Website Aims to Get Madison Lakes on the Map and in the Forecast

MADISON, WI – Imagine packing the car, herding your family on board and heading to the lake – only to find green, scummy water or a closed beach at your destination. Up until now, it’s been an all-too-common end to summer travel plans in Wisconsin. But a new online tool wants to send people to clearer waters.

Users can check beach status (thumbs up is open, thumbs down is closed) and water conditions.

Users can check beach status (thumbs up is open, thumbs down is closed) and water conditions.

Lakeforecast.org lets anyone with a smartphone or Internet access pull up a map of Madison’s Yahara chain of lakes and check out near real-time conditions at public beaches or out on the open water. Users can get information on water temperature and clarity, as well as updates on beach closures, algal blooms and even the presence of ducks and geese.

The project is a collaboration between Clean Lakes Alliance (CLA), a Madison-based non-profit, the software company, MIOsoft, the City of Madison and Dane County and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology (CFL) and Space Science and Engineering Center.

Screen shot 2015-07-30 at 8.52.24 AMIn all, lakeforecast.org provides information on fifty-eight sites along the shores of the five Yahara lakes, as well as 25 city beaches. The massive dataset is the result of nearly four-dozen volunteers, lakeshore homeowners and city lifeguards, the office of Public Health Madison & Dane County, and the constant stream of data being recorded by the Center for Limnology’s instrumented buoy in Lake Mendota.

That single buoy, says CFL director, Steve Carpenter, played a key role in the website’s creation.

“There are a lot of people in Madison who already used our buoy feed, because we report things that boaters want to know, like water temperatures and wind speed online. And people at the CLA had the idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a lake clarity report in there as well?’”

Luke Winslow works to get "David Buoy" installed for a field season with the Wisconsin capitol building in the background.

Luke Winslow works to get “David Buoy” installed for a field season with the Wisconsin capitol building in the background.

But getting at a measurement for clear water was more than just a matter of sending data to the CLA. There’s currently no instrument on the buoy to get a direct reading of water clarity. Instead, scientists were collecting data on things like chlorophyll and water chemistry. In the academic world, says Paul Hanson, a research professor at the Center for Limnology and partner in the lakeforecast.org project, that’s what traditionally gets measured. “But that doesn’t mean anything to the public,” he says. “What the public really wants to know is “How clear is the water?’”

James Tye, executive director of Clean Lakes Alliance, agrees. He says that the information provided on lakeforecast.org – like water clarity, temperature, and beach closings – are the result of countless conversations with citizens. It’s the information boaters, swimmers and other lake users want to know. It makes sense, he says, for the land-grant university right on a lakeshore to help provide that information.

“Lake Mendota is widely regarded as the most studied lake in the world,” says Tye. “So why not get that work out to the general public? [The website] is taking the science that the UW does and weaving it into the popular culture.”

Tye’s hope is that lakeforecast.org can “serve up” the data that will elevate water quality and the state of Madison’s lakes in the public consciousness. For example, he’d love to see the lakes make more news.

“We have five lakes [in Madison] and you watch the news in the morning and they talk about the traffic, they talk about the pollen count, they talk about where the colors are on the leaves in the fall. But they don’t talk about what the water quality of the lakes.”

Tye says he’d like to wake up everyday to a report on water clarity and temperature and beach conditions – everything someone would need to know to decide if it’d be a good day to get out to the lake.

Getting to that point is going to take some time, however. Not only do local TV stations need to add the lakes to their programming, but scientists have to figure out how to predict future lake conditions. Currently, lakeforecast.org reports observed conditions on the Yahara lakes. And sometimes it’s been a day or two since the last update.

“At some point down the road we are going to want to get into the business of actually forecasting water clarity,” says Hanson. “But that’s going to take the research effort of a graduate student who can really dig into the dynamic relationships of the system.”

It will also take more information, one reason the CLA and CFL recently collaborated with Dane County on plans to purchase a new buoy that will hopefully be anchored in Lake Monona, the lake just across the isthmus and downstream of Lake Mendota, sometime next year. The two organizations are currently raising funds to hire personnel to head up the buoy program and, maybe, start on that research project for water quality forecasting.

“I can’t think of another example of continual water quality reporting of this nature,” says Hanson, “and I think globally, quite frankly, there’s tremendous interest in this. Over the next five years you’re going to see an explosion of this kind of activity, and it’s really cool to be at the leading edge of that. “

CONTACTS:

Steve Carpenter – steve.carpenter@wisc.edu, 608-262-3014

Paul Hanson – pchanson@wisc.edu, 608-320-5322

James Tye – james@cleanlakesalliance.com, 608-628-6655

Trout Lake Station’s 5th Annual Open House!

