Monday, April 24, 2017

Sen. Debbie Stabenow learns about Michigan Tech's Great Lakes research during visit to GLRC

By Michele Bourdieu

During her April 1, 2017, visit to Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) is interviewed by local media. On display for the Senator, in the background, is Michigan Tech's buoy for the Straits of Mackinac.

HOUGHTON -- U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) heard from Michigan Tech faculty and students about projects related to the Great Lakes during her April 1, 2017, visit to the university's Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) in Houghton.

Several of the projects have received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), including work on invasive species and algal blooms in the lakes, removal of the Gay stamp sand threatening fish in Lake Superior, and the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) that includes research buoys in the Great Lakes. 

During the Senator's visit she first heard a presentation from Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Tech associate professor of biological sciences concerning research on invasive species and algal blooms in the Great Lakes and the importance of the GLRI in funding such projects. Here is a video excerpt from Prof. Marcarelli's presentation:

During Sen. Debbie Stabenow's Apr. 1 visit to the Great Lakes Research Center, Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Tech associate professor of biological sciences, speaks about mapping and controlling algal blooms and invasive species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil in the Great Lakes. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

Senator Stabenow expressed her own concern that GLRI funding would be cut dramatically by this administration.

Following Marcarelli's presentation, Sen. Debbie Stabenow comments on the importance of GLRI (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) funding for Great Lakes scientific projects. Seated next to her is Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz.

Charles Kerfoot, Michigan Tech professor in biological sciences and director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center, presented an update on the Gay Stamp Sand and the U.S. Army Corps project to dredge the stamp sand (old mining waste) that has migrated into Lake Superior, threatening especially the Native American fishery at Buffalo Reef on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Here are some excerpts from his presentation:

During Sen. Debbie Stabenow's visit, Michigan Tech Professor Charles Kerfoot explains how researchers have used Lidar (laser detection) technology to detect the migration of millions of tons of stamp sand from the former mining areas near Gay, Mich., into Lake Superior. Click on YouTube icon for larger screen.

Prof. Kerfoot described negative biological and economic impacts of stamp sand destroying benthos and fish at Buffalo Reef, the GLNPO (Great Lakes National Program Office)-funded U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the stamp sand (using a vacuum method) and the need for funding to support continued Michigan Tech research to support that project.*

Prof. Kerfoot points out how the stamp sand kills the benthos and fish and notes projected economic losses for local tribes that depend on the fishery. He also explains how the stamp sand is moving across the Big Traverse seawall into the Traverse River. Click on YouTube icon for bigger screen.

Guy Meadows, Great Lakes Research Center director, presented an update for the Senator on the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), which includes Michigan Tech's buoys in the Great Lakes:

GLRC Director Guy Meadows speaks about the valuable information gathered through the Great Lakes buoys and the usefulness of Michigan Tech's Web site He also notes the fact that GLOS, which includes eight Great Lakes states, receives less funding than other regional observing systems.**

Finally, the Senator learned about Michigan Tech's research program for developing autonomous vehicles.

Sen. Stabenow hears from Brent Burns, director of industry and government relations for Michigan Tech; Michigan Tech Prof. Dan Fuhrmann, chair of electrical and computer engineering; and Jeremy Bos, Michigan Tech assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who will be the new faculty advisor for the university's Robotic Systems Enterprise program. Sen. Stabenow adds her own comments, based on her experience, on the need to be aware of the human side of autonomous vehicles -- how to make the person in the car feel comfortable -- as well as the technology.

Cameron Burke, Michigan Tech student in computer engineering, said he was excited to be working with the robotics program and autonomous vehicles and would probably focus on these in graduate school in the future. For example, he noted some of the experiments include sending the vehicles out into the snow or rain to determine how they could be safer than a regular car.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow meets with Michigan Tech students during her visit to the Great Lakes Research Center on April 1, 2017. Students pictured with the Senator are, from left, Ryan Van Goethem, graduate student in biological sciences; Carmen Leguizamon, graduate student in biological sciences; Mitchell Anderson, computer engineering; Jennifer Ling, electrical engineering; Jacob Prins, mechanical engineering; and Cameron Burke, electrical and computer engineering. In the foreground is a Clearpath Husky, an autonomous, battery-operated ground unit created by students working on autonomous vehicle research. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

"A lot more testing has to be done," Burke said.***

Following the presentations, Sen. Stabenow offered some closing remarks:

Sen. Stabenow comments on the need to educate the public on protecting the Great Lakes and expresses her appreciation for the research being done at Michigan Tech.

Keweenaw Now had the opportunity to ask the Senator about her views on climate change and what could be done about the present administration's plans to silence the Environmental Protection Agency and de-fund environmental projects.

She agreed citizens need to unite and "push back" against the Republicans' anti-environment agenda. The Senator said she was supportive of the March for Science (which occurred this past weekend) and the People's Climate March scheduled for April 29 and planned to participate in them.

GLRC Director Guy Meadows told Keweenaw Now he was happy the Senator was able to visit the GLRC. He noted the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a very important source of funding, especially for remediating damage to the lakes and protecting them.

GLRC Director Guy Meadows chats with Sen. Debbie Stabenow following the presentations.

"We greatly appreciate how hard Senator Stabenow works for the Great Lakes," Meadows said.


* Click here to read about the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

** The buoy was in the GLRC on Apr. 1 because the buoys come out of the water for winter in late fall so they won't be damaged by ice. They are put back in the spring. See our Sept. 13, 2015, article, "Michigan Tech/Enbridge buoy deployed in Mackinac Straits; Gov. Snyder visits GLRC."

*** Michigan Tech is one of eight universities selected to participate in a new collegiate competition -- AutoDrive Challenge, a three-year project to design, build and test a fully autonomous vehicle. See the April 12, 2017, article, "Look, Ma, No Driver: The AutoDrive Challenge," by Allison Mills, in the Michigan Tech News.

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