Researcher study vulnerabilities

Northland College researchers want to prepare Chequamegon Bay for the worst. In order to do so, first they need to better understand how the Bay works.

Four researchers will present their most recent findings to the community Tuesday, April 14 at 7 p.m. at the Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute. This is the second in a series of SOEI-sponsored climate change lecture series.

“Chequamegon Bay is arguably one of the most vulnerable places in the country to climate change impacts,” said Randy Lehr, Bro Professor of Sustainable Regional Development. “It also happens to be one of the most unique living laboratories for climate change research.”

Lehr will be joined by colleagues: Tom Fitz, associate professor of geoscience, Toben Lafrancois, adjunct assistant professor of natural resources and philosophy, and Luke Van Roekel, assistant professor of atmospheric science.

These researchers are learning surprising things. One is that the bay is diverse. “Each one of the eleven chosen sites is different from the others,” Lehr said. “Even if we go to the same site over and over, it changes throughout the summer, and different sites change at different rates.”

Although not related to climate change, another surprise is a large eddy — sized more for an ocean than a lake, which the team found circulating between Madeline Island and the Bad River. Lehr said that researchers and park service personnel have often wondered why sediment plumes out of the Bad River take a hard left and hug the shore when most of the main currents travel the opposite direction.

Chequamegon Bay is large and complex.

“If climate change is going to have an impact anywhere, Chequamegon Bay will be that place,” Lehr said. “It’s shallow and will probably warm up the quickest, and there are anomalies with the way we’ve built out the land surrounding the bay.”

Fitz will focus on geological cycles and the different perspectives of time necessary to understanding what is happening on Earth today regarding climate change.

“I will also talk about how we know that the changes are being caused by humans burning fossil fuels,” Fitz said. “I think one of the main points that I can bring to a discussion on climate change is the perspective of time and the speed of change that are often hard to grasp.”

Lafrancois will talk about how plankton are critical to the most loved aspects of freshwater systems — water clarity and fish.

And Van Roekel will discuss how variable the circulation of water is within the Bay and how this may suggest an interconnectedness to the communities in the area.

“Outflow from the Bad River may influence us, Washburn, Bayfield, etc. and Fish Creek may influence other areas,” Van Roekel said. “And changes in water clarity and its associated increase in water temperature may change the structure of severe weather in the region.”

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