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GLIN==> News Release - Great Lakes Basin Scheduled for Physical Exam



UMD - Natural Resources Research Insititute News Release

For Immediate Release			Contact:  Brenda Maas   (218-720-4300)
February 21, 2001				   Nora Kubazewski (218-720-4280)

Great Lakes Basin Scheduled for Physical Exam

Duluth, Minn.-- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
recently awarded ecological scientists from across the Great 
Lakes, led by Dr. Gerald Niemi of the Natural Resources 
Research Institute (NRRI) of the University of Minnesota 
Duluth, a $6 million grant to perform a comprehensive checkup 
on the health of the Great Lakes. This is the largest ecological 
grant ever awarded by the EPA's Science to Achieve Results 
(STAR) research program.

The project, which is headed by NRRI center director and 
professor Dr. Gerald Niemi, will identify, evaluate and 
recommend a portfolio of environmental indicators to measure 
the condition of the Great Lakes. These assessment tools will 
help maintain the lakes' integrity and long-term sustainability. 
Like medical doctors who start with vital signs and then move on 
to specific diagnostic tests, these 27 experts will closely examine 
the health of the Great Lakes. 

Just as the human body has many different systems that must 
work cohesively, so does the environment. The Great Lakes 
basin, which spans two countries including eight states and one 
province, contains approximately 18 percent of the world's 
surface fresh water. What happens in one section has ripple 
effects across the entire basin and affects more than 36 million 
residents.

The population explosion along the coasts of the United States 
has put enormous pressure on coastal ecosystems. In order to 
develop the sound science required to monitor these important 
areas, STAR developed the Estuarine and Great Lakes 
(EaGLe) program. This grant is the first being awarded to four 
focus areas that include the Great Lakes, East Coast, West 
Coast and Gulf Coast.

Environmental indicators are biological, chemical or physical 
attributes of an ecosystem that can be measured and monitored 
to provide insight on the study area's condition. For example, 
scientists currently monitor the spread of exotic species such as 
zebra mussels. Studying zebra mussel populations, relocation 
patterns and reproduction, helps researchers evaluate the 
amount and intensity of human impact on certain aquatic 
ecosystems. Indicators provide an early warning system of 
potential problems and a proactive approach to integrating 
ecosystem management with growing human populations.

Study sites for this massive project will span the 200,000-
square-mile basin. Research will be broken into five major 
components:  water quality and diatoms (group of microscopic 
algae); fish and macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects, crustaceans 
and worms); wetland vegetation; birds and amphibians; and 
chemical contaminants.

The EPA has identified over 80 indicators that will be 
considered during the study. Based on nearly 500 years of 
cumulative expertise, Niemi and his team will compile and 
rigorously test what they consider to be the best and most 
comprehensive of existing and new indicators.

"At the end of the four-year period, we will provide 
recommendations to the environmental community on what 
indicators are their best bets for future monitoring efforts," said 
Niemi. "The EPA has provided a wonderful opportunity to 
critically examine which indicators can be used to determine the 
health of the U.S. Great Lakes coastal and near shore regions."

The Minnesota Sea Grant Program will distribute the information 
to the public and management agencies across the Great Lakes.

"NRRI scientists have achieved state, national and international 
acclaim for their previous work," noted U.S. Congressman Jim 
Oberstar. "By securing this grant, they have proven that NRRI is 
competitive with the best universities and research institutes in 
the country. Not only will the results of their work on this 
initiative play an important role in sustaining the long-term health 
of the Great Lakes, but they will also be a model for critical 
watersheds throughout the world."

In addition to researchers at NRRI, the project will include 
experts from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, 
Minnesota Sea Grant, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University (New 
York), University of Windsor-Canada, John Carroll University 
(Ohio) and University of Michigan. Scientists from the U.S. EPA 
Mid-Continent Ecology Division in Duluth and research station 
in Grosse Ile, Michigan, are also major cooperators on the 
project.

NRRI director Mike Lalich agrees that the importance of this 
project reaches beyond northeastern Minnesota. "Results of the 
research will provide a context that will assist resource managers 
and leaders to make sound environmental and economic 
decisions relating to the Great Lakes ecosystem in the future."

NRRI, where the majority of work will be centered, was 
created to promote economic development of Minnesota's 
natural resources in an environmentally sound manner. Niemi is a 
Duluth native, University of Minnesota Duluth alumnus and 
internationally known and published scientist. 

                              --NRRI--


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