Catch of the Day
NASA’s Earth Observatory has a remarkable view of the impact of the summer drought. Parts of the Great Lakes region are among those hardest hit.
The image depicts plant health in the central U.S. with data collected by the space agency’s Terra satellite. Brown areas show where plants have taken a hit, cream indicates normal growth and green indicates lush vegetation. Gray indicates where data could not be collected because of snow or cloud cover.
Things look particularly bad in southern Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
Read more here about how the image was captured and what it depicts.
Longtime environment writer Jeff Alexander just launched a nifty feature to track the Asian carp crisis.
It’s modeled after the Doomsday Clock that scientists created in the 1940s to track how the world inched toward nuclear holocaust.
The Asian Carp Doomsday Clock features hands made of images of bighead and silver carp – two of the species biologists and others fear could devastate the Great Lakes ecosystem.
When the original Doomsday Clock was launched in 1947, it was set at seven minutes to midnight. The closest it came to midnight was 11:58 p.m. in 1953 when the U.S. and Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear devices. The farthest it’s been set from midnight is 11:43 p.m. in 1991. That’s when the two countries signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It’s now at 11:55 p.m.
Check out Jeff’s carp clock on his new blog, All Things Great Lakes. You can weigh in there if you think his prediction is right on, too dire or too generous. Or maybe give your suggestions on how to turn back time.
An animated map of Great Lakes currents can help lake-goers interpret the speed and direction of currents in any location.
“We are trying to provide information so people can learn about circulation in the lakes and get a sense for how frequently it changes,” said David Schwab, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The administration recently released the map to provide information that is a little less technical, Schwab said.
Users can either view the surface current map or the depth-averaged current map.
Surface currents change frequently due to wind conditions, Schwab said. Depth-averaged currents represent the average water motion from the surface to the bottom. The map is updated every six hours, Schwab said.
The surface current is the kind that moves a piece of driftwood, said Schwab, project manager of the current map. A depth-averaged current is more useful when targeting a pollution source or the direction the pollutants are moving.
By moving your cursor over the lakes, you can see the exact direction of a current and the speed, measured in centimeters per second. There is also a feature that shows monthly depth-averaged conditions for 2011.
Though Schwab believes the map will be helpful to anyone that uses the Great Lakes, some fisherman in the region aren’t as sure of its usefulness.
“For what we do, day to day fishing, I don’t see an application for it,” said Captain Eric Stuecher of Great Lakes Fishing Charters. “The advantages are limited because the equipment we use allows us to send a probe down to the depth we are fishing in to find out the kind of current we’re dealing with down there.”
Understanding the speed and direction of currents could help swimmers avoid dangerous swimming areas. Though, beach-goers are more likely to gauge water safety by being there rather than looking at a map, Stuecher said.
By clicking on the map you can zoom in on a smaller area. The degree of accuracy in measuring speed and direction in a zoomed in area, opposed to the full area map, is unclear from the data. This is largely why Stuecher prefers to rely on his probing method.
Predicting and measuring currents can be important for getting cargo ships safely into and out of ports, determining the extent of a pollution spill, building bridges and piers, finding the best fishing spots, emergency preparedness and marsh restoration, according to the agency’s website.
The map’s flow patterns for lake currents are based on information from the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System, which is operated by the agency’s environmental research laboratory.
The animation doesn’t work with Internet Explorer.
Here’s what Great Lakes Echo’s Gary Wilson had to say about the issue on WMUK in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality Asian Carp Director John Goss is leading the meeting of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Information at the bottom of this post explains how to participate at 2 p.m. Central time (3 p.m. Eastern) via webcast.
Just as a reporter hits her or his stride, they graduate and move on to another venue.
Of course fostering the growth that allows that to happen is fulfilling for an educator. But I’d also argue that in the long-run, it’s also good for the longterm quality of Echo’s journalism.
For with every reporter we train here at Echo, we expand our network of journalists who keep us abreast of creative newsgathering elsewhere, provide Great Lakes news tips and become potential freelancers for when we secure funding for that kind of thing.
Growing and leveraging a network like that is essential for the efficient operation of public-service news operations. And it’s another reason why university-based news reporting is a vital part of sustaining vigorous journalism during his period of upheaval and realignment.
For instance, Andrew Atwal, a former Echo reporter who now works at South Dakota’s Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, recently sent this link to a story he wrote about attempts to halt the spread of Asian carp in that state.
“…my work both in (class) and with Echo made me aware of the issue and how big a deal it is,” Atwal wrote in an email. “Both the people I interviewed for the story mentioned the Illinois/Chicago example of Asian Carp there and how much it is hurting their angling/sport fishing industries.”
I never gave much thought to the spread of carp into South Dakota. Andrew’s new job helped provide a unique angle that Echo readers wouldn’t otherwise have known about.
- Former Echo reporter Brian Bienkowski, now a senior editor at Environmental Health News, also writes for that publication and stays in touch. Watch Echo for a piece about environmental justice in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that he wrote for his new employer.
- Even from the middle of drought-stricken Texas, former Echo journalist Rachael Gleason – now a copy editor at the Midland (Texas) Reporter-Telegram – alerts us to Great Lakes relevant stories like this one.
- Closer to home, former Echo reporter Carol Thompson alerts us to beach contamination, phragmites infestations and other issues like this one occurring in Door County, Wis., where she reports for the Peninsula Pulse.
- Former Echo writers Jeff Gillies and Andy McGlashen run a non-profit news site for Michigan rivers when their day jobs allow. Echo and Michigan River News have exchanged stories in the past.
It’s great to connect current Echo writers with those who have successfully moved on.
But in this journalistic world where resources are scant and the new landscape unsure, it’s also good for Echo.
And that’s good for you.
It is now easier than ever for people to find out if a Great Lakes beach is safe for swimming.
Excluding New York, all of the Great Lakes states have websites dedicated to statewide beach closure information, so people can better avoid possible sickness.
“The source of the data comes from all of the local health departments that collect water samples, get them tested, then report results according to public health code,” said Shannon Briggs, toxicologist at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Many of these websites are a result of funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s BEACH act grants. Grants have been given to eligible Great Lakes states since Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health act in 2000 to improve beach monitoring and notification programs.
All of the Great Lakes states were given around $220,000 this year in BEACH act grants, according to the agency’s website. New York received $341,000, the highest grant in the region, most likely because it is the only state without a statewide beach closure website. The Canadian government funds the beach closure information for the province of Ontario.
Below is a list of beach monitoring websites for the Great Lakes region.
Click on the state (or province) to access its beach monitoring website:
- New York –This site is for closures in New York City and surrounding areas only. Beach information may not be available for all New York counties. The best way to find out is to find your county’s health department website from the New York State Association of County Health Officials website. The only Great Lakes coastal county in New York with an online beach monitoring system is Niagara County.
And for all of you tech-savvy Echo readers, closure information for all of the Great Lakes states can also be found in the myBeachCast app for Android smartphones – sorry Apple lovers. Non-Android users can access complementary information on the myBeachCast website.
The app makes it easy to access beach information from all of the state closure websites in real time, Briggs said. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded myBeachCast since its start in 2011, when it only included closure information for Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Though the app has been updated since then to include the entire region, the price has not – it’s still free!