Robert Haddick peered
at the Mayfly nymph.
The 72-year-old farmer and
fisherman has lived around insects his whole life and
was still surprised how big it was.
"I knew that good trout
fishermen fish trout about this time of year, and now
I know why," Haddick said.
Haddick, a lifelong student
of natural science, took an opportunity to learn from
research scientists aboard the L.L. Smith Jr. -- the
Lake Superior Research Institute's research boat.
The boat and educational
programs offered by the institute are unusual; very
few research vessels are licensed by the Coast Guard
to carry passengers, said Mary Balcer, a UWS professor
and director of the Lake Superior Research Institute.
So the tours are a rare
opportunity for people to be educated by real scientists.
Haddick and his twin brother,
William, both of Springbrook, Wis., were on a trip that
the institute, part of the University of Wisconsin-Superior,
offered on Lake Superior near the Apostle Islands earlier
The Mayfly nymph was just
one of the aquatic creatures collected from the lake
during a stop near Red Cliff Creek. Recent heavy rains
have swollen the creek, washing the nymph and other
creatures out into deeper water.
The type and abundance --
or lack of -- certain types of water insects and other
even smaller microscopic organisms is one way scientists
can learn about what may be going on in an ecosystem,
said Sue O'Halloran, an on-board scientist and the boat's
public education program director.
Human impacts to the lake,
such as the introduction of different nonnative game
fish and, most recently, the unintended introduction
of exotic species, have all changed the natural order
beneath the waves, she said.
"We've sort of got an artificial
food chain going here," O'Halloran said.
While O'Halloran showed
a group in the stern of the boat how scientists examine
lake biology, scientist Jeri Schwerin explained to a
group in the bow the importance of water chemistry and
how scientists test that.
Schwerin showed the group
how scientists examine dissolved oxygen, acidity and
She showed how a Secchi
(pronounced sekee) disk is used to measure water clarity
and explained that, by knowing how deep sunlight can
penetrate, scientists can predict other things, such
as how well aquatic plants can grow.
Trip participants then got
to try the Secchi disk and other measuring devices for
Peering over the side of
the boat, sisters Amina and Jamila Cheikh slowly lowered
the dinner plate-sized disk, attached to a nylon rope,
and waited for it to disappear.
Slowly, the disk appeared
smaller and smaller until only a flash of white was
visible, and then nothing at all.
"I can still see it," Amina
said. "Wait, wait no, no I can't."
The girls, 7 and 9 respectively,
marked the spot on the rope where the disk vanished
from view. Later, they measured the length of line that
was used and determined that the disk disappeared about
39 feet. In some parts of the Duluth-Superior Harbor,
the disk will disappear in 10 feet or less, Schwerin
In other experiments, the
girls and their brother, Nabil Cheikh, 12, used a special
probe and gauge to check the amount of oxygen in the
water at different depths.
"Because the activities
are so hands-on, people get an opportunity to tell how
you can really see whether you have a pollution problem
or not," Schwerin said.
ST. LOUIS TRIPS ADDED
The institute, founded in
1967, has long offered public education tours on the
lake and in the Duluth-Superior Harbor.
This year, thanks to a $7,500
grant awarded by the St. Louis River Citizens Action
Committee, the institute has added trips on the river
to its lineup.
The grant comes from a $200,000
trust fund set up by companies deemed responsible for
two federal Superfund pollution sites on the river,
said Lynelle Hanson, executive director for the action
"The more we can get people
out there and excited about this river, the more we
can get it cleaned up," Hanson said.
The institute hopes to offer
10 trips. The grant allows the institute to offer the
trips for $5 per person, but space is limited to 30
people. One river trip earlier this spring sold out,
as has one set for Sunday. Another trip is schedule
for August, and the staff may organize a fall trip as
well. More trips on the river will be offered next summer.
The institute also offers
the boat and staff to school groups and other organizations.
The tours offered to the
general public though, with people from different backgrounds
and different ages, are often the most interesting and
challenging for the scientists, O'Halloran said.
Younger people have certain
wonder and curiosity, and older people bring more background
and experience, she said. Some want specific information.
Others are interested in taking in the scenery and learning
about the region's history, she said. And some are fascinated
by the science, the biology and the chemistry of water
ecosystems, she said.
"It's a little more challenging
because you can have such a mix, but even then everybody
gets something out of it," O'Halloran said.