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Mich. Tech, Army Corps to study shores

August 18, 2009 11:38:40 AM PDT
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 located 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.

The two institutions say they want work together to improve the understanding of waters near the shores of the Great Lakes.

Their initial collaboration involves a study of Lake Superior off Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, an area with toxic metal contamination from copper mining.

Researchers also will work on such things as ecosystem restoration, toxic sediments and invasive species, the Army Corps said in a news release.

The Great Lakes have suffered significant damage from a number of invasive species, including some carried in ships' ballast water. Most notable is the zebra mussel, which has driven out a number of native species.

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.

The two institutions are already 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.

Michigan Tech researchers took water and sediment samples and Army Corps scientists flew 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 Native Americans, he said.

"It's basically a god-awful mess out there," Shuchman said. The data should help define the extent of the contamination and guide authorities such as the Environment Protection Agency in determining the dangers and designing a cleanup plan.

The Army Corps also wants to compare data collected by its planes with samples the university researchers took on the ground to check its equipment's accuracy, 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."

--- On the Net: Michigan Tech Research Institute: http://mtri.org/index.html U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental laboratory: http://el.erdc.usace.army.mil/index.cfm


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