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Michigan Tech University conducts winter research of Lake Superior

The college joins over a dozen other U.S. and Canadian government agencies and university groups studying all five of the Great Lakes this week.
The college joins over a dozen other U.S. and Canadian government agencies and university groups studying all five of the Great Lakes this week.
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 7:03 PM EST
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - Michigan Tech University is doing winter research on Lake Superior.

The work is more important now to understand how climate change is affecting aquatic life. Michigan Tech University Assistant Biological Sciences Professor Trista Vick-Majors’ research team is searching for answers in the largest Great Lake.

“There are almost no data on these large lakes during the winter,” Vick-Majors said. “What this winter grab is really trying to do is contribute to filling that gap in knowledge.”

Vick-Majors and her team of four undergraduates and one graduate student spent hours on the Keweenaw Waterway’s ice today. They collected ice and water samples, measured water light, temperature, salt, and oxygen levels at different depths, and tried catching small organisms in a net.

Her team is one of over a dozen other U.S. and Canadian government agencies and university groups conducting research on the Great Lakes this week. They are trying to better understand how the lakes’ smallest organisms behave when they have iced over.

“One of our main interests is actually measuring the activity of microorganisms, so how fast they’re growing and how they’re transforming carbon in the water,” Vick-Majors said. “Our next step is to connect that to the ice cover itself.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Superior is frozen anywhere from eight to 46 days fewer per year than it was in the early 1970s. Vick-Majors says this change in ice patterns has a big effect on these tiny creatures.

“We tend to see changes in water temperature that persist through the summer, and the temperature has huge impacts everything from the microbes to the fish,” Vick-Majors said.

While microorganisms are impacted by changing ice patterns, Vick-Majors says the lack of winter research on Lake Superior leaves them wondering how. “We know so little about how they respond to these changes in the environment and that base of the food chain is just super important for supporting the fish and all the larger organisms,” she said.

Vick-Majors’ research is still in the early stages. She says her team has yet to come to any conclusions on how the lake’s microorganisms behave in the winter.

They hope to learn more as their research moves ahead.

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