David N. Goodman
Detroit — Researchers from Michigan’s far north and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lab in steamy Vicksburg, Miss., have formed an alliance to improve tools for monitoring pollution along the nation’s shorelines.
Michigan Technological University is on the Keweenaw Peninsula that juts into Lake Superior from the Upper Peninsula. The Army Corps Environmental Laboratory is about a mile east of the Mississippi River and about 165 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Representatives from the two institutions say they want to work together to improve the understanding of waters near the shores of the Great Lakes. Researchers will work on such things as ecosystem restoration, toxic sediments and invasive species, according to a news release from the Army Corps. The collaboration agreement is for five years and renewable after that.
The work could be applied to other rivers, streams, lake and ocean fronts around the nation, said Robert Shuchman of Michigan Tech’s satellite research institute in Ann Arbor.
Shuchman said the Army Corps has expertise in remote, aircraft-based ground sensing.
“They’re on the cutting edge of technology,” he said.
At the same time, Michigan Tech is experienced in onsite monitoring.
The two institutions are already working on analyzing data from a survey they did in 2008 of toxic copper mining waste known as “stamp sands” offshore from the unincorporated village of Gay, about 20 miles east-northeast of Houghton.
The work involved Michigan Tech researchers taking water and sediment samples and Army Corps scientists flying over the area with remote-sensing mapping equipment, Shuchman said.
Currents and erosion have carried waste that includes arsenic and other toxic heavy metals into breeding grounds for lake trout, a major food source for area American Indians, he said.
“It’s basically a god-awful mess out there,” Shuchman said.
The Army Corps wants to use the university’s hands-on data to calibrate the Army Corps’ Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey system using ground-level measurements, Shuchman said.
“The educational partnership agreement is a win-win situation” for both institutions, said Al Cofrancesco, a technical director at the Vicksburg lab. “The real winner will be the environment and the Great Lakes. Our joint research efforts will greatly help restoration efforts for these vital resources.”
Shuchman added, “This is the beginning of a long journey. What we’re hoping here is this will lead to a much bigger and broader collaboration between Michigan Tech and the Army Corps, where they’ll entertain students, interns, where professors will go down there on sabbatical.”