Buffalo, NY, January 27, 2014 - In this edition of "2 The Outdoors" on WGRZ-TV, a Buffalo-based NBC-affiliate station, New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske talks with photojournalist Terry Belke about how the cold winter has impacted New York's Great Lakes - from ice cover to evaporation and lake levels. Domske, who spoke with Belke on Lake Erie's coastline, also highlighted some recent NYSG-funded research by a team of investigators led by Clarkson University professor Dr. Michael Twiss.
While some may wonder why Twiss and his colleagues would study Lake Erie in the winter, he points out that because it's the Great Lake most impacted by summer hypoxia—the loss of oxygen at the bottom that affects fish and other living communities—and, Lake Erie is a good sentinel for climate change. “Lake Erie, the shallowest Great Lake, is also the coldest of all the Great Lakes in winter,” he says. “These extremes make it a good environment to predict how the lakes will change with global climate change.”
For more on the study, see the NY Coastlines
Summer 2013 feature article, "Lake Erie: Warmest in Summer, Coldest in Winter
As for Domske's discussion, below is the video as well as the transcript. In addition to touching upon what winter may do for New York's Great Lakes in terms of water levels, the talk also steers in the direction of invasive species - could it mean less round gobies and Emerald Ash Borers, both of which have had negative impacts on the ecosystem.
2 The Outdoors: "Life Beneath the Surface"
WGRZ Buffalo (Channel 2, an NBC-affiliate station)
Winter is a given in this part of North America, and the human population has adapted to living in frigid climes. Of course adaptation doesn't exactly mean acceptance, but when looking at it from an environmental perspective, the hard edge of winter might soften a bit.
Harsh winters like the one the region is trudging through this year are actually beneficial to the ecology in a number of ways.
To begin with, the extra snow and ice help raise diminishing lake levels that have been of concern the past few years. Helen Domske of NY Sea Grant tells 2 the Outdoors: "Ice kind of blocks that evaporation, then it will help to eliminate the evaporation, and when it thaws it adds water to the lake itself."
Amazingly, despite the brutal conditions, there is microscopic life teeming beneath the ice, already beginning the approach to spring. Tiny algae called diatoms are are setting up the foundation to the food chain.
"It puts like a pulse of food out there," explains Domske, "because the zooplankton, the little animal plankton, eats the diatoms, and they will be food for the small fish, and the bigger fish take advantage of that."
Yet another benefit is winter's toll on invasive species. Domske says that on the lakes, the hope is that the crushing ice will help to curb non-native intruders on more than one level of the food chain.
"It helps with zebra mussels and quagga mussels, by just breaking their shells apart. Obviously, round gobies feed on them very actively, so if we can help reduce their numbers through ice scour then hopefully the goby population would be affected. And that would be a good thing because gobies are a huge problem in the lake; they've really changed the food web dramatically."
On land the story is a bit different. Although winter provides a tremendous natural deterrent to some species, others seem beyond nature's grasp even in extreme conditions. There was hope that the deep freeze might do damage to the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has already done massive damage to ash trees across the country.
Ironically, although EAB does die off in extreme cold, it is the affected tree's bark that protects the ash borer larvae living within.
Mark Whitmore of Cornell University is an EAB expert. "When we get these really sharp lows that occur for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, the temperature of the trunk of the tree is still going to be much warmer."
In fact, Whitmore says, the killing temperatures might actually benefit the emerald ash borer larva in the long run. "Under the bark of a tree competition is pretty intense with the emerald ash borer, not with other species but within the emerald ash borers that are there. So if you kill 30 percent, you're actually releasing them from the competitive effect, and perhaps making stronger bugs."
So, while these glacial conditions often seem to grind life to a halt, Mother Nature again reminds us of the fascinating biology that lies just beneath the surface.
"Everything kind of has cycles," concludes Domske. "This is just part of the natural cycle, so bundle up and deal with it ... nature does!"
More Info: New York Sea Grant
New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University
and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based
programs under the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NSGCP
engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting
scientific research, education, training and extension projects designed
to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our
aquatic resources. Through its statewide network of integrated
services, NYSG has been promoting coastal vitality, environmental
sustainability, and citizen awareness about the State’s marine and Great
Lakes resources since 1971.
For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org
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for NY Coastlines
, its flagship publication, which, in 2014, merges with the program's e-newsletter, Currents
. NY Coastlines
is published several times a year.