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Friday, March 25, 2016

Michigan G-Men to perform March 26 in Marquette to benefit Yellow Dog Watershed Community Forest project

The Michigan G-Men of Ann Arbor will perform in a concert to benefit the Yellow Dog River Community Forest project on Saturday, March 26, at Coco’s Restaurant in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)

MARQUETTE -- The Michigan G-Men (or Gentlemen for long), an all-male a cappella group from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will present a concert to benefit the Yellow Dog River Community Forest project Saturday, March 26, at Coco’s Restaurant in Marquette.

Nationally renowned for their unique talents, the G-Men have competed in ICCA Finals in New York City’s Town Hall, toured extensively across the US, and performed privately for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.* Northern Michigan University's Lake Effect Choir will also be at the event to lend their vocal support.

The event begins at 5 p.m. at Coco’s, 911 N. Lakeshore Boulevard in Marquette. Donations are greatly appreciated at the door and will go toward the purchase and establishment of the Yellow Dog River Community Forest. Many items will be available through a silent auction, including vacation home rentals, massage gift certificates, art, and local treats.

A short presentation about the project and the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve's  fundraising status as well as a performance by Milo Birch will precede the concert by the G-Men, who will then take the stage and share their voices and talents until 8 p.m.

The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP) is leading an effort to purchase and protect some of the forests and waterfalls along the Yellow Dog River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The group has an opportunity to purchase 695 acres in order to establish the proposed Yellow Dog River Community Forest.

Yellow Dog Falls, also known as Hills Falls, are part of the Yellow Dog River Community Forest. (Photo © Carrie Whittaker and courtesy Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve)

"This place is important to many," says Emily Whittaker, YDWP Special Projects manager. "This particular property we are aiming to purchase features the primary public access point, a hiking trail, the most visited set of waterfalls, and habitat for rare plant and animal species. It’s a high quality ecosystem that draws locals and visitors who are looking to spend time outdoors. If we don't take the opportunity to protect this place, it could be sold off to private individuals or investors. We could see public access taken away, the forest converted, and the natural features degraded."**

The group has until March 31, 2016, to raise the total cost of the project, which is $1.1 million. Help them reach this goal by donating today and sharing with friends!

Visit the YDWP Crowdrise page to donate.

If you don't want to donate online, you can send check or cash to:
Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve
P.O. Box 5
Big Bay, MI 49808

* Click here to learn more about the Michigan G-Men and to listen to their music.

** Check out more about the Community Forest here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Legacy of Mercury in Lake Superior

W. Charles Kerfoot, Michigan Tech professor in biological sciences and and director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center at Michigan Tech, is pictured here in his laboratory. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

[Editor's Note: The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District reports that W. Charles Kerfoot, Michigan Tech professor in biological sciences, will be one of the featured speakers at an informational meeting on environmental issues surrounding Torch Lake from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, in the Lake Linden-Hubbell High School Auditorium. (The meeting was originally scheduled for March 16 but was postponed due to inclement weather.)* We are publishing here, with permission, this recent Michigan Tech News article on the mercury research by Kerfoot and his team.]

By Allison Mills, Michigan Tech Science and Technology Writer
Posted March 17, 2016, on Michigan Tech News
Reprinted with permission.

The northern Great Lakes are praised for being clean, but these aquatic systems don’t exist in a vacuum. Contaminants still find their way into lake water and sediments. Mercury is of particular interest because of its toxicity and persistence.

In a new study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research in February, an interdisciplinary team from Michigan Technological University examined the legacy of mercury in Lake Superior.

Currently, the National Atmospheric Deposition Program reports low levels of mercury deposition across most of the upper Midwest. However, those figures don’t account for past mercury deposition and what that might mean for heavy metal contamination. In fact, when mining was booming around the lake in Michigan, Minnesota and Canada in the 1800s and 1900s, the researchers found mercury input was higher than expected.

"We document that the mining effort was discharging mercury at 1,000 times the normal deposition rate in the region," says W. Charles Kerfoot, a professor of biology and director of the Lake Superior Ecosystem Research Center at Michigan Tech. "We set out to quantify this deposition -- and it was a real wake-up call."

Mine Tailings

Kerfoot collaborated with Noel Urban, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Water and Society at Michigan Tech. Together they dug into mine tailings buried at the bottom of local waterways near the Michigan Tech campus to start piecing together the region’s mercurial history.

Booms and busts rocked not just the area’s economy, but also heavy metal fluxes. Naturally, some metals -- including mercury -- make their way into water bodies. Mining speeds up that process; and the more mining, smelting and processing taking place, then the more heavy metals get deposited. In the Keweenaw Waterway and Torch Lake, lakebed sediments record these mercury-rich layers in lighter bands.

Because of the unique environment of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the team was able to quantify two kinds of mercury in these layers.

"That’s normally difficult to do," Urban explains. "But here, we can show that the amount of mercury in the environment due to local activities is huge compared to the amount coming from other sources like regional coal power plants."

