Historical Projects

Historical Projects

1970s

The major areas of research and environmental education focused on:  evaluating the western Lake Superior watershed for the effects of red clay erosion on water quality by monitoring vegetative cover, soil content, hydrology, and impacted aquatic life; atmospheric monitoring of air quality for Superior, Wisconsin through measurements of suspended particulates, ozone, and the oxides of nitrogen and sulfur; monitoring the environmental status of the Duluth-Superior Harbor and western Lake Superior through fish surveys, chemical and geological assessments, biota inventories, and harbor development evaluations; and developing programs for pre-college students to explore scientific careers.  Example funding agencies during this decade were:  University of Wisconsin Resources Center, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of the Interior, and Wisconsin Coastal Zone Management Program.

1980s

The major areas of research and environmental education focused on:  development of aquatic and sediment bioassay procedures; large-scale aquatic toxicity testing of industrial and agricultural chemicals for the development of toxicological databases and predictive toxicological models; development of freshwater criteria documents and protocols for selected chemicals; monitoring fish and plankton populations in the Great Lakes and inland lakes; assessing trace organic compounds in the environment; air quality monitoring; conducting bioassessments of exotic species in the western Lake Superior watershed; designing pond ecosystems for field evaluations of environmental contaminants; evaluating biodegradation technologies used for aquatic risk assessments; and the expansion of pre-college educational programs that added student internship projects in environmental research.  The acquisition of the RV L.L. Smith Jr. broadened the Institute's capability to teach aquatic environmental principles through ecology cruises.  Example funding agencies during this decade were:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Battelle Memorial Institute, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant College Program, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and various private environmental consulting firms.

1990s

Education became more of a focus, as efforts of public environmental outreach programs were developed through: the University of Wisconsin Elderhostel Program (learning experiences for senior citizens), environmental workshops for primary and secondary grade students, ecology cruises for students and the general public, the Envirovet Program (a collaborative effort with the University of Illinois where Institute staff trained veterinarians, veterinary students, and wildlife biologists on principles of ecosystem health), and an assessment of human populations at risk due to environmental contaminants (programs were designed for Native American communities monitoring fish consumption).  New initiatives for developing large-scale consortiums for collaborative environmental problem solving emerged as Institute staff provided support to the St. Louis River System Remedial Action Plan and the International Joint Commission.  Institute research projects continued in the areas of:  toxicological testing; development of freshwater aquatic criteria for chemicals in the environment; microbial degradation of chemical contaminants using field studies and mesocosms; and exotic species monitoring.  New research initiatives were begun in the areas of:  chemical analyses of mercury and heavy metals in aquatic and terrestrial life; development of sediment bioassay procedures; studying and assessing the metabolic processes in fish; ecological monitoring of macroinvertebrate populations as an indicator of ecological health and the effects of ballast water on ecosystem dynamics.  Example funding agencies during this decade were:  Superior School District, Eisenhower Professional Development, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Chemical Manufacturers Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Great Lakes Protection Fund, Northeast-Midwest Institute, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

2000s

New research initiatives emerged, as the Institute received funding for the largest biological monitoring study in its 30+ year history in 2001.  In cooperation with the Great Lakes National Program Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Institute staff monitor the chlorophyll, benthic, and plankton communities throughout the Great Lakes.  Changes in the diversity and abundance of these populations can indicate degradation in ecosystem health.  Ecological trends are examined as data are compiled into spreadsheets, graphs, and GIS maps.  The Ballast Water Treatment Demonstration Project, which began in 2005, examines the effects of ballast treatment technologies to minimize the introduction of exotic species by commercial ships.  This study has an international focus, as it draws together scientists and policy analysts from interdisciplinary expertise.  Macroinvertebrate monitoring efforts increased, as Institute staff conducted field surveys of rare and endangered species, surveys on chemically contaminated sites, and macroinvertebrate assessments on areas that had been environmentally reclamated.  Environmental education expanded during this decade, as large-scale efforts to train land-use managers, secondary education teachers, citizens' monitoring groups, and the general public in community water resource issues emerged through projects such as the Western Lake Superior Nemo Program, A View from the Lake, and Watershed Connections.  Research efforts in aquatic and sediment toxicity testing continued with projects involving nonylphenol, tire shreds, landfill effluent, and contaminated sites within the Lake Superior Watershed.  Chemical monitoring of contaminants in fish and other aquatic life continues to be a priority for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.  A survey of native and invasive plant species contained in the western Lake Superior Watershed was begun in 2006.  Example funding agencies during this decade are:  Great Lakes National Program Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Grand Portage Reservation, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Hog Island Inlet

Hog Island is a place of scenic beauty and high ecological value. Located at the "headwaters of Lake Superior," at the far western end of the lake within the city of Superior, Wisconsin, the area is regionally important both as an ecological resource and a recreational and scenic amenity. Since the early 20's the area has served as a disposal site for dredge spoils, a railway yard, and a repository for industrial petroleum byproducts. Contamination at the site was severe and in 2005 Newton Creek and the Hog Island inlet were remediated under the federal Great Lakes Legacy Act, the first in the Lower St. Louis River AOC and one of the first in the entire Great Lakes system.

