NASA comes to Marquette

NASA+comes+to+Marquette

Isabelle Tavares

Lake Superior became the first body of freshwater to house research involvement with NASA this June when NASA chose Granite Island to house its equipment for its Clouds and the Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES)
experiment.

A project to measure Great Lakes evaporation started in late 2008 with collaborators from Environment Canada and the University of Colorado Boulder, who were utilizing weather stations at Stannard Rock and Granite Island. Together, NMU, Lentic Environmental Services (LES), and NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), formed the Great Lakes Evaporation Network (GLEN). Contacts at NOAA mentioned the GLEN network to NASA contractors and encouraged them to contact GLEN about collaborating at Granite Island and Stannard Rock.

The NASA equipment measures shortwave—or visible—radiation from the sun; longer-wave infrared radiation, which is invisible, but can be sensed by humans as heat; and aerosols, a broad collection of tiny particles in the air that scatter or absorb sunlight to varying degrees.

“The NASA instruments are measuring the amount of energy coming from sun, sky and clouds to calibrate similar measurements made by satellite,” said NMU research associate and owner of LES John Lenters. “The energy coming from the sun and clouds is important because it drives our weather and climate, and also influences processes such as photosynthesis and the water cycle.”

Discussions on the logistics of the site started about a year and a half ago, such as the conditions of the site or if it would generate enough power, Lenters said.

“What’s unique about the Granite Island site is that it’s the only over-water site,” Lenters said. “Satellites pick up ground clutter from trees and urban spaces, whereas the Granite Island site is great for satellites because it is free from most of those obstructions.”

Instruments were installed over the span of 10 days this past June, Lenters said, adding, with help from NMU students and faculty.

A criterion for any research project on Granite Island has to involve NMU students and faculty, said Scott Holman, owner of the island and Board of Trustees member.

“[Holman] was generous enough to allow use of the island. He has always been very supportive and adamant about having students and faculty involved,” Lenters said.
Senior environmental science major Myles Walimaa is one of two students conducting research on the island.

“My research is taking radiation data from several states in the Great Lakes region and see if they’re consistent with the rest of global brightening trends throughout the northern hemisphere,” Walimaa said.

Walimaa said he hopes to gain both experience and the feeling of discovering something new.
Assistant professor of biology Brandon Gerig is interested in taking his limnology class to Granite Island to expose them to the instrumentation and look at data that’s being collected,
he said.

“Historically, I don’t think we’ve had a huge presence on Lake Superior from a research and monitoring perspective,” Gerig said. “Given that I can see Lake Superior from my office, I think it’s really important that we involve students in research that is on the lake, along with interested faculty members.”

Granite Island has become a tangible linkage to the university and the lake, Gerig said.

“We interact with the lake so closely by being in Marquette, but getting students out to experience it is really important. Those tangible experiences do more for learning or inspiring interests than what I can do in a classroom,” Gerig said. “That might light the fire underneath someone that decides ‘this is what I want to pursue,’ which then genesis them into a graduate program, [and] helps them influence their career
trajectory.”