Visitors check out stations under the watchful eyes of Bucky at the Trout Lake open house.

Visitors check out stations under the watchful eyes of Bucky at the Trout Lake open house.

It’s that time of year again – as July gives way to August, we’re spiffing up our research station and ordering tubs of Babcock ice cream for our annual open house and ice cream social.

If you’ll be in the Minocqua area next Friday, July 31st, come on by between 1-5pm and board a boat, take a tour, create some crafts, stump a scientist and, of course, enjoy free UW-Madison Babcock dairy ice cream.

Still not convinced? Here’s a slideshow of past open houses to show you what you’re missing!

So come join us – Friday, July 31st from 1-5PM. We’re at 3110 Trout Lake Station Drive (off of County Road N, between Hwy 51 and County Road M).

See you there!

 

Notes from the Northwoods: Can Native Bugs Take Out Invasive Plants?

by AnnaKay Kruger

UW-Madison undergraduate Joe Bevington rakes the bottom of Manson Lake for Eurasian water milfoil. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

UW-Madison undergraduate Joe Bevington rakes the bottom of Manson Lake for Eurasian water milfoil. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

Joe Bevington leans over the side of the boat and eyes the dense weeds in the water below us, watching green, long-feathered arms of Eurasian water milfoil move indolently with the current. The UW-Madison undergraduate wields a long rake that he drags along the lake bottom, twirling tendrils of plant matter around it like spaghetti. He and Jim Miazga, a UW-Stevens Point undergrad, amass piles of slimy milfoil in the bottom of the boat. The damp smells of lake sediment and wet foliage permeate the air.

Susan Knight, the scientist directing this research project, mans the oars as we paddle gently around Manson Lake in pursuit of the milfoil weevil, a small, native beetle that is being monitored for it’s efficiency as a biological control. The bug eats native species of milfoil and, Knight hopes, may have an appetite for the invasive variety. Continue reading

Fish Fry Day: If You Build It, Will Pike Come?

For many species of fish, spring spawning migrations are a crucial part of their life cycle. They swim upstream to habitat both more suitable for them to deposit eggs and where young fish that hatch from those eggs can avoid predators and grow. That’s why state agencies, environmental non-profits and anglers groups spend millions each year to restore spawning habitat and remove barriers to these migrations. But one lingering question often remains – if you build it, will they come?

A northern pike heads upstream to spawn in a tributary of Green Bay. Photo: Solomon David

A northern pike heads upstream to spawn in a tributary of Green Bay. Photo: Solomon David

In the case of northern pike, an important top predator and popular sport fish across the northern hemisphere, the answer appears to be “Yes.”

To reach that conclusion, researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Center for Limnology had to first answer a very basic question about pike behavior. While salmon are famous for making long trips back to their birthplace to spawn, there are hundreds of other migratory species that scientists know far less about. Northern pike were one of those species – did they also return to their home, or natal, streams to spawn or would any suitable wetland do? Continue reading

Notes from the Northwoods: Wading to Trip

by AnnaKay Kruger

Michaela Kromrey clips herself into her bulky waders, fitting the straps over her shoulders and sealing herself into their protective rubber lining. We’ve dropped anchor near the shore of Jute Lake, and waves whip the side of the boat vigorously in the high wind. It’s a beautiful day, utterly devoid of cloud cover, but the wind is sharp and swift over the water, forcing us to don our sweatshirts and windbreakers to stave off the chill. Michaela and I, both UW-Madison undergraduates, wait in the boat while Ellen Albright, a student at Minnesota’s Macalester College, wades along the shoreline, dragging a tape-measure behind her.

2015-06-05 10.24.58

Ellen and Michaela wade through the shallows of Jute Lake, looking for submerged logs as part of the Regional Lakes Survey. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

Ellen paces out fifty meters and drops a small orange buoy into the water. Michaela explains that they’re looking for fallen logs, otherwise known as “coarse woody habitat”. Large logs with many branches are the ideal habitat for juvenile fish populations because they provide protection for fingerlings, or fish that are not yet fully developed but have fins and scales, and are capable of feeding themselves. (Editor’s note: CFL research underscored the importance of coarse woody habitat last year).

The prevalence of suitable habitat for fish populations in inland lakes is one of many variables being investigated in the Regional Lakes Survey out of Trout Lake Field Station. This ongoing study will happen every six years and primarily involves analyzing lake conditions for the purpose of mapping changes that occur over time. Continue reading

Limno-Week: Four Center for Limnology Public Events in Three Days!

