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Grant launches joint study of St. Louis River estuary

Pokegama Bay, St. Louis River estuary

The St. Louis River estuary is a valuable resource in the Twin Ports area and a University of Wisconsin-Superior faculty member along with a Superior researcher have been awarded a grant to help preserve and promote the local waterway for decades to come.

Professor Nicholas Danz of the Natural Sciences Department at UWS will study the wetlands of the St. Louis River estuary to better understand ways to manage the ecosystem and eventually share that information with stakeholders.

Danz is eager to work on the project because of its importance.

“It’s beautiful, and there are some very high quality wetlands and unique plants especially up stream. There are so many nooks and crannies and you can’t tell you are in the middle of a city,” he said.

Danz will do the work, with Dr. Shon Schooler of the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve. Schooler believes it is time take a closer look.

“The St. Louis River estuary is undergoing a period of intensive restoration. There have been many individual studies of the vegetation in the St. Louis River estuary over the past 20 years, but now we have an exciting opportunity to look at all of the that data together and see what patterns emerge,” Schooler said.

Wisconsin Sea Grant has awarded UWS $98,000 dollars for the two-year study. Overall, $2 million came to the Great Lakes area for research, educational and outreach projects through the National Sea Grant office.

Danz said it made sense to work with Schooler because they are already involved in some of the data gathering.

“We have both been sampling plants in the St. Louis estuary the last couple of years, and I would be out in a boat studying plants, and run into others also studying plants,” Danz said. “It occurred to me, there is a lot of data, we are all there, and we should be working together more.”

Schooler agrees that the partnership with Danz will be a good one.

“Nick has done a lot of work on plant communities throughout the Great Lakes and is great to work with,” Schooler said.

Schooler is the research coordinator at the Lake Superior NERR. “It is exciting to collaborate on a project where we benefit from our collective experience, learn from each other and discover new things about the environment.”

Danz pointed out that researchers often don’t share information when completed, but this project is all about getting the data and information out to everyone involved.

“Our idea is to collect all this information from people who have been doing this work over the past two decades and to put it into a larger pool of data and interpret it to say something about the conditions and quality of plants in the estuary and wetlands,” he said.

According to Danz, the St. Louis River estuary science summit conducted by the Lake Superior NERR each year at UWS has been a key resource to get information to people as they are preparing for their summer field study.

Schooler said it is a unique subject area to study.

“The St. Louis River estuary is really interesting ecologically. Phosphorus is coming in from the rivers, nitrogen is high in the lake and is pushed into the estuary by the seiche; there are areas of very high turbidity (clay-influenced bays) to very low turbidity (Lake Superior). Carbon is coming in as colored dissolved organic matter (water stained like tea) from the peat bogs and in particulate forms from overland flow and bank erosion, and it all comes together in the estuary mixing zone,” he said. “Some people think estuaries need salt, but the key part of an estuary is a semi-enclosed area where river and lake/ocean water mix. We have that here and it’s complex and unique.”

Some of the groups Danz and Schooler will be working with on the study include:

• Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve.

• Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

• Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of Natural Resources.

• Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

• Other researchers.

UWS students will also be involved as the study progresses.

When completed, materials will be produced and distributed to stakeholders including Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Lake Superior NERR.

Eighteen other projects supported by Wisconsin Sea grant are located on the Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Stevens Point and Superior campuses of the University of Wisconsin System, as well as at Northland College, St. Norbert College and Marquette University.

Exploration of Wisconsin’s shipwrecks through a longtime partnership between Sea Grant and the Wisconsin Historical Society is also part of this package. The balance of the grant will be devoted to outreach projects that educate various audiences about the lakes and will engage communities across the state, sharing the latest and most effective science to maximize Great Lakes resources.