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New Study of Freshwater

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First Continuous Data Collection in Lake Superior

UMD physics professor and lead investigator, Jay Austin, with one of UMD's new Autonomous Moored Platforms  

The UMD Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) has new equipment that will present a view of Lake Superior that scientists have never had before.

In early August, UMD began testing two Autonomous Moored Platforms (AMPs), the first devices on any of the Great Lakes to allow continuous biological, chemical, and other data collection and the first devices to allow data to be collected from near surface waters under winter ice.

"Making under-ice measurements is complicated and dangerous, and it's just never been done," Erik Brown, LLO’s acting director.

With $485,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation, the seven-feet-tall cylindrical AMPs will travel on cables from the surface of Lake Superior to the floor of the lake where they will be anchored. Located in two positions on the lake at a depth of up to 100 meters, the profilers can automatically take readings throughout the water column at regular intervals.

More data will be collected than ever before, said UMD physics professor Jay Austin. “When we gather data on Lake Superior using the Blue Heron, it’s like our eyes open for a short amount of time," he said. “The new profilers will allow us to have our eyes open for long, long periods of time.”

The profilers, which were originally designed for oceanographic work, have been adapted for the study of large lakes. They contain instruments that measure temperature, depth, currents, dissolved oxygen, nitrate concentration, light intensity, fluorescence, and a long list of additional data points.

Austin, who is the lead investigator on the profiler project, said researchers won’t have to wait until spring for the data. “We have control from the lab. When the lake is ice free, we can call the profilers to the surface to transmit the data back to the lab.” Previously, LLO has collected data using equipment on the Blue Heron research vessel, buoys located in the lake over the summer months, and an autonomous glider.

“Ph.D. students will be writing dissertations about the data we gather for a long, long time,” said Austin. Each year, LLO offers research opportunities for many students working on masters and doctoral degrees.   

No one can predict what researchers will find. "We don't know what we don't know," said Brown. "One of the things we need to know is how much biological activity there is in the upper water during the winter." One thing is certain, these underwater robots will give researchers a much better picture of what's happening in Lake Superior year round.

llo profiler llo ship
The profiler exterior Loading a profiler onto the Blue Heron.

Cheryl Reitan, Posted August 2012

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