Summer is our field season, which means you’ll see a lot more “UW-Limnology” boats out on Wisconsin waters. But it’s also when we ramp up our outreach programming. This is an especially busy week as, from Wednesday, June 10th through Friday the 12th, our faculty, students and staff will be speaking to public audiences everywhere from Madison to Milwaukee to Minocqua.

HERE’s THE LINE-UP:

Science on Tap-Minocqua – Forest Ownership and Conservation in the Northwoods – June 10th,  6:00PM, Minocqua Brewing Company, Minocqua

Chequamegon National Forest, WI Old growth eastern white pine. Donnelly Austin Photography

Chequamegon National Forest, WI
Old growth eastern white pine. Donnelly Austin Photography

Forest ownership and conservation are changing in the Northwoods and throughout the United States. Private and public forestlands are critical for natural resource production, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and water quality, yet they are increasingly threatened by development, invasive species and other local and global changes. Changes in large forest ownership have been some of the most dramatic over the past 15 years. Adena Rissman, assistant professor in Forest and Wildlife Ecology will speak at our very popular science cafe event where guests are invited to grab a drink and a chair and join in the conversation. The following day, a group of interested citizens will head out for a field-trip led by Adena Rissman and Trout Lake Station director Tim Kratz (among others) to see the forest AND the trees for themselves. More information is here.

Yahara Lakes 101 – June 11th, 7:30AM, The Edgewater Hotel, Madison 

Spiny water fleas can be distinguished from other zooplankton by their exceptionally long tails. Photo: Jake Walsh

Spiny water fleas can be IDd by their exceptionally long tails. Photo: Jake Walsh

The Clean Lakes Alliance’s series of aquatic educational talk features the CFL’s two “Jakes” – Jake Vander Zanden, a professor, and Jake Walsh, his grad student. The title of their talk is “Lake Invaders: How Spiny Water Flea Have Degraded Water Quality in Our Lakes,” and, after folks get settled with coffee and a pastry, they’ll delve into the drama behind our murky Lake Mendota, its sporadic fits of clear water and what can be done about invasive species. For more information on cost, location, etc – go here.

Wisconsin Ideas – Let the World Know – June 11th, 4:30PM, Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee

John Magnuson, always dedicated to outreach about the science of our inland waters, explains algae.

John Magnuson, always dedicated to outreach about the science of our inland waters, explains algae.

The second event in a new and unprecedented UW outreach series is put on by the Wisconsin Alumni Association and will feature some of the world-class research conducted here at the University and focus on how that science has led to innovation and change in the state and around the globe. The event is, essentially, one big mixer, featuring gourmet Wisconsin food and drink, special guest appearances by Bud Selig, Herb Kohl,  exploration stations, remarks from Chancellor Rebecca Blank – all emceed by former Badger and Packer, Mark Tauscher. Open to anyone interested in the UW, but especially alumni. Details here.

Hasler Lab Open House – June 12th, 2-6:00PM, Hasler Lab, Madison

IMG_9739Bucky, Babcock ice cream and Boat rides! Come one, come all! Come rain or shine! We’ll have plenty to do and see – fish to touch, aquatic bugs to catch, plankton to ogle under a microscope, and a host of top-notch faculty and student scientists willing to answer any freshwater question you’ve got. The open house is a darn good time, we promise. And we hope to see you there. Besides, we’re just down the lakeshore from Memorial Terrace, which is where you want to be on a Friday night anyway, right? More here.

 

Video: Up-Close Look at Lake Mendota Water Clarity

On June 4th, after a week of clear-water conditions in Lake Mendota, some of us here at Hasler Lab decided that our window for swimming in clear water was closing. So we decided to take an up-close and personal reading of conditions.

It turns out that our timing was perfect for a refreshing (read: cold) dip. After peaking at a Secchi depth of more than 7 meters (meaning that’s how far down you could see into the lake from the surface), things started getting a little murkier on Lake Mendota yesterday. A reading from the middle of the lake came back at right around 5 meters. That still put the lake in “clear-water” phase, as any reading  deeper than 4 meters qualifies.

But, today, June 5th, after a full week of clear conditions, the Secchi couldn’t even make it 3 meters off of our pier before disappearing from view. Official reading? 2.75 meters. Official verdict? 2015 clear-water phase has come to a close.

But that doesn’t mean you still can’t help us #monitormendota! Send Secchi readings, pictures, videos, anything showing us the current state of the lake to media@limnology.wisc.edu, or on Twitter or Instagram @WiscLimnology. Bonus points if you choose the “full immersion” option like we did!

