UMD Professor Jay Austin will take a lead role in a comprehensive study of Lake Superior funded by a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant, awarded to UMD and the U of M, Twin Cities, is aimed at collecting a comprehensive set of data about the physical structure of Lake Superior to help understand year-to-year variability in the lake, and to develop a better understanding of the role that ice plays in the lake.
UMD will take the leadership role in the grant study—which in large part is aimed at deploying and maintaining an array of moorings in Lake Superior over the next three years and collecting the essential data. Professor Katsumi Matsumoto, U of M-Twin Cities, is a co-principal investigator with Professor Austin on the study.
The research team will set up a total of eight moorings in Lake Superior, mainly measuring temperature structure and circulation all around the lake, from the western arm to the northern (Canadian) part of the lake to the far eastern part of the lake. On June 2, the study team will go out on the Blue Heron for seven days to deploy most of the equipment. The Blue Heron is the official research vessel owned by UMD.
On May 28 the crew began its official work by deploying a large piece of supportive research equipment in Lake Superior (positioned close to Duluth).
Professor Austin, along with UMD geology professor and Large Lakes Observatory director Steve Colman, have garnered national and international attention for their past comprehensive data studies of the changing temperature of Lake Superior--which found that Lake Superior is warming at a rate faster than the climate around it.
In 2007, the two scientists found that Lake Superior's summer surface temperatures had increased about 4.5°F since 1979--compared with an increase of 2.7°F in the region's annual average summer air temperature.
"What was most startling," said Dr. Austin, "was not just the rapid rate of warming--but that a system we thought was fairly well understood would have such an unexpected response to climate change. With this new grant study, we are anxious to learn more."