Buffalo State's Great Lakes Center received three grants totaling $1.7 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office. The highly competitive grants, awarded through the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), were awarded to projects that address the most significant Great Lakes ecosystem problems, including invasive species, lake health, and pollution from many different sources.
“Buffalo State was the only college in Western New York to receive three grants,” said Alexander Karatayev, the center's director and a research scientist. “We have been working on these issues, and the GLRI funding is allowing us to build on our success.” All three efforts will be collaborations among the center’s research scientists and Buffalo State faculty members, as well as researchers from other institutions.
Observing Systems and Monitoring Nearshore Lake Erie
The largest of the three grants provides $972,583 to fund an ambitious, high-tech project headed by Charlotte Roehm, a research scientist with the Center and assistant professor of Geography and Planning. This project will collect a mind-boggling amount of data from three instruments that will transmit real-time information every ten minutes, day and night, summer and winter, from depths ranging from one to 15 meters (almost 50 feet). “The project is funded for two years,” said Roehm, “but I hope we will be collecting data for at least ten.”
Roehm is collaborating with engineering and manufacturing firms to develop the custom-built instruments that will be the first to collect data about Lake Erie’s ice cover from beneath it. “We have some information about the thickness of the lake ice over the years,” she said, “but it’s not systematic or comprehensive.”
The instruments, which will also capture meteorological data from the atmosphere when the ice is gone, will be located near what the EPA calls “areas of concern”—areas where pollution levels prohibit the full use of the water or harm aquatic life. To expand the studied areas, the plan also includes the purchase of an automated underwater vehicle that can be programmed for eight-hour data-collection missions.
“I really want to get the instruments deployed before the lake freezes this year,” said Roehm. “Our private-sector manufacturing partners are working very hard to get them to us within the next few weeks.”
Lake Erie Nearshore and Offshore Nutrient Study
The second project, funded for $615,813, is headed by Christopher Pennuto, research scientist with the center and professor of biology. This project—Lake Erie Nearshore and Offshore Nutrient Study (LENONS)—continues Pennuto’s research into the disturbing signs that Lake Erie’s health is in jeopardy, even though nutrient inputs have been reduced to levels that were once thought to be safe. Pennuto, who has been studying high nutrient levels and their relationship to excessive algae in both Lakes Erie and Ontario, said, “This grant will allow us to continue work we started on understanding where, how much, and how quickly nutrients moved throughout Lake Erie.” Pennuto and his team also will use a relatively new technique that examines the isotopes of oxygen in phosphate, which may aid in identifying sources of phosphorous.
LENONS also will take a careful look at the family of dreissenid mussels, which includes the zebra and quagga mussels. Pennuto and other Great Lakes researchers hope to better understand not only how these invasive species affect Lake Erie but also the mechanisms of that effect.
Evaluating Ponto-Caspian Fishes for Risk of Great Lakes Invasion
Invasive species are the subject of the third grant of $111,264, which funds a research project headed by Randal Snyder, associate professor of biology and a fish physiologist. Snyder will work closely with other Great Lakes Center scientists to assess potential invasive species from the Ponto-Caspian region, which includes the Caspian and Black seas and their tributaries.
Karatayev and Lyubov Burlakova, a research scientist with the center, will travel to the Ponto-Caspian region to study research that is available only in Russian. Karatayev and Burlakova, who are both fluent in Russian, expect to collect data regarding more than 40 fish species native to the region. “Once we know what species are likely to present a problem,” said Snyder, “we will develop fact sheets with pictures and information that will help to identify an invasive species as early as possible.”