Happy Friday! (We’ll get fish back on the menu next week!)

Notes from the Northwoods: Heavy Lifting on Sparkling Lake

by AnnaKay Kruger

“Well, that was an adventure!” says Aaron O’Connell, a UW-Plateville undergraduate, looking down at his bare feet as he steps gingerly across the gravel driveway. In one hand he carries his sodden shoes, and like me, he is covered from head-to-toe in lake grime. We have just spent the last two hours helping Tim Meinke launch a buoy into Sparkling Lake off of Highway 51 in Vilas County.

Ben Kranner and Tim Meinke team up to anchor the buoy to the bottom of Sparkling Lake. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

Ben Kranner and Tim Meinke team up to anchor the buoy to the bottom of Sparkling Lake. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

The buoy itself is an impressive device—substantial in girth, equipped with everything from weather antennae to a pressure sensor that records rainfall. A large solar panel hangs on one side, and the whole contraption is strung with a variety of complex wiring that is well beyond my expertise.

(Left to right) Ben Kranner, Tim Meinke, Aaron O’Connell, and Mark Gahler tow the buoy out onto Sparkling Lake. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

(Left to right) Ben Kranner, Tim Meinke, Aaron O’Connell, and Mark Gahler tow the buoy out onto Sparkling Lake. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

Meinke, a researcher at the Center for Limnology’s Trout Lake Station, is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research project (LTER) and the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). Sparkling Lake is one of the LTER and GLEON research lakes, so the buoy will spend the summer collecting data on everything from water temperature to wind speed to the amount of oxygen moving in and out of the lake.  But getting that buoy in the water is no small feat, which is why Meinke enlisted Aaron, Ben Kranner, a UW-Madison undergraduate, and the CFL’s IT consultant, Mark Gahler, to the cause.

While they anchored and wired the buoy, I did my best to stay out of the way and document the experience. This proved more difficult than I had anticipated, as the team hauled in various ropes and weights, gradually filling the boat with lake debris and slime (or, as we call it in scientific circles, “muck”) from the bottom. My chance to contribute to the effort came when we had to retrieve a smaller buoy from just under the surface. It was anchored by sixty pounds worth of barbells, which I hoisted into the boat, a feat that proved challenging despite my enthusiasm. With Aaron’s help, we managed to haul the buoy and weights into the boat. I was grimy and out of breath, but proud to have been of service. Continue reading

Monitor Mendota: Water Clarity, Daphnia on the Rebound

Algal bloom. Photo: Eddie Heath.

Algal bloom. Photo: Eddie Heath.

Last week on this blog, we wondered if Lake Mendota’s clear water phase was a thing of the past. You see, last year, the algae-eating native zooplankton, daphnia pulicaria were so diminished by predation from the invasive spiny water flea, that their numbers couldn’t grow large enough to keep algae from clouding our waters. Combined with the phosphorus that runs off into our lakes and acts like algal fertilizer, well, you’ve got a recipe for a soupy mess. And this year wasn’t looking much better.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I stepped out onto the Hasler Lab pier this afternoon and saw this… Continue reading

All Aboard! 4th Annual Hasler Lab Open House

                    Join us FRIDAY, JUNE 12th for the                         Hasler Lab Open House!

Visitors board the Limnos for a "research cruise" on Lake Mendota.

Visitors board the Limnos for a “research cruise” on Lake Mendota.

If you’re in the Madison area, come on down for a “behind the scenes” event and spend a half hour or the whole afternoon exploring the science behind Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams.

We’ll have hands-on science, FREE Babcock ice cream and a visit from the UW’s most iconic mammal, Bucky Badger.

Friday, June 12th, 2-6pm. And Hasler Lab (680 N. Park Street)

Visitors will:

  • Take a “research cruise” on Lake Mendota with CFL researchers
  • Meet the fish, plants and insects that call Madison lakes home
  • Try their hand at using various lake research tools
  • Catch plankton from our pier and ID them under our microscopes
  • Make aquatic-themed crafts at the Kids Crafts station
  • Talk with leading scientists about Wisconsin’s freshwater
  • Enjoy free Babcock Dairy Ice Cream
  • Meet Bucky Badger
  • And  more!

Here’s a slideshow of past open houses:

So bring the kids and come on out from 2-6pm on Friday, June 12th. We hope to see you here!

Parking available under Helen C. White library after 4pm and in the the Lake Street public parking ramp near the corner of Lake and State. 

*Note: Boat rides are first-come/first-served, ice cream is served until we run out, and Bucky Badger will be at the lab from 3-3:30pm. 

The Study, Science & Stories of Our Inland Waters