During an educational boat ride on Torch Lake aboard Michigan Tech's Agassiz research vessel on July 4, 2014, Michigan Tech Professor Noel Urban displays samples of contaminated sediments from Torch Lake. He explained to visitors how fish in Torch Lake are contaminated with both PCBs and mercury. Behind him are historic photos of the early mining activities around Torch Lake. (Keweenaw Now file photo)**

Urban, Kerfoot and their team gathered dozens of 5-centimeter diameter core samples by boat, then lugged them back to the lab for analysis. That’s where Kerfoot and Urban uncovered some of the "lingering effects" from mercury deposits.

Methyl Mercury

Mercury as an inorganic metal is not as toxic as its organic form, methyl mercury, which is formed by bacteria. The organic form is bioavailable -- meaning it is readily taken up and stored in organisms -- and tends to accumulate up the food chain. A little plankton feeds an invertebrate that feeds a fish and then another fish. By the time a person eats that fish, the methyl mercury has accumulated every smidge from every plankton and fish into a sizable dose of heavy metals. Because of bioaccumulation, there are guidelines on how much fish is safe to consume.

During the July 30, 2015, Geotour on copper mining waste of Lake Superior, aboard Michigan Tech's Agassiz research vessel near the Gay stamp sands, Professor Charles Kerfoot speaks about copper and mercury contamination. The educational Geotour was one of a series led by Bill Rose, Michigan Tech professor emeritus in geology. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

Understanding the quantity and timing of the initial inorganic deposition is then crucial for understanding how much methylation occurs and how much methyl mercury is hanging out in the ecosystem.

"For each core, you need to know the concentration of the total inorganic mercury, and then you need to know how much time it took to be deposited," Kerfoot says. Once that data is compiled, it’s compared to a similar set of data for methyl mercury. In this case, as the team writes in their paper, the results "reveal that methylation occurred at the time of mining operations and shortly afterwards, with an apparent time lag of 20 to 40 years."

Regional Impacts

The question remains why the lag is there and there are several possible explanations. The delay could be from the time it takes the watershed to move mercury back into surface waters. Following clear cutting and other landscape-scale changes, forest and wetland regrowth could have played a part in remobilizing mercury. On a smaller scale, the microbes living in sediments needed time to recover from copper toxicity before being abundant enough to methylate mercury.

To better understand the time lag, and connect local activities to regional impacts, the next step of the research is to scale up. Kerfoot points out that the research in the Keweenaw gives researchers a baseline to start comparing additional sites around the lake.

The work can also affect how remediation is done with mercury contamination. At the very least, knowing how much mercury is present in the environment changes the conversation about how to deal with heavy metal contaminants in the Lake Superior region.

Editor's Notes:

* Click here for more information on the Torch Lake informational meeting to be held Wednesday, March 23.

** To see videos and photos of Noel Urban's Torch Lake presentation on the Agassiz, see our May 11, 2015, article.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Michigan Tech to host World Water Day events this week on theme "Water and Jobs"

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge. Celebrate World Water Day at Michigan Tech this week. Be aware of maintenance delays on the bridge if driving to Houghton from the north. (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University) 

HOUGHTON -- "Water and Jobs" is the theme of this year’s World Water Day, held annually on March 22. The celebration grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in an effort to bring international awareness to the quality and quantity of water.

Michigan Tech will celebrate 2016 World Water Day by examining several aspects of the United Nations-selected theme, "Water and Jobs."

John Austin -- director of Michigan Economic Center at Prima Civitas Foundation, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, president of the Michigan School Board and a lecturer at the University of Michigan -- will be the keynote speaker. At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22, Austin, who coined the term "Blue Economy," will speak on Water and Jobs in the regional context with a seminar, "Water is our Past -- Water is our Future," in 641 Dow, followed by a reception.

Austin is well known for authoring the report "Healthy Waters, Strong Economy," which led to federal support for Great Lakes clean-up and restoration and regional understanding and actions to build on our Great Lakes and water resources as an economic asset.

panel discussion will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 23, in GLRC (Great Lakes Research Center) 202. One of the key figures in the development of the city of Marquette’s waterway, Jim Compton -- as well as Austin, Michigan Tech Professor Alex Mayer of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Erin Johnston and Debbie Williamson from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community -- are on the panel.

Through April 30, the water-related art exhibit, "On Currents and Eddies" is on display in the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC).

A poster competition will highlight water-related research done by Center for Water and Society graduate and undergraduate students. Posters will be on display from 2:30 p.m. Tuesday until 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Dow lobby. 

The Green Film, Lost Rivers, will be shown at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 23, in Forestry G002 Hesterberg Hall. The 72-minute film explores the hidden waterways in cities around the world and introduces us to people dedicated to exploring and exposing them. Many municipal governments are "day-lighting" their once-buried waterways -- find out how and why. The film is FREE and open to all. Enjoy refreshments (bring your own mug!) and discussion.

Jim Compton, City of Marquette hydrologist/engineer will facilitate the discussion on the film, including a short presentation on the daylighting of Whetstone Brook, a downtown Marquette stream.

Co-sponsors of the Green Film Series are Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Tech Center for Water and Society, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and  Keweenaw Land Trust.*

Noel Urban, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of Michigan Tech's Center for Water and Society, said his goal for the events is "to draw attention to the water issues in the world and the research done here at Tech." **

* Click here for the 2016 Green Film Series schedule.

** Click here for more details on World Water Day events.