The new University of Michigan Water Center today awarded 12 research grants, totaling nearly $570,000, to support Great Lakes restoration and protection efforts.
The two-year grants of up to $50,000 will support diverse projects, including efforts to track the remediation of harmful algae blooms; assess the effectiveness of techniques to control non-native weedy plant invasions; study chromosomal damage in tree swallow nestlings; and monitor fish responses to restoration activities.
The grants were awarded to multidisciplinary teams led by researchers at universities across the Great Lakes region and beyond. Fifty-four proposals were submitted for the first round of Water Center research grants. A second round of larger grants, of up to $500,000 each, will be awarded later this year.
"These initial grants are to an exceptional few projects that really addressed our goals and clearly identified outcomes that matter to the region's resource management community. They are going to fill key gaps in our restoration knowledge," said Water Center Director Allen Burton.
The $9 million U-M Water Center was formed in October with an initial focus on providing a solid scientific framework for more efficient and effective Great Lakes restoration. As a center of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute, the Water Center was made possible by a $4.5 million, three-year grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and additional funds from the university.
"The Erb Family Foundation is pleased to support the important work of U-M's new Water Center to demonstrate the effectiveness of investments in Great Lakes restoration," said foundation President John Erb. "The lakes are a unique and precious ecosystem that we must steward for the benefit of current and future generations."
During its first three years, the center will focus on identifying and filling critical science gaps in the four focus areas of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI): removing toxic contamination and restoring regions of environmental degradation known as areas of concern; combating invasive species; protecting and restoring wildlife and their habitats; and ridding nearshore waters of polluted runoff.
In selecting the first 12 grants, special emphasis was given to proposals that integrated one or more GLRI focus areas or that evaluated the potential effects of climate change on Great Lakes restoration efforts. In all cases, the U-M funding will be used to support existing restoration and protection efforts in the Great Lakes, not to establish new projects.
"Our goal is to provide that additional boost to existing restoration projects that will enable them to conduct an analysis of their outcomes that can demonstrate the value of a particular method or approach," said Water Center Deputy Director Jennifer Read. "We don't often have the necessary resources to do this kind of synthesis, and it's key to understanding what we're doing right and what we need to tweak."
The 12 selected projects and their principal investigators are:
- "Birds as indicators of contaminant exposure in the Great Lakes: Chromosomal damage assessment via flow cytometry," Cole Matson, Baylor University. Goal: Assess chromosomal damage in tree swallow nestlings collected from contaminated areas across the Great Lakes region.
- "Monitoring fish community responses to restoration activities in the Rouge River watershed," Emily Saarinen, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Goal: Characterize the fish community composition in southeast Michigan's highly urbanized Rouge River watershed to understand how it is impacted by watershed-level restoration efforts.
- "Development of indicators to track the remediation of harmful algal blooms in Sodus Bay, Lake Ontario," Gregory Boyer, State University of New York-Syracuse. Goal: Field-test a suite of indicators that can be used throughout the Great Lakes basin to track progress in the remediation of harmful algae blooms.
- "Application of geospatially enabled geographic response plans for oil spill response in the western basin of Lake Erie," David Dean, Michigan Technological University. Goal: Allow the analysis, display and distribution of geospatial data in a manner that meets the needs of planners, responders and incident managers in the event of oil or chemical spills.
- "Coupling mercury, lead and strontium isotopes in archived Great Lakes precipitation samples to improve pollutant source apportionment with new and novel techniques," J. Timothy Dvonch, University of Michigan. Goal: Measure mercury, lead and strontium isotopes in previously collected rainfall samples to develop a new method to "fingerprint" emissions of these metals and link sources with atmospheric deposition sites across the Great Lakes region.
- "Assessing ecosystem services provided by restored wetlands under current and future climate and land-use scenarios," Kenneth Elgersma, University of Northern Iowa. Goal: Augment an existing computer model to assess the effectiveness of techniques—including herbicide application, burning and mowing—to control non-native weedy plant invasions.
- "Performance data collection for GLRI SWIF project assessment in Lucas County, Ohio," Cyndee Gruden, University of Toledo. Goal: Performance monitoring of innovative storm-water management demonstration projects including rain gardens, wetlands, permeable pavement and biofiltration.
- "Assessing the bioavailability of HOCs during habitat restoration," Nathan Johnson, University of Minnesota-Duluth. Goal: Evaluate the bioavailability of sediment-associated contaminants before and after restoration efforts using dredged materials from the Duluth-Superior Harbor.
- "Monitoring stream ecosystem function responses to stamp sand stabilization in tributaries of Lake Superior," Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Technological University. Goal: Monitor stream ecosystem functions at a project to stabilize and revegetate floodplain habitat buried by copper-rich stamp sands, a significant source of water pollution to lakes and streams of Michigan's western Upper Peninsula.
- "A Bayesian hierarchical modeling approach for comparing water quality measurements from different sources," Song Qian, University of Toledo. Goal: Develop models linking Lake Erie water-quality data collected by different institutions using different sampling methods.
- "Water quality benefit assessment of Lake Erie coastal wetlands," Justin Saarinen, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Goal: Identify alternative restoration scenarios for western Lake Erie by assessing whether coastal and diked wetlands provide a significant water-quality benefit to the lake.
- "Extended and novel monitoring of climate, nutrients and ecosystem dynamics in the Green Bay ecosystem, 2013," J. Val Klump, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Goal: Provide an additional season of physical and chemical data that will lead to improved ecosystem modeling to assess the efficacy of best management practices designed to address beneficial use impairments under a suite of changing climate scenarios.
The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's surface freshwater. The region includes 10,000 miles of coastline and numerous globally rare plant and animal species. In addition, the Great Lakes support a wide range of recreational and economic activities, including vibrant tourism and a sport fishery industry that contributes $4 billion to the economy.