Recent Great Lakes Projects

Summary of, and links to, recent research projects.  For a more complete history go here.

Ecological Forecasting for Lake Erie – In the 1960s and 70s, Lake Erie became a national story when, due to a host of environmental issues, it was declared “dead”.  Regulations and restoration efforts revived the Lake until the 1990s when hypoxic (seriously low oxygen levels) and toxic algal blooms again emerged. This NOAA-funded project developed a suite of models exploring relationships among climate, land use, nutrient delivery, hypoxia, and fisheries that were key input to the International Joint Commission’s Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority report that subsequently led to the US and Canada renegotiating the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Water Quality and Climate – This study, funded by NSF, evaluated the land-lake-air feed backs associated with climate and extreme weather events with a focus on the harmful algal blooms (HAB) in Western lake Erie.  The study identified potential effects of climate-change-induced extreme events on bloom formation, and what management strategies will be effective in addressing these changes. Key outcomes of the effort include calibrated and verified models of the Maumee, Raisin, and Huron river watersheds; forecast and scenario models relating P loads to HAB intensity, and an anatomy of the record-setting 2014 bloom.

Supporting Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) phosphorus loading targets  – Under the revised GLWQA, with urging from the Great Lakes states and provinces, a binational committee under the US EPA and Environment Canada (EC) was charged with recommending new Lake Erie phosphorus loading targets.  That committee supported with EPA and EC funding, our multi-modeling effort to develop a series of load-response curves relating phosphorus loads to key environmental indicators.  Our report  helped guide committee recommendations that were eventually adopted by the United States and Canada calling for a 40% reduction in phosphorus loads.

Guiding Management Strategies to Meet P Loading Targets  – Following the identification of new P loading targets, the Erb Family Foundation and the Joyce Foundation supported our effort to bring together 6 modeling groups to explore options for reaching those targets for this agriculturally-dominated watershed. Our report identified several potential pathways to success, but each requires expansive — almost unprecedented – implementation of agricultural best management practices.

Enhancing stakeholder awareness of and responses to a changing climate and its impacts on Lake Erie – The recent resurgence of hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, driven substantially by phosphorus loads from agriculture, have led the United States and Canada to begin developing plans to meet new phosphorus load targets. To provide insight into which agricultural management options could help reach these targets, with NOAA funding we tested alternative agricultural-land-use and land-management scenarios on phosphorus loads to Lake Erie.

Assessing the effects of time-lags and climate on management practices – With funding from the Ohio Department of Higher Educations, this project is designed to provide support to decision makers using multi-model approaches to produce robust management recommendations to improve Great Lakes water quality. Our objective is to use multiple Maumee watershed and lake models to determine the time required for conservation practices to reach reduction targets, the impact climate change will have on the effectiveness of these practices, and the resulting impacts on Maumee Bay and the Western basin of Lake Erie.

Enhancing sustainability in coastal communities threatened by harmful algal blooms –  In this NSF-funded project we focus on advancing understanding of (1) the coupled human-natural system and (2) knowledge co-production, using harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes as a test case.  As HAB events have been increasing globally over the past decade and directly impact ecosystem services for coastal communities (e.g., drinking water provision, fishing and recreation), understanding, predicting and alleviating this water quality issue is a problem of great societal relevance.  We will study the Western Lake Erie because of our ability to build upon previous research and existing datasets and our previous involvement the region’s policy networks.

Assessing phosphorus loads from the Huron-Erie Corridor – This study, supported by the Erb Family Foundation, models nutrient dynamics within the binational watersheds draining into the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, including the Clinton, Rouge, Syndman, and Thames Rivers, as well as inputs from the cities of Detroit and Windsor. The Detroit River is one of the major sources of phosphorus entering Lake Erie, and although it is not a major driver of Western Basin harmful algal blooms, it is a significant driver of Central Basin hypoxia.  As such, developing guidance on the relative contributions from its sub-watersheds and urban areas is important.

Assessing Huron River Flooding Impacts –  Managing infrastructure for increased flood risk is important for adapting to climate change.  In this U-M Water Center funded project, we quantified Huron River flood risk due to climate change.

River Raisin Agricultural Conservation Pay for Performance Initiative – Typical incentives for agricultural conservation in the United States is payment for practice installation rather than for the performance of that practice towards environmental improvement in its implemented location. In this USEPA-funded project, we developed a pay-for-performance (PFP) system that uses the Soil and Water Assessment Tool to model performance with and without selected practices to help set payments to producers.

Great Lakes Futures Scenario Project – This was a scenario-based analysis exploring a socio-ecologically sustainable future for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. The Project assessed past and potential future states of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, inform strategic policy formulation, frame research priorities, and help train the next generation of Great Lakes leaders.