Waist-deep in wetlands for research

Graduate student uncovers evidence for change in Great Lakes management

Nutrient imbalances in the Great Lakes, once under control, have begun to reappear, bringing with them harmful algal blooms and toxic water conditions. These algal blooms are responsible for killing wildlife and shutting down beaches. Central Michigan University graduate student Laura Moore is looking to find the culprit.

Past legislation focuses heavily on phosphorus management and dates all the way back to the Clean Water Act in 1972. Moore’s research, on the other hand, targets nitrogen as a new suspect.

“My research, which is a spinoff of the $20 million EPA grant that CMU has received, focuses on other aspects that might be causing these harmful issues,” Moore said. “Specifically, I’m looking at nitrogen, a nutrient that also is very important in aquatic environments that haven’t been studied like phosphorus has been.”

Moore began studying algal responses to nutrient gradients as an undergraduate student with CMU biology professor and director of the CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research Don Uzarski and will incorporate her findings into her thesis.

Using technology and equipment within CMU’s new Biosciences Building, Moore observes nutrient levels in three locations: Saginaw Bay, an area that often sees human disturbance, as well as less-disturbed areas on Beaver Island and the Les Cheneaux Islands archipelago in the Upper Peninsula.

 

According to Uzarski, the nitrogen concentrations in Lake Michigan are nearly 10 times where they should be. This is potentially problematic for cities like Grand Rapids that obtain water from Lake Michigan.

Moore’s findings have large implications for future research and management regarding Great Lakes health.

“Good science is going to answer one or two questions but generate 10 more,” Uzarski said. “That’s the process. It will take us in a different direction, pointing the finger toward other issues and how we can ultimately address those issues.”

Nitrogen and phosphorus alike can be found in runoff from agriculture and industry. The things we pour down the drain each day – such as dish soap – also can have a large impact.

“The Great Lakes are one of the largest freshwater resources so we need to take care of them,” Moore said. “We rely on the Great Lakes for so many things including fisheries, water for businesses and recreation. Being able to be in that environment and do my research is like a blessing to me.”

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