UW-LSRI has partnered with Douglas County Land and Water Conservation team to implement the restoration plan. In 2009 to present day the project continues to move beyond remediation to restoration on Hog Island as well as other strategic locations found in the St. Louis River Area of Concern. The long term goal for project is to restore ecological processes and biodiversity; reduce threats to the long term sustainability of natural communities; and implement a compatible recreational plan for the area. It is the intent that the Hog Island Ecological Restoration Project will serve as a model for restoration of contaminated areas throughout the Great Lakes system.

Hog Island Project Master Map

Aquatic Habitat Structures Web Page

Aquatic Invasive Plant Control Web Page

Riparian Restoration Web Page

LSRI Student Involvement Web Page

Vegetative Buffers Web Page

Wetland Restoration Web Page

Hog Island 1951

             Hog Island 1951

Coastal Wetlands Monitoring Project

     Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is one of the most unique ecosystems in North America.  Wisconsin's Lake Superior shore has many coastal wetlands and important tributaries that play a large role in the biological productivity of the Lake.  For example, Lake Superior coastal wetlands are about twenty four times more productive than the open water areas, and the St. Louis River is a major spawning river and nursery for the Lake's warm water fishery.  Yet, in spite of the importance of these habitats, there is little information about their ecological condition.

     Between 2007 and 2010, the Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) at the University of Wisconsin - Superior and the University of Wisconsin Extension (UWEX) program received funding to monitor eight watersheds in Lake Superior and their coastal wetlands and streams.  Watersheds included Allouez Bay, Bark River, Flag River, Little Pokegama, Lost Creek, Newton Creek, Pokegama, and Sioux River.  Pokegama, Little Pokegama and Allouez Bay are part of the St. Louis River Estuary, which was recently designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve system.

     One of the major goals of the project was to pilot coastal wetland biological indicators developed by the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Consortium and the State of the Lake Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC).  A biological indicator is a species or group of species that can be thought of as a piece of evidence that when measured can be used to determine the overall environmental integrity of an ecosystem.  Assessing coastal wetland health using widely accepted, standardized indicators will help provide resource managers with important information on how to protect, restore, and manage coastal habitats.

     Another component of the project was to develop and test a method of working with volunteers to collect baseline stream data.  Volunteers worked side-by-side with scientists and learned to collect and preserve macroinvertebrates using Wisconsin DNR protocols.  They also were trained to use Water Action Volunteer protocols to collect stream flow, temperature, dissolved oxygen, transparency, and habitat assessments.  The purpose of baseline monitoring is to characterize existing water quality conditions and establish a database for future comparisons.

     In addition to collecting field data, the grant allowed for analyzing and digitizing land cover in each the of eight study areas.  Research shows that when the amount of open land in a watershed exceeds 60%, the volume and the velocity of runoff to streams are increased and water quality and aquatic habitat are degraded.  In this research, land with forests younger than 16 years, as well as developed areas, roads, and agriculture are considered open lands.  It is unknown what impacts these changes are having on aquatic organisms and habitat in the estuaries.  Analyzing land cover using high resolution imagery will allow resource managers and local communities to identify highly open areas and potential restoration and protection strategies for those specific areas.

     Information about this project was shared with the community aboard the University of Wisconsin - Superior's vessel, the L.L. Smith Jr.   This project was funded by the Wisconsin DNR and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program.


Fact sheets are linked below:

Allouez Bay Watershed Bark Bay Watershed
Flag River Estuary Watershed Little Pokegama River Watershed
Lost Creek Watershed Newton Creek Watershed
Pokegama Bay Watershed Sioux River Watershed

Flag River

Volunteers collecting stream data on the Flag River, Bayfield County, WI

Lost Creek Bog

Estuary sampling in Lost Creek Bog, Bayfield County, WI

L.L. Smith

"View From The Lake" lecture aboard the L.L. Smith, Jr. in Bayfield, WI