2003 Progress Report: Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators

EPA Grant Number: R828675C001
Subproject: this is subproject number 001 , established and managed by the Center Director under grant R828675
(EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).

Center: EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project
Center Director: Niemi, Gerald J.
Title: Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators
Investigators: Kingston, John C. , Axler, Richard , Johansen, Jeffrey R. , Kelly, John T. , Kreis, Jr., Russell G. , Morrice, John , Sgro, Gerald V. , Stoermer, Eugene F. , Thompson, Jo , Yurista, Peder
Current Investigators: Reavie, Euan D. , Andresen, Norman A. , Axler, Richard , Ferguson, Michael J. , Johansen, Jeffrey R. , Kingston, John C. , Kireta, Amy R. , Sgro, Gerald V. , Stoermer, Eugene F.
Institution: University of Minnesota , John Carroll University , University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 10, 2001 through January 9, 2005
Project Period Covered by this Report: January 10, 2002 through January 9, 2003
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems


The overall objective of this Center subproject is to quantify the extent to which pressure indicators influence diatom community structure in nearshore wetlands, estuaries, and reaches of the Laurentian Great Lakes. The specific objectives are to:

  • Develop predictive models through multivariate analyses of communities and ecosystems to: (1) infer ecological status at local and regional scales; and (2) describe predisturbance-to-recent baselines, trends, and magnitudes of change in restricted river-influenced and other wetlands.
  • Evaluate and modify existing diatom metrics, and devise and validate new diatom metrics, so that a number of state indicators for nutrient loading, siltation, and salinity in nearshore waters of the Great Lakes will be available to federal and state agencies.
  • Construct multimetric diatom indices from the best of these state or condition metrics.
  • Develop integrated indices of biotic integrity based on a combination of selected metrics developed in the diatom subprogram and by other teams in the larger program.
  • Develop a quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) infrastructure for the diatom subprogram and future assessment efforts.
  • Conduct a limited water quality survey (field and lab measurements) of nearshore sites contemporaneously with diatom sampling to: (1) calibrate diatom indices; (2) characterize further sampling sites for all Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) subprojects and related U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mid-Continent Ecology Division (EPA-MED) Great Lakes coastal wetlands projects; and (3) evaluate the efficacy of several relatively inexpensive, field-friendly measurements as surrogates for more expensive analytes typically used to characterize water quality.

Progress Summary:

Diatom and water quality samples were collected from approximately 240 segment sheds of shoreline from 2001 to 2003 distributed across the U.S. shoreline of all five Great Lakes and five geomorphic units. The sampling effort generated more than 500 discrete water samples that were analyzed in the laboratory for nutrients, chlorophyll, suspended solids, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), chloride, and several other parameters. At least four times that number of samples also were analyzed in the field for additional water quality characteristics. Sediment core subsamples (discrete, surficial, and deep strata), and grabs where soft sediments were not available, were field-sectioned for diatom community analysis at all segment sheds. Approximately 90 additional discrete samples from deeper water cores were collected in collaboration with EPA “guardian” cruises in 2002 and 2003. Whenever possible, sections were taken from the surface (recent history) and approximately 40 cm to provide information about decadal historical trends. Diatom samples were processed in Ely, MN, (Natural Resources Research Institute–University of Minnesota at Duluth [NRRI-UMD] sampling) and University Heights, OH (for John Carroll University sampling). All water quality analyses were performed at the NRRI-UMD Central Analytical Laboratory in Duluth, MN, with the exception of DOC, which was analyzed graciously by EPA-MED in Duluth. Databasing activities were coordinated at NRRI-UMD, and data entry via the Web has been developed to provide unified methods for entry and suitable quality control of the procedures.

Expected Results

The research will develop and evaluate indicators by local habitat, lake, ecoregion, and stressor activity/intensity. The diatom project will provide linkages from ecosystem function to water quality and to pressure indicators documented by other subproposals. We are confident that a suite of powerful diatom indicators can be developed for key pressure indicators for use throughout the Great Lakes Basin.


Diatom Community Analysis. Enumerations are not yet complete. Submergent zone samples have been prioritized and taxonomy will be completed by August 2004. The field data documenting site and sediment characterization and condition have been entered into the database, and taxonomic images are being uploaded into the Web-based database. A taxonomic meeting will be held in early summer to ensure taxonomic harmony among researchers enumerating diatoms at the three universitiesas well as for ultimate use by other Great Lakes researchers and agencies.

Diatom-Stressor Relationships. Significant relationships between surficial taxa and water chemistry (specific conductivity [salinity] and nitrate-N) were found from the 90 grab samples used for an M.S. thesis (Yanko, 2002) for all five lakes in the 2001 pilot. Many of these sites were sampled prior to the completion of the final experimental design, and these relationships will be reexamined in regard to their segment shed locations.

