Eleven Great Lakes educators are cruising Lake Superior this summer from Port of Duluth-Superior to the French River in Minnesota and the Amnicon River in Wisconsin for hands-on experience in freshwater science, curricula and resources that they can take home and use in their classrooms and other learning environments.
The teachers are part of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Superior Shipboard Science Workshop and are aboard Duluth’s Vista Queen and the University of Minnesota Duluth, Large Lakes Observatory, Research Vessel (R / V) Blue Heron from June 27 to July 1, 2022.
“Our goals for teachers include helping them understand Great Lakes water quality and microplastics, gaining hands-on experience in water sampling and analysis, and helping build awareness and appreciation for research and management of natural resources,” says Marte Kitson, workshop leader and educator in-service training at the Minnesota Sea Grant (MNSG).
This year’s Shipboard Science Workshop is attended by two educators from Illinois, three from Minnesota, one from Ohio and five from Wisconsin. Everyone says they want to better understand the types, abundance, and impact of microplastics on Lake Superior’s water quality and the lake’s food web. MNSG Undergraduate Extension Education Intern Megan Gilles accompanies this year’s workshop to gain work experience.
Lorena Rose Mendoza, workshop director and professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, made an announcement of the event. “[The educators] will learn how to collect samples from the water, sediment and sand on the beach. They will learn how to process samples to separate possible microplastic particles with a microscope and will use an FTIR spectrometer to find out if the particles are really plastic particles or not, ‘she said. Mendoza tests the concentration of adsorbed toxic compounds. on plastic particles, sediments and tissue samples from Oceans and Great Lakes.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, microplastics are small pieces of plastic less than five millimeters long that can be harmful to the aquatic life of the oceans and Great Lakes.
During the five-day workshop, educators participate in various activities ashore and on board. Teachers collect water quality data using an instrument called CTD, which measures conductivity (C) (the ability of a substance to pass an electric current), temperature (T), and depth (D). They are also working on macro-water issues.
Teachers use a manta ray that resembles a stingray with metal wings and a wide mouth to collect the microplastics that may be in the surface water. They also use a special water sample bottle called Niskin, which allows samples to be taken at different water depths in a way that seals the sample and allows it to be brought to the surface without mixing with water from different depths.
Microplastic is so small that it is difficult to know what kind of plastic it is. To determine this, teachers will use an instrument called a Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer or FTIR Spectrometer. This instrument uses infrared light (or radiation) to identify the molecular fingerprints of solids that adsorb (or collect) infrared light, such as microplastics, which can help identify a synthetic microplastics polymer or the type of plastic a fragment or molecule may have fibers come from.
Attendees will be able to play the Minnesota Sea Grant’s Watershed Game, an interactive educational tool that helps people (especially local officials) understand the relationship between land use and water quality.
About the scientific workshops on board the ship as part of the 2022 sea grant
2022 Sea Grant Shipboard Science Workshop will be the fifth year coordinated jointly by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Programs, along with educators from across the Great Lakes Basin, are part of the Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy. The Center aims to support informed and responsible decisions that support river basin management by providing hands-on experiences, educational resources and networking opportunities that promote Great Lakes literacy among a committed community of teachers, scientists and citizens.
This workshop is an example of unique Minnesota Sea Grant programming. “The workshop is really just the beginning of a one-year program that provides countless support to workshop participants,” says Marte.
Funding for the Sea Grant Shipboard Science Workshop 2022 comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Environmental Protection Agency.
The Minnesota Sea Grant is a federal-university partnership that brings water science closer to communities. We cater to Minnesotans at work, at home and at play. They are a system-wide program of the University of Minnesota with offices on the Duluth and St. Paul.
Marte Kitson, Environmental Education Educator, Minnesota Sea Grant, University of Minnesota and University of Minnesota Duluth, [protected email], 218-726-8305.
Lorena Rios Mendoza, Professor of Chemistry, Department of Natural Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Superior, [email protected], 715-817-1772.