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NOAA Great Lakes Lab on Mission to Lake Erie Dead Zone
NOAA News
Published April 28, 2005

April 28, 2005 — The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in collaboration with researchers in the U.S. and Canada will lead one of the largest, most comprehensive Lake Erie research field programs. The two-year project, entitled International Field Years on Lake Erie, or IFYLE, started this week and includes a series of ship cruises involving up to 10 research vessels, as well as field and laboratory work. Fourteen observation moorings will be deployed in the lake to continuously collect data. The project will continue through mid-October.

"It is important to focus our research to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to guide management and protection efforts of Lake Erie," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "This comprehensive look will help us protect and better manage this great lake."

Research will be conducted in Lake Erie's three basins: western, central and eastern. Researchers will try to understand better the impact of Lake Erie's "dead zone"—an area of low oxygen in the lake's central basin during late summer/early fall—on the food web in this region, including fish. Ship cruises of 14-23 days per month will be subdivided into multiple legs, with different teams of scientists collecting different data each time.

"Since Lake Erie is the most heavily impacted of the Great Lakes, it posed the most critical subject for the lake-wide scope of the study," said Stephen Brandt, director of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Lab, located in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Much of what we learn in this study can be applied to solve problems elsewhere in the Great Lakes as well."

The whole-lake research effort will focus primarily on effects of oxygen depletion (hypoxia/anoxia) on food-web interactions and fish production in the central basin, as well as the causes of harmful algal blooms in the west basin.

"The study is unique in that it will assess the impact of reduced Lake Erie dissolved oxygen levels on food web dynamics and corresponding ecological consequences, including impact of fish stock abundance and production," said Stuart Ludsin, a GLERL scientist coordinating the study.

Study participants are seeking to:

Develop models to characterize and understand the magnitude, timing and extent of hypoxia in central Lake Erie;
Amass ample scientific understanding needed to build ecological forecasting tools for management and refine them to describe/predict habitat fields;
Assess the impacts of invasive species on the efficiency and function of current food webs that might impact fisheries production and native species biodiversity;
Describe food-web dynamics and spatial coupling of food webs in Lake Erie's west, central and east basins, including how interactions have been altered by exotic species or other perturbations to the system;
Determine if and how central basin hypoxia during late summer influences the distribution and productivity of both native and invasive species across all trophic levels; and
Quantify sediment-water exchange of mass, nutrients and carbon through sediment accumulation, resuspension and transport measurements and modeling.
"The development of ecological forecasting capabilities, as well as deployment of a real-time observing system network across Lake Erie, are right in step with NOAA's strategic goals and we are eager to use such new approaches and technology to gain valuable insight into the dynamics of the Lake Erie ecosystem," said Brandt.

Two major partners in the effort are the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office and the National Sea Grant College Program. More than 15 universities from seven states and Canada are involved. Other partners include the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, Ohio Sea Grant, New York Sea Grant, Pennsylvania Sea Grant, Environment Canada (Canadian Centre for Inland Waters), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, International Joint Commission Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and U.S. Geological Survey. Ludsin said that the project will work closely with the Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) and the Lake Erie Millennium Group.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources.

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