EPA research vessel cruises Lake Ontario

Pictured is the R/V Lake Guardian docked outside of the marine museum in Oswego. This week, researchers from Clarkson University, SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Oswego conducted research on Lake Ontario, studying chemical contaminants found in the lake’s food web.

Pictured is the R/V Lake Guardian docked outside of the marine museum in Oswego. This week, researchers from Clarkson University, SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Oswego conducted research on Lake Ontario, studying chemical contaminants found in the lake’s food web.

by Nicole Reitz

The R/V Lake Guardian, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s largest Great Lakes’ research and monitoring vessel, left from the Port City Wednesday for a four-day research voyage.

A crew of researchers will collect water and sediment samples from Lake Ontario in order to study chemical contaminants found in the lake’s food web.

The purpose of the cruise is to collect water, pelagic micro-fauna, benthic invertebrates and ambient aerosol samples for organic chemical analysis.

This survey is part of a Lake Ontario assessment of organics contaminant cycling. The survey will provide dissolved and particulate phase samples as well as atmospheric concentrations.

In 2011, the EPA awarded Clarkson University a $6.5 million five-year grant to continue a partnership with SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Oswego to conduct the Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program. The funding is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The EPA has had the Lake Guardian since 1991; prior to that, it was a personnel supply vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship has been modified for science research on the Great Lakes.

Operating from April to September, the Guardian has 13 full time crew members, including a chef, a stewardess, first mates, marine techs and engineers. Bob Christensen has been the captain of the Guardian since 1998.

The ship has a maximum capacity of 28 people and has sleeping quarters for those on board. With the ship in operation for 24 hours a day, at any given time, someone is sleeping before their next shift.

The Lake Guardian also has a lounge, a galley offering three meals a day, and a chemistry and biology lab. Researchers on the ship use state-of-the-art data collection techniques and instruments during the biannual spring and summer surveys.

A green lab is used to do chlorophyll analysis. The lab is also used to sort through samples, picking out the different species and freezing them so that Clarkson University can analyze the tissues.

The Lake Guardian is the only self-contained, non-polluting research ship on the Great Lakes. Operated by the EPA’s Chicago-based Great Lakes National Program Office, the ship conducts monitoring programs that sample the water, aquatic life, sediments, and air in order to assess the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Researchers can sample a chunk of the lake bottom by using sediment grabs. The grabs are capable of sampling the deepest spot of Lake Superior.

Beth Hinchey Malloy is one of the environmental research scientists on this excursion. She said that it is not uncommon for someone from the EPA office to be gone for a month at a time conducting research.

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