Water Quality . All water samples now have been analyzed and quality assured, and analyte values have been entered into the GLEI database. Field profiles of temperature, dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity (EC25), secchi and transparency tube depth, pH, turbidity, and soluble and particulate chlorophyll-fluorescence also were entered. Metadata are being created for all parameters along with queries to expedite retrieval of appropriate data sets for statistical analyses. We have begun to expedite including field data from the Fish-Invertebrate subproject with the larger Diatom subproject data set as well as including EPA-MED field and lab water chemistry data from their 2002-2004 wetland and high energy/embayment sites. Because a common experimental unit, the segment shed and similar methodology and QA/QC protocols were used for all four subgroup studies, combining the data will provide us with better estimates of interannual and seasonal variation. Examples of preliminary analyses are shown in Figures 1-4.

GLEI Diatom Water Quality Sampling Site for 2002-2003

Figure 1. GLEI Diatom Water Quality Sampling Site for 2002-2003. Yet to be added are approximately 100 sites sampled during the 2001 Pilot.

Relationships Between Lab- Measured TSS and Field-Measured Turbidity and Transparency Tube Clarity. All values are from the submergent zone

Figure 2. Relationships Between Lab- Measured TSS and Field-Measured Turbidity and Transparency Tube Clarity. All values are from the submergent zone.

Upper: Relationship Between Lab-Measured Chlorophyll-a and Field- Measured Particulate Chlorophyll Fluorescence. Lower: Relationship between field measured EC25 and lab measured chloride

Figure 3. Upper: Relationship Between Lab-Measured Chlorophyll-a and Field- Measured Particulate Chlorophyll Fluorescence. Lower: Relationship between field measured EC25 and lab measured chloride.

Summary of Submergent Zone Nutrient, Suspended Sediment, and Turbidity Values for All Five Great Lakes, 2002-2003

Figure 4. Summary of Submergent Zone Nutrient, Suspended Sediment, and Turbidity Values for All Five Great Lakes, 2002-2003.

Future Activities:

The project will focus on: (1) completing diatom enumerations; (2) integrating all available water quality data into the GLEI database (diatom, fish-invertebrates, and EPA-MED collaborators) for all subprojects to use; (3) the analysis of “surrogate” measures of water quality; (4) an exploratory analysis of relationships between landscape-scale stressors and coastal zone water quality; and (5) completion of the Web-based electronic diatom image library for use by project scientists and for quality control comments from a broader scientific audience.

Journal Articles on this Report : 2 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other subproject views: All 35 publications 19 publications in selected types All 16 journal articles
Other center views: All 268 publications 54 publications in selected types All 45 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Axler R, Henneck J, Kireta A, Sgro J, Kingston J. Surrogate water quality indicators for use in monitoring the Great Lakes coastal zone. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (in preparation, 2004). R828675 (Final)
R828675C001 (2003)
not available
Journal Article Danz NP, Regal RR, Niemi GJ, Brady VJ, Hollenhorst T, Johnson LB, Host GE, Hanowski JM, Johnston CA, Brown T, Kingston J, Kelly JR. Environmentally stratified sampling design for the development of Great Lakes environmental indicators. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 2005;102(1-3):41-65. R828675 (Final)
R828675C001 (2003)
R828675C001 (2004)
R828675C001 (Final)
R828675C002 (2003)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: Springer - Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Springer
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    diatom, algae, water quality, metrics, multimetric indices, nutrients, salinity, siltation, Great Lakes, GLEI, EaGLes, coastal wetlands, environmental indicators,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Geographic Area, Water, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Nutrients, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Air Deposition, Ecological Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Great Lakes, Ecological Indicators, Risk Assessment, ecological condition, nutrient supply, coastal ecosystem, nutrient transport, aquatic ecosystem, diatoms, hydrological stability, ecosystem assessment, hierarchically structured indicators, wetland vegetation, environmental stressor, hydrological, coastal environments, environmental consequences, ecological assessment, estuarine ecosystems, nutrient stress, ecosystem indicators, aquatic ecosystems, toxic environmental contaminants, water quality, ecosystem stress, atmospheric deposition

    Relevant Websites:

    http://glei.nrri.umn.edu Exit

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2001
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • Main Center Abstract and Reports:

    R828675    EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project

    Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828675C001 Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators
    R828675C002 Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
    R828675C003 Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates
    R828675C004 Development and Assessment of Environmental Indicators Based on Birds and Amphibians in the Great Lakes Basin
    R828675C005 Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk