Winter Grab found lots of life below Lake Superior ice

The early reveal on World Water Day found many living creatures.

UMD Winter Grab.jpg
University of Minnesota Duluth researchers Kirill Shchapov and Gage Sachs work to get water samples and other data from below the frozen surface of Lake Superior in the area of the Apostle Islands in February. It's part of a Great Lakes region-wide effort to find out more about the lake ecosystems in winter.
Contributed / UMD
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DULUTH — Readers might remember the story we ran in February about the Winter Grab, the cooperative effort of scientists from 18 institutions in the U.S. and Canada, including universities and government agencies, who fanned out in 12 teams last month across the lakes — toting ice augers and wearing safety float suits — to grab as much data as possible during the coldest, iciest time of year.

The entire project is headed by University of Minnesota Duluth Large Lakes Observatory scientist Ted Ozersky.

Led by a University of Minnesota Duluth professor, scientists from the U.S. and Canada are fanning out this month to gather data from below the ice.

Well the data collected, namely a lot of water samples, is still being packaged up and sent to labs across all eight institutions for analysis in what is the largest winter research project ever on the Great Lakes. But some early peeking by researcher Kirill Shchapov at the Large Lakes Observatory revealed some interesting observations.

“One thing I can tell you is that Lake Superior zooplankton, and phytoplankton, are very abundant in winter,” Shchapov said. “There’s still a lot of stuff going on down there under the ice.”

Lake Superior zooplankton
Tiny zooplankton captured in water samples from below a frozen Lake Superior in the Apostle Islands in February by UMD researchers. The photo was taken through a microscope.
Contributed / UMD

The ample zooplankton are a good thing, a sign of a healthy lake ecosystem, although scientists aren’t sure how the small creatures — the backbone of the food chain for fish — behave in winter, thus the Winter Grab.


Shchapov revealed his very preliminary findings Tuesday, World Water Day, aimed at drawing attention to the needs of millions of people who struggle to find clean water every day. The Great Lakes hold over 5,400 cubic miles of water, accounting for about 21% of the world's surface freshwater. And Lake Superior holds 2,900 cubic miles, or 3 quadrillion gallons, accounting for more than 50% of the water in the Great Lakes.

The multi-agency effort will help verify data collected by traditional research boats and crews.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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