Tuesday, May 24 , 2016, 11:29 am | Partly Cloudy 64º




UCSB Scientist Involved in Environmental Mapping of Great Lakes

By UCSB Office of Public Affairs |

A comprehensive map three years in the making is telling the story of humans’ impact on the Great Lakes, identifying how “environmental stressors” stretching from Minnesota to Ontario are shaping the future of an ecosystem that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

The results are published online in Monday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-author Ben Halpern, a researcher with UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), was a co-principal investigator in the expansive and detailed effort to map and cross-compare environmental stresses and the ecological services provided by the five lakes. The effort was led by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Their efforts have produced the most comprehensive map to date of Great Lakes stressors, and also the first map to explicitly account, in a quantitative way, for all major types of stressors on the lakes.

“This work represents the first time that two relatively new tools for resource management have been brought together –– mapping of the cumulative impact of human activities, and mapping of the provision of services to people from natural systems,” said Halpern, who also directs UCSB’s Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. “Each approach, by itself, offers a lot of insight into how to better manage and restore ecosystems and the benefits we derive from them; together, the approaches offer unprecedented opportunities.”

“Despite clear societal dependence on the Great Lakes, their condition continues to be degraded by numerous environmental stressors,” said David Allan, the project’s lead researcher and a professor of aquatic sciences at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. The map gives federal and regional officials an unprecedented scientific foundation upon which to sustainably manage the Great Lakes, the researchers conclude.

The environmental stress map was developed by a binational team of researchers from academia and environmental organizations, known as the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping (GLEAM) project. The team drew upon the latest and best data from federal and state agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and individual researchers.

The map represents the combined influence of nearly three dozen individual stressors, and is incredibly detailed for a region spanning nearly 900 miles, showing impacts at the scale of half a mile. Thirty-four stressors were examined, including coastal development, pollutants transported by rivers from agricultural and urban land, fishing pressure, climate change, invasive species and toxic chemicals. (Click here to view the full list.)

To rank the relative importance of different stressors to ecosystem health, the team surveyed 161 researchers and natural resource managers from across the basin. Combining the mapping of multiple stressors with their ranking by experts to assess ecosystem health is an emerging new approach.

“Current efforts to conserve, manage and restore the Great Lakes often take a piecemeal approach, targeting threats one by one,” Allan said. “We need to recognize that the Great Lakes are affected by multiple environmental stressors, and devise strategies based on a full reckoning.”

Their work found high and low stress –– defined as human impacts such as physical, chemical, or biological disruptions that potentially have adverse effects on people, plants and animals –– in all five lakes. Ecosystem stress is highest in areas closer to shores, but also extends offshore in some parts. Large sub-regions of moderate to high cumulative stress were found in lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as in Saginaw and Green bays, and along Lake Michigan’s shorelines. In contrast, extensive offshore areas of lakes Superior and Huron, where the coasts are less populated and developed, experience relatively low stress, according to the study.

The researchers launched a new website to share their results with policymakers, planners and government officials in the region. The project will continue to acquire data to map stressors currently not included, and will regularly update the stress maps.

The Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping project began in 2009 with $500,000 from the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.




Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

 

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.