Boat trip shows how scientists watch Lake Michigan’s health
HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) — Serena and Lara Varela spent part of a recent morning testing Lake Michigan water samples for dissolved oxygen levels.
As volunteer scientists, the girls, aged 9 and 7, got the chance to mimic research methods aboard the W.G. Jackson Research Vessel, a nearly 65-foot-long research boat after it left from the Hammond Marina.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arranged for the boat’s small crew to take the public on tours out in Lake Michigan to learn more about how scientists can monitor its ecosystem.
Around 20 people were on one morning’s tour from the Hammond Marina.
The boat is owned by Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon, Michigan. Since its boat tours began in 1998, it has docked at 33 ports, crew said.
The boat’s most recent three-port tour included Hammond and other stops in Michigan City, and the Shedd Aquarium.
The boat is used to help education the public on basic research practices, said Dr. Janet Vail, the vessel’s research scientist. It is not equipped or tasked to detect industrial pollution.
Researchers set up different tasks outside and inside the boat. While inside at individual stations, volunteers could do tests various elements including pH levels, water conductivity, turbidity (cloudiness), plankton levels, alkalinity, and dissolved oxygen levels.
The goal was to help discover how humans affected the ecosystem, said Science Instructor Tom Jackson, a former middle school teacher.
“Our goal is to teach what goes into water quality,” said Ann Hesselsweet, another science instructor and former teacher. “By separating it out into different pieces, they are able to frame their brains around it a little more.”
The girls’ father, Steve Varela, of New Carlisle, said he and his wife brought both for the second year to help give them a better respect for natural resources.
“The Great Lakes is unique,” he said. “Every chance we get, we come out and show them anything in our environment.
“We also live on a lake and have a boat, so we’re on the water all the time,” Varela said. “They understand the water and they understand this is a different experience.”
Information from: Post-Tribune, http://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/