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Water technology to tackle climate, energy and mobility challenges in the Great Lakes

Today's MI Environment story by Travis White of Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center is from the State of the Great Lakes report

The Great Lakes have seen many recent stressors, including high water levels, high wave energy, harmful algal blooms, invasive species, hypoxia and others.

 Scientists deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) through the ice in front of Michigan Tech’s Great Lakes Research Center to capture images of the bottom surface of the ice. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Technological University);  

Scientists deploy a remotely operated vehicle through the ice to capture images on the bottom surface of the ice.

The lakes, however, still present an enormous opportunity for the region in terms of climate resilience, access to clean fresh water, a strong and growing blue economy, workforce development and technology research and development.

The Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) at Michigan Technological University focuses on using these opportunities to help solve existing and future challenges in the Great Lakes.

The GLRC combines hydrodynamic modeling, high resolution autonomous bathymetry, and buoys to observe and predict the short- and long-term impacts of high water levels. The GLRC is also working toward creating smart and autonomous maritime systems to improve mobility on the lakes and improve safety for mariners. The Smart Ships Coalition (SSC), housed at GLRC and supported by the Marine Autonomy Research Site (MARS), brings industry, government and academia together to help develop technology, safety protocols and policy surrounding the incorporation of autonomous maritime systems into the mobility solutions of tomorrow.

Through partnerships with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Office of Future Mobility and Electrification and the Mackinac Economic Alliance, the GLRC is investigating electrification of the Mackinac Island ferries and the potential to power these electric ferries with clean renewable energy from the region.

In addition to technology development and scientific research, Michigan Tech also brings strong workforce development to the Great Lakes. The GLRC develops undergraduate and graduate level scientists and engineers ready to tackle upcoming challenges. An emerging emphasis is on a cyber-ready workforce with skills in data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and autonomous marine systems.

Through a partnership with the MEDC, the GLRC and SSC will host the inaugural Cyber Boat challenge, a hackathon challenge for college students focusing on maritime cybersecurity. These skills will position Michigan’s future mobility workforce as the world’s premier mobility workforce. In the fall of 2021, with support from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Office of the Great Lakes, the SSC and GLRC convened a number of events in Michigan, bringing together leaders from the SSC and across the maritime mobility ecosystem to initiate projects in the areas of workforce preparation, technology development and applications and policy development through participant-driven working groups.

The goals of this effort will be to help the industry implement solutions to common challenges to continue advancing the Great Lakes region as a national leader in the maritime domain. Goals also include sustaining the momentum of the prior investment and efforts to develop the SSC and MARS through strong multi-sector participant engagement.

Through these collaborations, the GLRC and Michigan Tech continue to tackle the challenge of solving difficult problems for the Great Lakes region and are positioning the state of Michigan to be a key player in the Blue Economy, while preserving the state’s natural resources for generations to come.