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What is the 'Winter Grab' along the Great Lakes?

For the first time, scientists are collecting lake samples during the winter to better understand global warming.
great lakes winter grab.png
Posted at 3:05 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 15:05:56-05

Scientists from dozens of U.S. and Canadian groups are making history this week.  

For the first time ever, they are working jointly to collect winter samples of all five Great Lakes, braving the elements to study how global warming is impacting the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth. 

"This coordinated campaign across all five lakes was really special," said Casey Godwin, an assistant research scientist for Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research at the University of Michigan.

"You're going for an exciting snowmobile ride, and one of the first things we do is we make measurements of how deep the snow is. And then shortly after that, we're getting to making a hole. Once we have those holes, we can begin to put our instruments into the water."  

The first-of-its-kind campaign is called the "winter grab."

Sampling of the Great Lakes during the winter is rare, as scientists usually wait until warmer months when the lakes are free of ice.  

But climate change is adding urgency to understanding winter conditions.

"Already in the past few decades, we've observed changes in the ice cover on the Great Lakes, and that affects all the components of the food web from algae to fish," said Godwin.

As temperatures rise, ice coverage on the Great Lakes is steadily diminishing.

"If we want to understand those effects, we can't do it by just sampling seven months of the year. "

Godwin shared visuals with Newsy of his team's unique work on Lake Huron as part of the winter grab. 

For Godwin's team, the winter fieldwork is done.

But now comes time to analyze all the samples they grabbed. 

"Some of those we analyzed ourselves for things like nutrients or what type of zooplankton are present, and other samples went out to other laboratories across the region to study all kinds of different aspects of the ecosystem," Godwin said.

With 20% of the surface freshwater in the world — or about 6 quadrillion gallons — The Great Lakes are vital to millions of people.

So better understanding their ecosystem is paramount.

Senior White House officials announced Thursday that the Biden administration will pour $1 billion into cleaning up the Great Lakes.

The money will come from the president's infrastructure plan and it will go into cleanup of harbors and tributaries contaminated with industrial toxins.

Data is also being collected from the Great Lakes in hopes it will better help scientists understand the effects of global warming.

This story was first reported by Ben Schamisso at Newsy.