At the Forefront of Lake Erie Science | Ohio Sea Grant

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At the Forefront of Lake Erie Science

8:45 am, Fri December 28, 2018 – Stone Lab classes and workshops educate the next generation of Lake Erie water quality scientists

Aquatic Biology student holding glass bottle

Stone Lab classes are field-based, giving students a first-hand look at the ecosystems they’re studying.

Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab have been at the forefront of water quality science and protection from the very beginning, when poor water conditions in the 1960s directly led to the program’s founding in 1978. Between cleaning up Areas of Concern at rivers all along the Ohio shoreline, building new habitat for sportfish and managing a Clean Marinas Program that helps boaters enjoy the water sustainably, keeping Lake Erie healthy has been a guiding force for Ohio Sea Grant for the past 40 years.

Today, water quality continues to be a top concern for Stone Lab staff and visiting researchers. A state-of-the-art Algal and Water Quality Lab houses water testing for nearby treatment plants, supports research into the lake’s harmful algal bloom problem and offers student research assistants a chance to get hands-on experience in the lab.

Summer courses at Stone Lab also play a big role in its commitment to water quality. From introductory courses like Intro to Aquatic Biology to upper-level classes like Water Quality Management, high school and college students can learn about how Lake Erie is essential to quality of life in Ohio, and how they might best play a part in keeping the lake healthy.

“Most students in aquatic biology are in high school or early college students, so the course gives them an introduction to aquatic science through lecture and hands-on, on the water activities,” said Stone Lab’s research coordinator Dr. Justin Chaffin, who teaches one of the Aquatic Biology sections. “By the end of the week-long course, the students know if they want to continue on the aquatic path or need to rethink their education plan.”

Research cruise water samples

Research assistants and workshop students learn skills and techniques that are directly applicable to a career in environmental science, and make connections with agency personnel and scientists who can become valuable references in the future. Photo: Jo McCulty

For those that decide on a career in aquatic sciences, the options to return to Stone Lab are extensive. From upper-level classes to a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Scholarship Program, and even some opportunities to get work experience in research and outreach, students at the lab learn hands-on field skills every time they come to Gibraltar Island.

But the chances for learning don’t end when school is over. Professional development workshops for agency staff and water treatment plant operators combine Stone Lab’s water quality research with its education focus to help aquatic professionals gain new skills that advance their careers or help them keep their jobs.

From 2011 to 2016, 227 agency and industry personnel participated in training to identify harmful algal blooms and treat their toxins. According to workshop instructor Heather Raymond, HAB coordinator and lead hydrogeologist for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, students appreciate the applied nature of the course material, as well as being able to get first-hand experience with sampling equipment during the research cruises that are built into the workshops.

Casey Lyon, who works for the Oregon Health Authority’s Drinking Water Services, traveled across three time zones to take a Stone Lab workshop on harmful algal blooms. “This workshop is a great opportunity to learn directly from renowned cyanobacteria experts,” Lyon said. “The instructors have a tremendous wealth of cyanobacteria knowledge and provide a valuable perspective about protecting public health from these cyanotoxins.”

An attendee at a 2014 workshop also worked with Chaffin and staff at the water quality lab to correctly identify a harmful algal bloom in the reservoir at the City of Norwalk’s water treatment plant, averting what could have been a serious problem for the city’s water supply.

It’s because of stories like this that Stone Lab will continue to offer these courses and workshops, which play a vital part in educating generations of Lake Erie scientists and resource managers about how to keep the lake, their communities and the entire region safe and healthy for the future.

ARTICLE TITLE: At the Forefront of Lake Erie Science PUBLISHED: 8:45 am, Fri December 28, 2018
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Christina Dierkes
Outreach Specialist, Ohio Sea Grant College Program

As Ohio Sea Grant’s science writer, Christina covers research, education and outreach projects in the Great Lakes for a wide range of audiences. She also produces online events like the Freshwater Science webinar series and other outreach events, and manages social media for Ohio Sea Grant.