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High-tech, Remote-controlled Vessels Gather Data in Lake Ontario

ESF participates through Great Lakes Research Consortium

An ESF researcher is participating this week in a project that launches two autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) in Lake Ontario to produce intensive data for analysis of nearshore-offshore interactions, fish productivity, changes to the lower food web and algal abundance.

The high-tech, remote-controlled AUVs that resemble torpedoes will be launched on separate days at Sodus Point, Oswego, Rochester and Oak Orchard. The research will also provide information about how the thermal bar - a seasonal/spring temperature barrier - impacts nutrients in the nearshore aquatic environment.

Each underwater vehicle is a 42-pound, 6.5-foot long Iver2-580 AUV-EP42 with side scan sonar, multiple sensor payloads, 10 Beam Doppler Velocity Log for bottom tracking, and EcoMapper technology for high-resolution water quality monitoring. The vessel generates data to a computer chip, including three-dimensional survey maps on such factors as temperature, turbidity, depths, pH, current, video images, oxygen levels, phosphorus/etc. levels, conductivity, and more.

The AUV visit to Lake Ontario is occurring through the Great Lakes Observing System with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2; New York's Great Lakes Research Consortium (GLRC) member schools, which include ESF and the SUNY colleges at Brockport and Oswego; and New York Sea Grant.

Dr. Gregory Boyer, chair of the ESF Department of Chemistry, is director of the GLRC and research leader on the project.

The research on Lake Ontario is part of the Cooperative Science Monitoring Initiative (CMSI) between the United States and Canada called for under the Clean Water Act of 1972. The CSMI cycles its intensive monitoring activities through the five Great Lakes, visiting one lake per year for every five years.

Boyer, a biochemist, said the AUVs "represent the next wave in environmental sampling of our Great Lakes."

"No longer do we need to put two people in a boat and send them out for a day putting instruments in and out of the water. We can program these AUVs to leave from shore, go out, travel up and down in the water column, collecting thousands of data points, and then return home," he said . "The units we are deploying in Lake Ontario in 2013 are designed for nearshore work, but we also have access to 'gliders' that can go out for weeks to a month at a time. It is truly an exciting time to be a Great Lakes researcher."

Boyer's work focuses on the chemistry and ecology of freshwater and marine harmful algal blooms, rapid detection methods for the toxins produces by these organisms, and the impact of blue-green algal blooms on the recreational use of the Great Lakes and other waters. New York Sea Grant has provided funding for several research projects by Boyer, including a current project on algal bloom in Sodus Bay.

"The Great Lakes system forms a unique ecosystem, natural environment, economic engine, recreational resource, and public water supply. The evolution of technology greatly facilitates the scientific study of the dynamics of the individual lakes and the Great Lakes Basin in its entirety. This first-time underwater research on Lake Ontario provides the opportunity to synthesize intense biological, chemical, geological, and other data for use by multiple stakeholder groups from natural resource and fisheries managers to marina operators and angler associations," said Coastal Recreation and Tourism Specialist Dave White with New York Sea Grant at SUNY Oswego.