DULUTH, Minn. — Eleven Great Lakes educators will cruise Lake Superior from the Port of Duluth-Superior to the French River in Minnesota and the Amnicon River in Wisconsin this summer to gain hands-on freshwater science experience, curricula and resources that they can take home and use in their classrooms and other teaching environments.
The educators are part of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Superior Shipboard Science Workshop and will be aboard Duluth’s Vista Queen and the University of Minnesota Duluth, Large Lakes Observatory, Research Vessel (R/V) Blue Heron from June 27 through July 1, 2022.
"Our goals for the educators include helping them gain an understanding of Great Lakes water quality and microplastics, getting hands-on experience sampling and analyzing water, and helping to foster awareness and appreciation for research and natural resource management," said Marte Kitson, workshop leader and extension educator with Minnesota Sea Grant.
This year’s Shipboard Science Workshop includes two educators from Illinois, three from Minnesota, one from Ohio, and five from Wisconsin who said they want to gain a deeper understanding of the types, abundance, and effects of microplastics on Lake Superior water quality and the lake’s food web. MNSG Undergraduate Extension Education Intern Megan Gilles will accompany this year’s workshop to gain professional experience.
“[Educators] will learn how to collect samples from the water, sediments, and sand on the beach. They will learn how to process the samples to separate possible microplastic particles using a microscope, and they will use the FTIR [Fourier Transform Infrared] spectrometer to find out if the particles are really plastic particles or not," said Lorena Rios Mendoza, workshop lead researcher and professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Mendoza studies the concentration of toxic compounds adsorbed on plastic particles, sediments, and tissues samples from the Oceans and the Great Lakes.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to ocean and Great Lakes aquatic life, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Throughout the five-day workshop, educators will participate in a mix of on-land and shipboard activities. Educators will collect water quality data using an instrument called a CTD, which measures conductivity (C) (ability of a substance to pass an electric current), temperature (T), and depth (D).
The educators will use a manta trawl or manta net, which resembles a manta ray (fish) with metal wings and a broad mouth, to collect microplastics that may be in surface water. They will also use a special water sample bottle called a Niskin that allows samples to be taken at different water depths in a way that seals off the sample and allows it to be brought to the surface without mixing with water from different depths.
Microplastics are so small that it is difficult to identify what kind of plastic they are. To figure that out, the educators will use the Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectrometer. This instrument uses infrared light (i.e., radiation) to identify the molecular fingerprints of solids that adsorb (i.e., gather) the infrared light, like microplastics, which can help identify the synthetic polymer of microplastics or what type of plastic the fragment or fiber particle may have come from.
Educators will also have an opportunity to work on large-scale, macro-water issues.
Participants will get to play Minnesota Sea Grant’s Watershed Game, an interactive, educational tool that helps individuals (especially local officials) understand the connection between land use and water quality.
The 2022 Sea Grant Shipboard Science Workshop will be the fifth year jointly coordinated by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs. The Great Lakes Sea Grant programs, together with educators from throughout the Great Lakes basin, are part of the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy. The center seeks to foster informed and responsible decisions that advance basinwide stewardship by providing hands-on experiences, educational resources and networking opportunities that promote Great Lakes literacy among an engaged community of educators, scientists and citizens.
“This workshop is a great example of the kinds of unique programming for which Minnesota Sea Grant is known. The workshop is really only the beginning of a year-long program that provides myriad support to workshop participants,” said Marte.
Funding for the 2022 Sea Grant Shipboard Science Workshop comes from the Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (Project number #00085577).
Minnesota Sea Grant is a federal-university partnership that brings water science to communities. We serve Minnesotans at work, at home, and at play. We are a systemwide program of the University of Minnesota with offices on the Duluth and St. Paul campuses.
Image credit: University of Minnesota Duluth. University of Minnesota Duluth, Large Lakes Observatory Research Vessel (R/V) Blue Heron in the Port of Duluth-Superior in September 2018.
REPORTERS AND EDITORS:
Marte Kitson and Lorena Rios Mendoza, should be available, along with the accompanying educators:
- June 27, 2022, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
- June 29, 2022, at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 22 19th Ave, Superior, Wisconsin.
- June 30, 2022, at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 22 19th Ave, Superior, Wisconsin.
- July 1, 2022, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
Please email/call in advance to coordinate.