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 UMD News Releases

Communication Associate: Public Relations | Lori Melton | | (218) 726-8830

May 4, 2015

Joshua W. Hamilton | Dean, Swenson College of Science and Engineering | | 218-726-6397
Bob Sterner | Professor and Director, Large Lakes Observatory | 218-726-7926 |
Elizabeth Minor | Professor, Large Lakes Observatory |, 218-726-7097
Doug Ricketts | Senior Research Associate & Marine Superintendent |, 218-726-7826
Cheryl Reitan | Associate Director, External Affairs | 218-726-8996 |

PREVIEW VOYAGE: Large Lakes Observatory Simultaneous Lake Ecology Research

MEDIA ADVISORY --- Blue Heron Research Vessel Voyage
Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 8 am – 10 am, Boarding at 7:45 am.
US Corps of Army Engineers dock, 901 Minnesota Avenue, Park Point, Duluth, MN.
RSVP required. Space is limited. Contact Cheryl Reitan at 218-726-8996 or

DULUTH, MN — The Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) is inviting the media on a short voyage to preview a comprehensive and systematic study of the health of Lake Superior's ecosystem on Tuesday, May 19 from 8 - 10 am. It promises to be one of the most complete simultaneous studies biology, chemistry and physics of any of the world's large lakes.

LLO has assembled a team to simultaneously study aquatic ecology, phytoplankton abundance, nutrient distributions, biochemistry, carbon cycling, zooplankton ecology, fish ecology, and biological productivity on Lake Superior. The operative word is "simultaneously." Using LLO's Research Vessel Blue Heron, scientists are gathering data by working together at 12 sites, on eight different trips. The two-year $600,000 dollar project is funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Four of eight data gathering voyages were completed in 2014, the first of the four 2015 voyages leaves at 7:30 am on Wednesday, May 20. Each voyage takes four to five days. The goal is to examine the complex interactions between the sets of data. Elizabeth Minor, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) is coordinating the effort. "We are already seeing interesting interplay in the data.”

No prior large lake study has included the breadth of measurements, the geographic range, and the span of seasons that this project offers.

More about the Simultaneous Lake Ecology Study.


Taking these snapshots of the lake ecosystem's health requires an unprecedented amount of equipment and personnel. Loading all of the equipment on board follows a systematic plan that takes hours to execute. The equipment is scheduled to load Tues., May 19 from 12 noon until completed.

Sleeping in shifts, working 24/7, the team takes shipboard samplings at the 12 lake locations, almost all far from shore. The volume of information they gather is substantial: nutrients, pH, carbon, oxygen, temperature, particle abundances and composition, activity of photosynthetic and other pigments. They will also measure primary productivity, carbon and nutrient cycling using sediment traps and abundances species of algae, zooplankton, and fish.


Lake Superior is undergoing dramatic changes—less ice, warmer summers, more invasive species. The project will evaluate how these changes impact the lake.

Lake Superior seems timeless, but recently it has been changing dramatically. For example:

  • Surface summer water temperatures have increased by 5°F over the past 30 years, some of the most rapid change observed on the planet;
  • Average ice cover on the lake over the past 15 years is 2-fold lower than the long-term average;
  • The lake’s nutrient content is changing markedly, with nitrate increasing 5-fold since 1900;
  • The lake is increasingly affected by invasive species (spiny water flea, zebra mussels; etc);
  • The lake’s biological productivity is decreasing, providing less food for fish;
  • While lake trout and herring have recovered from mid-20th-Century decimation, lake herring populations rise and fall dramatically from year to year.

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