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Great Lakes Center Field Station Braces for Busy Summer

Posted: May 13, 2011

Mark Clapsadl, fisheries biologist and manager of the Great Lakes Center Field Station, is bracing himself for a very busy summer.

Clapsadl, with the aid of Kathleen Hastings, research technician, provides critical support to research conducted by the center’s scientists.

During the 2011 season, Clapsadl and Hastings will provide logistical support to a number of Lake Erie research projects. The Lake Erie Nearshore and Offshore Nutrient Study (LENONS), headed by Christopher Pennuto, research scientist with the center and professor of biology at Buffalo State, will continue Pennuto’s research into excessive nutrients, such as phosphorous, in Lake Erie. This study will investigate how nutrients move throughout the lake.

“That project alone will require ten days of field work in June and another ten days at the end of the summer,” said Clapsadl, who serves as a researcher on many projects. Another project is a high-tech data collection project that involves deploying three buoys that will transmit real-time information every ten minutes.

Hastings also collects data for a long-term study underway by the Lake Erie Lower Trophic Work Group. “Every two weeks, we collect samples from three sites,” said Hastings. The project is a collaborative effort to systematically collect data about the water quality and organisms at the deeper levels of Lake Erie.

“The organisms there form the basis of the food web that depends on Lake Erie,” explained Clapsadl.

The field station’s fleet is made up of 15 vessels, counting two canoes, which are useful for stream research. The John Jay Freidhoff, commissioned in 2009, is powerful enough to handle most conditions likely to be encountered on Lake Erie. Because it has a cabin, it is the vessel of choice when scientists are using equipment that needs to be sheltered from waves and weather. The Seiche, another large vessel, was designed to lower and lift heavy equipment. “It’s especially useful for research projects in the Buffalo River,” said Clapsadl.

This year, a 28-foot Privateer will be added to the fleet. “It has a large, open deck that will be ideal for research requiring a lot of space,” said Clapsadl. Several johnboats and Boston Whalers meet a variety of needs for studies conducted near the lakeshore.

Maintaining the fleet is not simply a matter of making sure the vessels are in working order. “We have to make sure everything is properly licensed,” said Clapsadl, “and we have to ensure that the right vessel is available when it’s needed.” That’s a special challenge because bad weather can wreak havoc on the most carefully planned schedule.

The field station includes a microscopy lab and a fisheries lab. “We’re in the process of replacing the tanks in the fish lab,” said Clapsadl. “We’re establishing a collaboration with the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry that will require this lab.”

As field station manager, Clapsadl is striving to provide the Great Lakes Center with vessels, equipment, and laboratories that are versatile, reliable, and available. “With almost $2 million in EPA funding alone,” he said, “we are conducting research and providing data that will help us protect Western New York’s greatest natural resource, Lake Erie.”
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