COPPER HARBOR – Copper Harbor celebrated Lake Superior Day for the seventh year in a row Sunday, and The Michigan Technological University research vessel Agassiz was on hand again to help in the celebration. The Agassiz was originally scheduled to make five excursions into the harbor.
“We’ve been full each time,” said Lloyd Wescoat. Wescoat is the K-12 Education Program Coordinator of the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, with the Center for Science and Environmental Outreach at the Michigan Technological University Great Lakes Research Center, which owns the vessel.
Because of the popularity of the excursions, Wescoat said, another one had to be added, bringing the number to six. The total number of participants was 108. The maximum number of passengers the Agassiz is permitted per trip is 18.
On the excursions, participants are shown demonstrations on how organisms are collected from the water to determine the diversity of available food in Great Lakes food chain, which helps to monitor the health of the lake overall. The importance of the diversity is discussed, as is the absolute importance in maintaining the health of the Great Lakes, which together comprise 10 percent of the world’s fresh water supply.
While people wait for their turn on the Agassiz, Wescoat said, they are encouraged to look at the benthic organisms that have been collected on the boat trips, using proscopes and iPad which, she said, are a helpful technology.
The pro scope magnifies objects in the water samples as would a microscope, but through a special app, projects the enlargements onto the screen of the iPad. Benthic animals live in the sediments of the lake. They feed off of settling algae, bacteria in the sediments, other benthic animals, and larger organisms, and fish in turn live off them.
“You need diversity of organisms to make sure you have the diversity in the food chain,” Wescoat said.
In Copper Harbor, the diversity looks healthy.
Kenny Larson, a PHd student in Michigan Tech’s Civil and Environmental Engineering program, was the chief scientist aboard the Agassiz, and conducted the educational talks. Wescoat said this is his first summer he has conducted the excursions as chief scientist. Dr. Cory MacDonald conducted them at Chassell’s Strawberry Festival.
Funding for the excursions are provided by the Ride the Waves Program, through General Motors Corporation. The excursions are designed for students and teachers to learn about the Great Lakes, and to introduce them to the opportunities in STEM careers, as well as environmental awareness and education.
Participating in an Agassiz excursion is not the only way to explore the conditions and health of the Great Lakes. For anyone interested in a more in-depth introduction, as well as videos and definitions, please check out the MTU website at CLICK HERE