to clean up one polluted harbor slip? Or let prime lakeshore property go undeveloped because of contaminants? Or spend millions to restore impaired water systems when conservation costs so much less? Scientists at the IAGLR conference will discuss the critical connection between land use and water quality.
 
"Our biggest problems today aren't factories or industries emitting large volumes of pollutants," says Joel Hoffman, EPA research biologist. "It's our collective, individual actions on land - from fertilizing our lawns to urban sprawl. But new technologies can help us formulate better, targeted approaches to improving water quality."
 
A good example is development of new GIS (Geographical Information Systems) tools that can show where flow paths are carrying pollutants from the land to the water so mitigation can be focused most effectively. More good news is funding released in 2010 to restore the Great Lakes that will also help the economy. For example, restoration of natural bays and vegetation to Duluth's industrialized lakeshore will bring back the insects and the fish, and eventually make it hospitable to humans, too.
 
Local Interviews:
University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute
Gerald Niemi, Senior Scientist
George Host, Senior Scientist
 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development
Mid-Continent Ecology Division, Duluth
Joel Hoffman, Research Biologist
Peder Yurista, Research Biologist
Curbing Chemical Abuse in Lake Superior
Sess21: Assessing Effects of Toxic Substances in the Great Lakes
Sess17: Contaminants of Concern: How Far Have We Come and Where Are We Going?
 
We've improved our lives with chemicals - from pharmaceuticals to flame retardants - but now we have to deal with their implications for our environment. This year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and partners from around Lake Superior are marking 20 years toward a goal to curb the discharge of nine designated toxic substances into lakes and streams. Are we curbing the lake's chemical abuse problem?
 
"It's more vulnerable than it looks," explains Carri Lohse-Hanson, MPCA Lake Superior coordinator. "Lake Superior is cold and huge and tends to hang on to some toxic chemicals longer than the other Great Lakes. Protection and prevention are essential because 'fixes' are not easy, quick or cheap."
 
Estrogen-like chemicals are feminizing fish. Mercury from coal-burning and industrial emissions has led to fish consumption advisories. DDT, toxaphene, PCBs and dioxins ... unfortunately, we've become all too familiar with chemicals in our freshwater resources. Along with the "legacy chemicals" we have "newcomers" - like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) widely used to make flame retardant fabrics and building materials. Once chemicals get into the water systems they can move up the food chain, eventually to people. The MPCA and partners around Lake Superior initiated the "zero discharge demonstration" in 1991 with a goal of zero by 2020.
 
Local Interviews:
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Carri Lohse-Hanson, Lake Superior Coordinator
 
University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute
Patrick Schoff, Aquatic Toxicologist
Large Lakes Reflect a Changing Climate
Sess3: Climate Variability in Large Lakes Mediated by Continental-to-Global Scale Forcing
Sess29: Paleoclimate Records of Large Lakes
Sess35: Great Lakes Adaptive Management and Climate Change
Sess4: Global Trends in Lake Temperature and Associated Impacts on Lacustrine Systems
 
Two researchers with the University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) are participating in the IAGLR conference in ways that will clarify how large lakes both archive and respond to changes in the Earth's climate. Professor Erik Brown's work spans over 100,000 years of information extracted from the bottoms of the world's oldest lakes. His research contributed to a fascinating hypothesis that "megadroughts" affected the spread of early Homo sapiens out of East Africa.
 
Brown's colleague, associate professor Jay Austin, on the other hand, worked with timescales of days to decades to reveal, along with LLO's Steve Colman, that Lake Superior is responding to a warmer climate more dramatically than reported for the world's other massive lakes. Brown and Austin will be joining plenary speakers professor Marianne Moore from Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Professor Sally MacIntyre from Santa Barbara, California, in sharing fresh insights into how large lakes are helping us to understand Earth's changing climate.
 
Austin said, "New technologies are giving us access to a phenomenal amount of information about Earth's climatic past and about what's happening now. The sincere hope is that this information will help us understand a complex planet and deal with an uncertain future."
 
Local Interviews:
University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory
Erik Brown, Professor
Jay Austin, Associate Professor
Lake Superior's Native Fauna Puts "Nutrient Elevator" Back in Operation
Sess10: Exploring Food Web Linkages and Dynamics in the Upper Great Lakes: Past, Present and Future
Sess12: Restoration and Management of Native Deep-water Fish Communities in the Great Lakes
 
Today, another mass migration in the offshore waters of Lake Superior is occurring. Creatures as small as a grain of rice to two-foot-long siscowet lake trout will swim over 150 yards up the water column at dusk; they will swim back down at dawn.
 
"It's as if they're working night shift on the 35th floor of a high-rise," said Tom Hrabik, associate professor with the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). "Hundreds of tons of fish and zooplankton make this huge vertical migration every day for most of the year."
 
Hrabik, along with EPA ecologists Jack Kelly and Mike Sierszen, UMD associate professor Stephanie Guildford, and others are generating a new awareness of how the native food webs of the Laurentian Great Lakes functioned by studying Lake Superior's restored offshore flora and fauna.
 
"We're realizing more than ever that depth matters," said Sierszen. "Deep lakes cycle nutrients and energy differently when the native fauna is intact and differently than shallower lakes."
 
Sierszen studies the lynchpin of Lake Superior's native offshore food web, the opossum shrimp (Mysis relicta). Guildford speculates that Mysis' daily patterns drive what the researchers have dubbed a "nutrient elevator" cycling much-needed phosphorous to a blanket of phytoplankton suspended below the lake's surface.
 
Local Interviews:
University of Minnesota Duluth's Department of Biology
Tom Hrabik, Associate Professor
 
University of Minnesota Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory
Stephanie Guildford, Associate Professor
 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development
Mid-Continent Ecology Division, Duluth
Jack Kelly, Research Ecologist
Mike Sierszen, Research Ecologist
Goaded by Gobies and Other Aquatic Invasive Species
Sess18: Recent Impacts of Invasive Species on the Great Lakes Ecosystem
Sess19: Great Lakes and Global Invasions
Sess28: Ballast Water Treatment and the Great Lakes
Sess11: Gobies in the Great Lakes and Their Watersheds
 
U.S. "Carp Czar" John Goss is jetting into the IAGLR conference to talk about federal responses to the dark possibility that Asian carp will invade the Great Lakes. However, perhaps the most compelling evidence that aquatic invasive species (AIS) command attention is that over 50 other presentations will also focus on AIS, including several directly involving the Duluth-Superior Harbor, an epicenter for non-native species sightings.
 
Using harbor water and large aquaria, Donn Branstrator, associate professor at UMD, and his associates are defining the ability of zooplankters to establish new populations in terms that promise to help the International Maritime Organization ground ballast water treatment standards in science. Meanwhile, Anett Trebitz, an EPA ecologist, and her colleagues are conducting trials in the harbor to shed light on approaches for detecting non-native animals, like Branstrator's zooplankters, before the water becomes lousy with them. Both lines of research have international implications.
 
"The bottom line is, new species continue to arrive but it is truly difficult to find them unless they become abundant," Trebitz said. "People should know that many scientists are putting considerable effort into preventing species invasions, identifying potentially invasive species, and managing them in ways to protect the Great Lakes."
 
Local Interviews:
University of Minnesota Duluth's Department of Biology
Donn Branstrator, Associate Professor
 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development
Mid-Continent Ecology Division, Duluth
Anett Trebitz, Research Ecologist

Posted on May 17, 2011


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