Mapping Greenhouse Gases on the Great Lakes

We’re Oceanographers in this lab and particularly we study ocean chemistry. Now this project that were working on here it’s, it’s not in the oceans it’s, it’s in the largest liquid freshwater environment on the planet that being the Great Lakes system and and what better place to do that research then at the University of Rochester which is so close to Lake Ontario. Before the greenhouse gases that humans have an impact on, the one that we hear so much about is carbon dioxide but also one that humans have a significant influence on is, is methane. It has the, the second-largest warming influence. The oceans cover about seventy percent of the surface of the planet yet there are a real, relatively minor source of certain greenhouse gases to the atmosphere yet freshwater environments are really screaming hot sources of methane outgassing to the atmosphere. Now the surprising thing to us is the Great Lakes system which is this massive body of liquid freshwater. There’s been very, very few methane measurements throughout. We’ve been traveling out onto Lake Ontario to conduct this research. We’ve also had a few opportunities to go out on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and when we go out on these research vessels our goal is to collect as much data as possible and we can do that in a variety of ways. The traditional way of doing it is just to simply take a vial of water, something like this. fill this up with lake water and bring it back to the laboratory for analysis. So we’ve been developing some new techniques as well that will continually pump up water as our research vessel is transiting from one point to another so instead of walking off the boat say with a cooler of a hundred vials of water like this, we walk off with a laptop with about 10,000 measurements. The highest concentrations we saw were in the coastal environments, it was like 200 parts per million. There’s some analyses that are just simply too sophisticated for us to do on a rocking research vessel and so we need to bring some water back to the laboratory to do those more sophisticated analyses. Ultimately my goal in this project is to establish a research program across the entire Great Lakes system. That requires two things: number one we need to establish the technology that can enable us to collect the samples we need. We’re developing it here at the U of R in our laboratories and we’re taking it out on the lake to test it to see what works what doesn’t work and number two: we need a strong fundamental data set of greenhouse gas distributions and dynamics throughout the Great Lakes system that then we can build upon to ask more focus questions about what controls this environment.

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