Great Lakes
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OH - Conserving coastlines: Protecting ecosystems threatened by changing climate

Located along the Great Lakes, water quality is a prominent research focus at The University of Toledo where scientists, engineers, medical researchers and public health and legal experts collaborate to restore our greatest natural resource for future generations.

Following the water crisis in 2014 when the city of Toledo’s drinking water was contaminated by a harmful algal bloom, UToledo formed the Water Task Force to help to protect water quality and the health of Lake Erie for the half million people in the region who depend on the drinking water source.

With the help of UToledo’s expert faculty, important advancements have been made in monitoring cyanotoxin levels in Lake Erie during the harmful algal bloom season. The UToledo Lake Erie Center is an important partner in that effort. UToledo’s water quality and sensor buoy annually rides the waves off the shore of the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon as part of the Great Lakes Observing System’s early-warning network of buoys throughout the western Lake Erie basin.

Students join faculty and staff from the UToledo Lake Erie Center regularly on the University’s research vessel conducting hands-on water sampling near Toledo’s water intake to sound the early warning if toxic algae is heading toward the source of the city's drinking water. UToledo students also play a critical role in protecting visitors to Maumee Bay State Park by testing Lake Erie for E. coli bacteria weekdays during the summer to determine whether the beach is safe to stay open.

The latest advancement in the monitoring of Lake Erie is a new real-time algae sensor being tested inside a water treatment plant by Thomas Bridgeman, Ph.D., professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center, that could give utility managers immediate warning of toxins threatening the drinking water supply. Every 15 minutes the device tests the water coming into the plant and shares measurement data online for researchers and water utility managers to remotely access. Its greatest value is the ability to tell whether the cyanobacteria cells are fragile and starting to break open, which releases toxin that can be challenging to remove.

The UToledo Water Task Force was recently recognized for its efforts to protect the northwest Ohio community by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) with its 2022 Public Impact Research Award.Out of its 250 public research and land-grant universities, UToledo was selected for its extraordinary efforts to harness its research enterprise to restore safe drinking water.

UToledo’s water research expertise also is part of a national project to test the resiliency of coastal ecosystems amid climate change. Led by Michael Weintraub, Ph.D., professor of soil ecology, a team of UToledo scientists and students are examining shoreline vegetation, soil and hydrology in the Great Lakes region. That is the freshwater portion of the project. Another team is researching the saltwater coastlines in the Chesapeake Bay.

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