Growing for science

Growing for science
New lab environment will take Lake Erie water quality research to the next level
Stone lab
Stone lab

By Christina Dierkes
Ohio Sea Grant

The Ohio State University Stone Laboratory, located at Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie, has been a home for researchers studying the lake for over a century. The lab is a collaboration between Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES)

Over the years, upgrades and renovations have kept the lab up to date in regards to modern science needs, but of course there’s always more that could be done to make sure Stone Lab continues to be a resource for everyone studying Lake Erie.

A recent bill from the Ohio Legislature will help the lab do just that. Senate Bill 299, the Clean Lake 2020 Plan, was sponsored by state Sens. Randy Gardner and Sean O’Brien. It allocates up to $36 million in funding to water quality programs that help protect Lake Erie. Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab received $2.65 million of that funding, which will cover a new building and equipment for the Lake Erie laboratory, as well as monitoring equipment that will be placed in the Maumee River this spring.

The addition of the mesocosms could include twelve to twenty tanks, similar to these in Massachussettts, that allow researchers to do real-time experiments with actual lake water. Photo: Tom Kleindinst, © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Clean Lake 2020’s goal is to offer potential solutions to the lake’s harmful algal blooms (HABs) and related issues. The blooms can produce toxins that lead to drinking water advisories, and an overgrowth of algae can lead to unsightly scums near the shore that can negatively affect tourism in the area.

“Stone Lab and the Sea Grant program are critical to our work toward a cleaner Lake Erie,” said Gardner. “That’s why, when I wrote the Clean Lake 2020 Plan with Rep. Steve Arndt, one of our priorities was upgrading lab facilities and funding real-time in-lake research through Stone Lab. The bottom line is that Stone Lab and Sea Grant are as important as ever to our efforts to make real progress to improve the health of Lake Erie.”

The new building will be located on South Bass Island’s Peach Point, just north of downtown Put-in-Bay. About 2,000 square feet of space will be split between a lab expansion that adds space for research and teaching, and a set of outdoor flow-through tanks—also called mesocosms—that were specifically requested by Ohio researchers.

“When we reached out to the people who use our facility to ask them what they wanted the new space to look like, everybody came back saying they wanted these mesocosms,” said Chris Winslow, PhD, director, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab. “So this could be from 12 to 20 tanks that hold hundreds of gallons of water, and we’d be able to pump water from Lake Erie into these tanks and do real-time experiments in actual lake water.”

Construction on the expansion and mesocosms will likely begin in 2020.

“Keeping Lake Erie safe and clean is imperative to the well-being of not only my constituents on the lake, but the rest of the state.”Sen. Sean O’Brien

The Maumee River monitoring equipment was selected in collaboration with Laura Johnson, PhD, at Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Researchand Tom Bridgeman, PhD, at The University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center. The sensors will be placed in the spring to collect nutrient data and other information about runoff into Lake Erie. That data, in turn, will help inform the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual HABs forecast for the western basin, as well as other projects monitoring the health of the lake. 

The Clean Lake 2020 Plan also provides funding for county soil and water conservation districts to hire staff who will work directly with farmers on adopting best management practices that reduce nutrient runoff into Lake Erie. That runoff contributes to HABs, and state legislators and agencies have set a goal to reduce nutrient runoff by 40% by 2025.

“This bipartisan bill is an example of how legislators can come together to support policies that will truly make a difference,” said Sen. O’Brien. “Keeping Lake Erie safe and clean is imperative to the well-being of not only my constituents on the lake, but the rest of the state.”

And with the planned updates, as well as continued research funding from programs such as the Ohio Department of Higher Education’s Harmful Algal Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI), Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab will continue to be leaders in this effort.