Great Lakes Center Activities


(This 946th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 10, 2009.)



The RV John J. Freidhoff


The Great Lakes Center of Buffalo State College will christen its new boat, a handsome but rugged 27-foot aluminum craft with powerful twin engines, at 10 a.m. this Tuesday, May 12. The boat will be named the RV John J. Freidhoff in honor of the Center's former station manager. In a rare accident last year Freidhoff drowned while scuba diving. He was attempting to retrieve sensitive equipment lost by another field station 90-feet deep in Lake Ontario near Rochester.


The Center is continuing many activities initiated by Freidhoff and even extending its reach to new projects. I had a chance to visit and learn about some of those activities and even examine the boat a few days ago. I met with Center Director Alexander Karatayev; Mark Clapsadl, Freidhoff's replacement as Field Station Director; and Research Fleet Manager Caleb Basiliko. I knew Basiliko from last year when he took me out to visit the common tern colony on the Lake Erie breakwall.


Karatayev is carrying out research on quagga mussels. While we were looking at his project tanks, he explained how some of his colleagues have postulated the history of the zebra and quagga mussel invasion of the Great Lakes. Most of us are familiar with the zebra mussels that foul water intakes and collect in windrows along beaches, but fewer know about the very similar quaggas. Now the quaggas are displacing zebra mussels and, because they appear very similar, we don't realize that this displacement is taking place. (Unlike zebra mussels, Kaatayev showed me, most quagga mussels can be balanced on one edge.)


The scientists have been able to trace a ship to the fresh-water Ukranian port of Kherson on the Dnieper River where it flows into the Black Sea. There in the home range of these mussels the ship probably picked up both kinds in its ballast tanks. It later released those species when it emptied its tanks in the Great Lakes probably in 1985 or 1986. When this happened, the quaggas headed for the deep water they prefer while the zebras chose shallower in-shore water. Today, however, the quaggas, having overpopulated the deeper waters, are extending their range and, as they reach the shallows, displacing zebra mussels. They have now finally become the more common mussel.


Other ongoing regional projects include a study of the impacts of climate change, alien species and humans on near shore lake dynamics; collection of data designed to verify satellite color imagery; a study of various factors to assist in the design of stream barriers to bar the invasive, minnow-like round gobies; more research on storm sewer discharges into the Niagara River; the development of quantitative databases that will be broadly accepted by the academic community and provide more easily extracted data for researchers; and an assessment of the endocrine-disrupting effects of persistent organic pollutants on fish. The staff continues to secure funding to support these projects.


As if that were not enough for the Center's seven research scientist staff and its six Buffalo State affiliated faculty, together with other scientists they are involved in projects in Texas, Wisconsin, Ontario, Louisiana, and even South America. One way the Center supports this outreach is through collaborating scientists at the University at Buffalo; Niagara, Stony Brook, Syracuse, Wisconsin and Cornell Universities; the colleges at Brockport and Cortland; the New York State Museum; the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Institutes of Health. International collaborators are in Canada, Argentina, Lithuania, Russia and Ireland.


Each year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory focuses its attention on one of the Great Lakes. This year's focus is on Lake Erie so the Great Lakes Center will be especially busy supporting the program's studies: quantifying the location and timing of inadequate oxygen across the lake; assessing its consequences on the lake's food web; and identifying factors that control its formation and help us map its distribution.


What I found even better than all the science going on at the Center was the outreach of staff to local youngsters. Not only college undergraduates and graduate students work on projects with staff but so too do McKinley High School students. -- Gerry Rising