Lake Erie CSMI 2024 : Part II Nine Memorable Experiences 

In the last blog post, we explored the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) and some of the treaty details (Annexes) in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) that make it a vital component of continued binational scientific efforts in the Great Lakes basin. The CSMI certainly plays a vital role in monitoring and enhancing the physical, biological, and chemical conditions of each Great Lake and is a major part of the science advice we provide in the Great Lakes Food Web Lab. We are truly fortunate to contribute to the CSMI—and take in the phenomenal experience and views it brings about!  

This delayed springtime cruise was special to me for many reasons. To start, it was my first time aboard a Canadian Coast Guard research vessel and it was also my first time working in the middle of one of the Great Lakes! We also observed an American White Pelican flying over Kellys Island in southern Lake Erie—it was the first time many on board the Limnos have seen a pelican in the Great Lakes region. Below are the top 9 memorable experiences from May’s lake-wide surveillance cruise aboard the CCGS Limnos. 

  1. Transiting the Welland Canal 

To get from the CCIWs dock at Hamilton Harbour in western Lake Ontario into Lake Erie, we set sail through the Welland Canal. The canal itself is a ~45-kilometer-long engineering marvel. After its construction in the early 19th century, the canal opened to commercial and cargo vessel traffic for navigation into Lake Erie and the rest of the Laurentian Great Lakes from Lake Ontario. The canal now consists of a series of 8 locks and several detachable bridges that mechanically open and close in sequential order to allow vessels and large pleasure craft to ascend ~100 m in elevation (the height of Niagara Falls!)  as they transit south. Pictured here is a time-lapse of just one lock filling up with water.

  1. Zig-zagging across all of Lake Erie 

Getting to observe changes in the lake’s behaviour and overall scenery as we travelled from the deeper, cooler eastern basin to the shallower and warmer western basin was a unique experience. This bathymetric gradient is one that many scientists are aware of as it helps explain the large spatial variability in the lake’s limnology. It was neat seeing the colour of the water turn more turquoise and then greener the further west we sailed. I particularly enjoyed the beautiful views of the islands in the southern part of Lake Erie, west of the City of Cleveland, Ohio, and Cedar Point Amusement Park.  

  1. Passing the southernmost point of Canada 

Point Peele National Park marks the southernmost point in mainland Canada, while Peele Island (just to south of Point Peele in Lake Erie) is the southernmost land mass in Canada. On the Limnos, we sailed right past these two landmarks and were actually further south than the southernmost point in Canada for a while! Now that is not something most Canadians can say they have done in their lifetime. At this spot, we were at the same latitude as northern California and southern Spain! 

  1. Witnessing scientific moorings, buoys, and sediment traps get retrieved and deployed  

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we were joined on the CSMI cruise by science and technical operations staff at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). One of the priorities for ECCC during this voyage was the deployment of several underwater moorings that broadcast real-time scientific and meteorological information. There is a direct interest in the data collected by these moorings by the scientific community, including our own research interests. Some of the instruments/sampling devices that ECCC deployed at various  locations throughout Lake Erie included meteorological (MET) buoys which collect weather data (i.e., wind speed, direction, temperature, precipitation), water current acoustic doppler profilers (measures water current velocity and direction at the lake bed), and sediment trap samplers (collect sediment suspended in the water column via gravity). These instruments are shown below in the order they were listed from left to right.

While some instruments were being deployed at depths within Lake Erie, others were brought back to the surface. It was a neat experience watching the acoustic release process to bring instruments to the surface, completely contactless! It was remarkable to see the degree of biofouling on some of the equipment that had been in the lake for about a year at the time it was retrieved from the water. That is a lot of zebra mussels!  

  1. Assisting with Great lakes water quality sampling and data collection  

Getting to gather measurements like Secchi depth and process samples for chlorophyl a analysis in the laboratory on the Limnos was one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me. It was impactful contributing directly to the CSMI! I learned so much about whole-lake limnology and got to use many different sampling devices and lab apparatus.

  1. Opportunity to help with sediment sampling  

One of the research technicians on board from ECCC was using sediment cores collected from the bottom of Lake Erie in cylindrical tubes which subsample sediment strata. A weighted ‘torpedo’ -like Benthic Core Sampler was used to drive the sediment cores into the lakebed, and a one-way valve at the top created enough negative pressure within the sediment corer to trap the sample until it was retrieved at the surface. I did get to help this researcher retrieve her samples and place them into smaller sample containers. It was interesting seeing sediment that has been buried deep below the water surface for some time up close! 

  1. Sailing through the Detroit River 

After a quick stop at the Canadian Coast Guard base in Amherstburg, Ontario to refuel and replenish the ship’s potable water supply, the journey north into Lake Huron through the Detroit River started. It was great seeing land again for the first time since the voyage began. The Detroit River was picturesque in spots, with seasonally appropriate Mayflies, turquoise water and lush, green vegetation creating a vibrant landscape.  

The further north the ship sailed, expanses of riparian Carolinian vegetation were replaced by development and vehicle manufacturing facilities. Interesting to note is that the Detroit River is one of 5 listed binational Areas of Concern (AOC) in the Great Lakes, and was sampled intensively by our lab during the 2019 fieldyear

The Limnos sailed directly under two international bridges: the Ambassador Bridge and the Gordie Howe Bridge. The Gordie Howe International Bridge is very nearly connected between the US and Canadian sides, but still under construction, with completion estimated to be in September 2025. Once the Limnos reached the Cities of Detroit, MI, and Windsor, ON, we were met with fantastic views of the skylines of both cities from the middle of the river! 

  1. Watching sunsets and thunderstorms 

Being on a vessel in the middle of one of the largest lakes in the world naturally allowed for many spectacular sunsets. There was something captivating about seeing the sun dip below the horizon of Lake Erie and the explosion of colours that ensued as it was happening. Similarly, it was a great setting to observe stunning lightning displays. Luckily, the only thunderstorm we encountered was on the first day of the voyage, as we were leaving western Lake Ontario. It was just enough time to watch a spring storm brew over the water while several flashes of lightning lit up the sky around the Limnos.  

  1. Sailing on 3 of the 5 Great Lakes  

This cruise was memorable in that we sailed from western Lake Ontario into Lake Erie and Lake Huron in just one trip. We covered a distance of ~ 900 kilometers from the start of the voyage to finish. This meant being in 3 of the 5 Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair and three connecting channels. From all the fantastic sights along the way, to the successful sampling and data collection from 17 stations, the May 2024 CSMI cruise aboard the CCGS Limnos was a tremendous success. We are eagerly awaiting our next CSMI cruise, scheduled for mid-summer!