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UMD and the Morrill Act: Caring for Our Water

Science That Matters | Fostering Research, Communicating Results | Understanding and Preserving Fresh water

Fresh water is an increasingly vital resource in the United States and around the world. UMD is committed to freshwater research and teaching the public how their choices can impact water for generations to come.

Science That Matters

"If it is in the air and on the land, it gets into the water," said alumnus Dan Engstrom ('71, '75). As director of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth Sciences and the Water Resource Science program at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Engstrom has conducted and overseen dozens of research projects on lakes, rivers, and bogs across Minnesota. His research centers on the use of lake sediment records to understand long-term environmental change, particularly how human activities affect water quality, atmospheric chemistry, and their relationship to plant and animal life. "This is science that matters," he said.

One of his recent projects has involved understanding the rapid sediment accumulation in Lake Pepin, the largest natural lake in the Mississippi River system. "Lake Pepin is threatened primarily by agricultural erosion, but not from fields as you might expect. Rather it's from the river channels themselves. Our agricultural rivers are becoming more erosive primarily because of widespread hydrological alterations such as wetland drainage," Engstrom said. He predicts that if sediment inputs continue at their current rate, Lake Pepin will disappear entirely in just a few centuries.  

"At UMD, the study of science and care for the environment went hand in hand," he said. "As scientists, we need to be aware of society's needs. People need to eat; we need fuel; we need recreation; and we need a clean environment. Our job as scientists is to provide the data to the public and policy makers so decisions can be made responsibly. Communicating our research findings is as important as
the research itself."

Photo: Dr. Daniel R. Engstrom ('71, '75)

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Fostering Research, Communicating Results

Jean-Baptiste Quillien

Of the 187 land-grant universities, 30 are also Sea Grant institutions. Minnesota Sea Grant, located at UMD, works to facilitate interaction among the scientists and public to enhance communities, the environment, and economies along Lake Superior and Minnesota's inland water. They identify information needs, foster research, and communicate results.

Tom Hrabik, associate professor, UMD Department of Biology, along with graduate students from both the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, recently helped commercial fishing. They traveled on the Blue Heron research vessel with sonar equipment to record fish biomass. They were able to accurately quantify how many cisco are below the surface in Lake Superior, which indicated the maximum number of cisco commercial fishing operations could catch without impacting the cisco population. The Minnesota Department Natural Resources has adopted Hrabik's methods and now commercial fishing firms realize a greater financial yield.

Photo: Tyler Ahrenstorff, (M.S. '07), Integrated Bioscience doctoral student, is working to help the Minnesota DNR set quotas for the cisco commercial harvest.

Understanding and Preserving Fresh Water

Two-thirds of the world's surface fresh water is contained in just ten lakes. The Large Lakes Observatory (LLO), located on the UMD campus, is the only institute in the country dedicated to the study of large lakes world-wide. LLO has a global outlook and an international reputation with field programs and collaborators on six continents. Yet it maintains its dedication to local freshwater concerns.

Recent floods in Duluth poured an unprecedented amount of river water, runoff, and sediment into Lake Superior. This dramatic event could have ongoing consequences for the lake's ecosystem, adding excess nutrients and delivering potentially harmful levels of pollutants and bacteria. This summer, LLO scientists joined existing Blue Heron research voyages and took water samples. They hope that the knowledge gained will lead to a better understanding of potential impacts from future events.

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Last modified on 09/07/12 12:47 PM
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