The Lake Guardian's return to the Great Lakes has brought back memories for one Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) staff member who spent a week on the research vessel in 2017.
It was early mornings and long hours for Stephanie Swart, who spent a week on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's vessel assisting 11 scientists from the Great Lakes region, several technicians and the crew to gather data on Lake Superior for the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative intensive field year.
"Every morning I woke up 3 a.m. for a 12-hour shift," said Swart, the EGLE Water Resources Division's Lake Superior coordinator. Walking out at 5 a.m. in the dawn and seeing only dark sky and dark water was unreal."
"My role was to fill jugs with Lake Superior water, taken at various depths and either filter the water for chlorophyll-a, filter and preserve samples for future chemical tests, or perform basic chemistry (dissolved oxygen, pH) and record the information. This was done at every site for every water depth, so some sites had over 15 samples to process."
The Lake Guardian, the EPA's largest research vessel, was not in service last summer due to COVID-19, but has set sail once again to collect water, sediment and lower food web organisms for research. Scientists will use the three on-board laboratories to examine and evaluate the collected samples, which will shed light on many of the pressing and urgent issues affecting the Great Lakes, according to an EPA news release.
EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office has conducted water quality surveys every spring and summer since 1983. These surveys help EPA fulfill environmental monitoring and assessment commitments specified in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States and in the U.S. Clean Water Act.
The information the crew and helpers gather allows scientists and lake managers to assess the health and status of the Great Lakes and determine actions that will protect them, Swart said.
The Lake Guardian is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the world's largest system of fresh surface water, according to the EPA.
Swart said the experience is not one she will ever forget as the vessel visited sites around the perimeter of Lake Superior starting and ending in Sault Ste. Marie. Although busy with work on the ship as well as keeping up with her EGLE job, she did have time to get to know the other scientists on board and explore Duluth, Minnesota, during an overnight stop.
A reminder of her important role in continuing Great Lakes research sits on her desk: "My souvenir was a small jug of Lake Superior water from approximately 820 feet below the surface."
Photo caption: Stephanie Swart helped analyze water samples collected by this device aboard the EPA's Lake Guardian vessel.