By Caitlin Zant
While underwater archaeology seems like something out of a Jules Verne novel to many people, diving on shipwrecks has become a normal, although still very exciting, part of my job. Though I get to dive on shipwrecks, it is not every day that I get to dive to 10m underwater research stations to study invasive species and water samples in Lake Michigan. Last week, I got this chance.
This past Thursday I had the opportunity to join a group of students and staff members from the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences on their research vessel, Neeskay. The reason for my visit was to complete a check out dive with the school’s dive safety officer, Geoff Anderson, so I could dive on later projects within the UW system. Fellow graduate student, working with Sea Grant, Ryan Lepak and I arrived in Milwaukee in the early afternoon and were given a briefing by Neeskay’s captain, Greg Stamatelakys.
Greg giving the crew a brief safety and operations message before taking off (Photo by author)
At that point we made our way out of the Milwaukee River and into Lake Michigan. Ryan and I were lucky enough to be joined by two staff members from the School of Freshwater Sciences, who were conducting surveys on Cladophora and water samples. While I wish I was able to explain the details of both research interests, most of the conversations had about them on the boat ride out went a bit over my head. Needless to say, I was able to learn a few things about the scientific research being completed.
After nearly a half hour, Neeskay arrived at the 10m research buoy, located about three miles north of Milwaukee’s harbor. Once there, equipment had to be readied and maneuvered so that it could be dropped into the water. This process was completed by hoisting two bundles of three cylinders, weighted by over 150 lbs., off the stern of the research vessel. These instruments will allow researcher Joe Fllingham to later collect the sediment that will have accumulated in the tubes for analysis.
Joe Fillingham and other researchers preparing the cylinders for placement in Lake Michigan.
Next, it was time for us to get in the water. Being mid July, the water temperatures in Lake Michigan had warmed up considerably, but as soon as we descended to the lakebed, you could feel the rapid temperature change as we hit the thermocline, at around 28 ft. deep. Since I had never dove on a scientific survey involving anything other than a shipwreck, I was interested in seeing every part of this underwater research facility. The Cladophora were being collected with filters placed between large rocks, where the blooms tend to get trapped. Ryan and the other researchers checked the placement of these and made sure there were no obstructions. Once on the bottom, another cylinder was placed in an existing tripod to collect additional water samples for later analysis.
As an interested observer, I was able to watch underwater scientific research in action. Although many of the topics of research were vastly different from my regular areas of research, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of why the research Sea Grant and the Freshwater Institute is completing is so vital to the continuing health of Lake Michigan.
The team discusses their research objectives in the cabin of Neeskay during the ride to the site.
Biological and chemical research has always interested me but it has never been something that I have been able to approach myself. My experiences on Neeskay gave me a detailed glimpse of the research that is being conducted in this field. Now that I have been certified to dive with UW researchers, I only hope to expand what I learned last week, and help facilitate their research in any way I can. For me, the opportunity to expand my knowledge and gain and understanding of other Great Lakes issues and research has been like nothing else. The experience I gained on board Neeskay cannot be compared, and I hope to be able to join another project within the next few weeks.