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Great Lakes Article:

Coleman urges U-M to take key role in preserving Great Lakes
Researchers at symposium rasie warnings about invasion, diversion
Tracy Davis
Ann Arbor News

The University of Michigan has slipped from its once preeminent position in Great Lakes research, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said Tuesday, and it's a research gap she wants to rectify because much of Michigan's and the region's economy is dependent on the health of the lakes

"I can't imagine a more pressing ecological imperative," she told a symposium that drew researchers from around the country.

The purpose of the Great Lakes Symposium was to refocus some of U-M's research energy back onto the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the world's fresh water.

"Even though we are meeting today in Ann Arbor and are essentially landlocked, we are surrounded by the Great Lakes in a broader sense," Coleman said.

Presenters from U-M, Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes agencies and other universities agreed. Topics focused on whether the Great Lakes are a disappearing act, the problems of algae and unfishable species, and how increasing sedimentation harms the lakes. The symposium was sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Michigan Sea Grant.

Findings - some alarming - that researchers presented in papers for the symposium included:

  • The lakes' water diversion issues could be further complicated by global warming-induced evaporation at the rate of 10,000 cubic feet per second. Imagine the Huron River at flood stage, double it in volume and you still have less than what would evaporate from lake surfaces. And "future growth in consumptive use is potentially significant," said Steven Wright, a U-M engineering professor who co-authored a paper on diversion and consumptive use with SNRE professor Jonathan Bulkley, citing more use of water in beverages and canned goods in the region. Add that to climate change, and it's possible the lakes will be hugely affected without policy changes, he said.

  • Non-native species in the Great Lakes are coming in faster than ever and becoming established more quickly, according to research presented by SNRE professor David Jude. "The whole thing is happening a lot faster," he said. That means quicker alteration of the food web, the ecology of the lakes and faster, less predictable effects on native species, such as introduction of disease and competing species. And with 7 million tons of ballast water dumped in the lakes every year by ships, invasions will be difficult to predict and the damage hard to fix, Jude said.

  • Development in the Great Lakes basin changes the type of nutrients and pollution that wind up in rivers and streams, and eventually the lakes. That has a profound effect on lake ecosystems, said David Allan, an SNRE professor who presented a paper on nutrient loads in the lakes. Excess nutrients cause algae blooms and other impacts that can choke out other life. Overloads of phosphorus "killed" Lake Erie in the 1960s and 1970s, until policy changes reduced the amount of phosphorus being dumped into the waterways.

Those were just a few areas in which everyone agreed more research is needed. Those are concerns U-M leaders say they'll be at the forefront as of now.

Of the research and work to be done, said Fawwaz Ulaby, U-M vice president for research, "It is incumbent upon the University of Michigan to take a lead role."

The symposium is wrapping up today with the second annual Wege Lecture at 4:30 p.m. in the Michigan Union ballroom.

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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