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Clarkson University Research Team Analyzes Health of Lake Ontario
Several Clarkson University researchers set out from the Port of Oswego earlier this summer on a four-day journey to determine what contaminants are affecting the health of Lake Ontario.
A team from Clarkson and the State Universities of New York at Oswego and Fredonia made the trek on the research vessel Lake Guardian, which the Environmental Protection Agency uses to monitor the Great Lakes.
Researchers worked around the clock while offshore to collect several dozen air and water samples, looking for traces of contamination in organisms like plankton and algae that are at the bottom of the Lake’s food chain. Calm waters and clear skies helped the effort.
In 2011, the EPA awarded Clarkson a $6.5 million five-year grant, in partnership with SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Oswego, to conduct the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program (GLFMSP), part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Each year, researchers spend time collecting and analyzing samples on one of the Great Lakes; this year, it was Ontario’s turn.
They will spend the next six to eight months analyzing the samples and testing for pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and a host of other regulated contaminants that could be traveling up the food chain and harming the ecosystem, according to Clarkson Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Thomas Holsen, associate director of Clarkson's Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science.
“The Great Lakes are an important natural resource. Millions of people get drinking water from the Great Lakes. We rely on them for recreation,” Holsen said. “Contaminants in the lakes are something we’ve been concerned about for a long time.”
The team is also on the lookout for “emerging contaminants,” which include fragrances used in shampoo and other products, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals. Sewage treatment plants have a difficult time treating emerging contaminants, which can be discharged into lakes and streams, Holsen said.
More needs to be discovered about the biological effects of emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes, Holsen said. Clarkson’s project has shown that many of them exist in low concentrations.
“People should realize that their actions can impact the Great Lakes,” Holsen said. “The things they use in everyday life, or pour down the drain, a lot of those things end up out in the lakes.”
This was the third Great Lakes Research excursion for Mark Omara, a chemical and biomolecular engineering Ph.D. student at Clarkson; he accompanied the research team on Lake Superior in 2011 and Lake Huron in 2012.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity as a student to get to learn actually how to do things practically. It’s all this hands-on experience that provides for a richer and fuller graduate school experience that I think will be particularly beneficial in the course of my career,” Omara said.
The excursions have inspired Omara to plan to continue researching the Great Lakes throughout his career. He has enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to a greater understanding of the lakes.
“It helps me appreciate the need to conserve the ecosystem we have, to protect it,” Omara said.
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A video about the research project can be found at http://youtu.be/4xc1aqnQn48 .
Photo caption: Clarkson Professor Thomas Holsen (center) and Ph.D. student Mark Omara (right) talk with SUNY Fredonia Professor Mike Milligan (left) aboard the EPA research vessel Lake Guardian. Researchers conducted tests on a four-day research journey exploring Lake Ontario, part of a multi-year effort to analyze the health of the Great Lakes.
[Photographs for media use are available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/lakeguardian.jpg and http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/lakeguardiantrip.jpg .]