NOAA Great Lakes Lab on Mission to
Lake Erie Dead Zone
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
"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
"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 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
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;
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.