New mesocosms on Beaver Island will assist in Great Lakes research
New science equipment on Beaver Island will allow the Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research to conduct experiments like never before.
Donald Uzarski, director of CMU’s IGLR, said in an email the 23 IGLR faculty are housing more than 40 graduate and 80 undergraduate students researching Great Lakes issues. He said several of these students will be working at the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island next year using the new mesocosm facility.
Mesocosms allow researchers to isolate a single variable when conducting experiments, something they can’t do while working in the Great Lakes.
Uzarski said scientists are often criticized for not being able to control factors while conducting field experiments, and the mesocosms provide a very controlled environment. However, he said, scientists can also be criticized for having too much control in an experiment because it’s not the real world.
“The most powerful science comes when we can conduct paired experiments where we are essentially doing the same experiments in the Great Lakes and in the controlled mesocosms simultaneously,” he said. “If we see comparable results with both approaches, we have tremendous support for our results and conclusions.”
The mesocosms allow the scientific community interested in studying aquatic environments to reproduce a broad range of environmental conditions present in these ecosystems, Anthony Chappaz, assistant professor of geochemistry for CMU’s IGLR, said in an email. He said sometimes questions raised by scientists are too complex to be answered by a regular research approach because several variables are involved, including temperature and water chemistry.
“Therefore, to simplify the ‘equation,’ we can now use these new mesocosms that can mimic any environmental conditions but authorize the researchers to control many variables,” he said.
Construction on the mesocosms began in fall 2011 and continued into early spring, Uzarski said. Testing on the system began in May, but CMU had to wait for the state to issue permits before the mesocosms could be used to conduct experiments. He said field experiments have been initiated in anticipation of using the mesocosms next spring.
The facility is located on a boathouse on Whiskey Point on Beaver Island. CMU does not have a comparable facility elsewhere, and in fact, there is not a comparable facility anywhere in the Great Lakes, Uzarski said. He said other mesocosm facilities exist on the Great Lakes, but none have the capabilities CMU has.
Chappaz said the facility will attract scientists from other institutions, generating an extraordinary atmosphere for CMU students to be involved in top research projects.
Uzarski said researchers will have access to both warm, nutrient-depleted surface water and cold, nutrient-rich deep water for their experiments. There are several experiments planned for the mesocosms, many of which are already underway and will incorporate mesocosms in the spring, he said.
“We plan to address questions regarding human-induced stressors on ecosystem structure and function, climate change issues, invasive species interactions, nutrient and toxic pollution and issues associated with water level regulation in the Great Lakes,” he said.
Chappaz said his research area consists of identifying and characterizing reactions in aquatic ecosystems involving trace elements. By using the mesocosms, he said he will be able to recreate very specific conditions that occur at the bottoms of the Great Lakes as well as oceans.
“I want to improve our understanding of the paleo-environmental implications of trace-element behavior, such as their potential to illuminate how the chemistry of Earth’s surface has changed through geologic time, as well as the implications for modern societies — including environmental chemistry and identification of anthropogenic sources,” he said.
The facility is open to all of the College of Science and Technology departments, and the new Bioscience Building will house a mesocosm facility as well, Uzarski said. Although the facility in Mount Pleasant won’t have access to Lake Michigan water, researchers will be able to conduct related experiments throughout the year.
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