Past Seed Funding

2024 Seed Funding

Project Title: 2024 Rapid Funding Request: Degradation of Microcystin in Harmful Algal Bloom Aerosols during Atmospheric Transport

Key Project Personnel: Kaisen Lin (Michigan State University)

About: Climate change has been causing an increased frequency of harmful algal blooms (HABs). These blooms result in toxin-laden aerosols that pose significant public health issues. Numerous studies, conducted both in laboratory settings and in the field, have demonstrated the aerosolization of toxins from these algal blooms in freshwater environments. Epidemiological studies suggest that respiratory irritation is notably more prevalent among individuals who frequently visit recreational lakes. Subsequent toxicological research, utilizing animal models, has aimed to investigate the health impacts associated with inhalation of these airborne toxins. Despite these efforts, there remains a substantial gap in our understanding of the specific health effects on humans. One particular area of uncertainty is whether toxins in aerosols undergo degradation during atmospheric transport, prior to reaching human recipients. Our hypothesis posits that these airborne toxins may degrade similarly to other environmental pollutants, leading to reduced concentrations and the formation of degradation byproducts. The main goal of this proposed research is to deepen our understanding of the behavior and fate of airborne toxins released from HABs during their atmospheric transport. Findings from this study are expected to improve estimations of human exposure levels to HAB toxins, providing essential data for further biomedical research into associated health outcomes.

To address this research question, experiments will be conducted in a controlled environment within Dr. Kaisen Lin’s laboratory using a rotating drum apparatus. Standard solutions of microcystin-LR and RR will be aerosolized using a Collison nebulizer and introduced into a rotating drum, where the aerosols will be suspended in the air for extended periods. This setup is designed to subject the aerosols to various environmental conditions, such as various levels of relative humidity and UV light intensities, to simulate and study their degradation during the atmospheric transport process. The aged aerosols will then be collected on glass fiber filters and extracted prior to analysis by LC/MS/MS. This analysis will determine the concentrations of microcystin-LR and RR in the aged samples, thereby facilitating an investigation into their air degradation kinetics. Concurrently, degradation products will be screened to identify any potential toxic byproducts that could pose human health risks. Additionally, changes in the size of the toxin-laden aerosols will be measured using a Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer. This data will inform the Multiple-Path Particle Dosimetry model, which will be used to simulate the deposition of airborne toxins in the human respiratory tract. The outcomes of this simulation will shed light on the dose and deposition locations of toxin-laden aerosols, providing valuable guidance for subsequent toxicological studies.

The proposed work aims to gather essential preliminary data to inform subsequent toxicology studies. At the conclusion of this project, my intention is to seek external funding to extend this research and comprehensively address the research question. The future work will encompass: (1) partnering with biomedical researchers to examine the toxic effects of the microcystin with precisely selected lung cell models, (2) studying the degradation kinetics of various toxins in real freshwater samples collected during HAB episodes, and (3) investigating the inactivation mechanisms of airborne algae. Through these synergistic and collaborative endeavors, the study aims to provide thorough insights into the exposure to toxins generated by HABs, thus enhancing our capacity to evaluate and counteract the associated public health impacts. Potential sources for future funding include NSF’s CBET program and NIEHS.

2023 Seed Funding

Project Title: 2023 Rapid Funding Request: Distributed acoustic sensing data acquisition at the bottom of Lake Ontario

Key Project Personnel: Zack Spica (University of Michigan)

About: Due to the severe winter conditions, most aquatic instruments installed in the Great Lakes region must be removed and redeployed yearly. This dramatically increases the operational cost of monitoring these vast areas, but more importantly, it prevents the scientific community from collecting year-round data about the dynamic state of the lakes. We proposed to respond to that by repurposing the telecommunication fiber-optic infrastructure existing at the bottom of Lake Ontario into a massive array of vibration sensors. To do so, we used a novel technique called Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) that turns fiber-optic cables into thousands of real-time sensors over tens of kilometers.

The geophysics group at the University of Michigan signed an agreement with a telecom company that owns and operates an underwater fiber-optic cable at the bottom of Lake Ontario. In April 2023, the seed funds were used to travel to Toronto, Canada, with a University-owned DAS interrogator installed along the telecom infrastructure. Since then, the instrument has recorded continuous data (with a few gaps in time) totaling more than 100 Tb. The data collected allows us to probe the cable for the first 50 km, with the equivalent of one vibration sensor every 10 m, totaling 5,000 measurement points throughout the Lake. In order to compare these data with in situ measurements, Russ Miller also installed a buoy in August 2023 near the location of the underwater cable. A livestream of this data collection is available on YouTube and used for educational purposes about this new method. Note that we plan to remove the instrument during the first half of March 2024, meaning that the Livestream may not be available in the future. The remaining funds in this seed grant will be used to travel to Toronto and remove the instrument before returning it to the University of Michigan.

2022 Seed Funding

LimnoTech | Ann Arbor, United States |

Project Title: 2022 Rapid Funding Request: St. Marys River Oil Spill Response

Key Project Personnel: Ed Verhamme (LimnoTech)

About: In June 2022, over 5,300 gallons of refined oil was accidentally released from a steel producer in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. The oil quickly entered the St. Marys River, causing oil sheens to accumulate near the North Channel of Sugar Island. This spill was particularly destructive because the North Channel of Sugar Island is known to support lake sturgeon populations, and serves as critical wetland habitat that underpins nursery areas for valuable sport fishes. Additionally, members of the Sugar Island community often use river water directly for municipal purposes. The effects of this oil spill generated tremendous concern among the local and scientific communities about potential impacts of future oil spills in the region.

A sensor system being prepared for deployment in the St. Marys River. Photo CreditL Ed Verhamme

In response, LimnoTech and Lake Superior State University (LSSU) used CIGLR Seed Funding to integrate sensor systems into a new monitoring network in the St. Marys River at locations that are likely to be impacted by any current or future oil spills. “The St. Marys River is home to one of the busiest shipping lock systems in the world,” said Ed Verhamme, LimnoTech Senior Engineer. “This region is highly susceptible to freighter strandings and oil spills, making it an ideal location to pilot a pollution monitoring network. The installed sensor system provided assurance to community members that oil from this spill was not affecting coastal areas.” 

The sensor systems use state-of-the-art cellular technology that allows for real-time data availability on LSSU’s MiWaterNet from a cloud server hosted by LimnoTech.

“In addition, a new U.S. Coast Guard National Center of Expertise focusing on freshwater oil spills opened at LSSU’s Center for Freshwater Research and Education in August 2022, and our initial sensor system deployment is helping to leverage an even larger-scale project to develop real-time monitoring networks for oil spills throughout the Great Lakes,” said Verhamme. 

2021 Rapid Awards

Project Title: 2021 Rapid Funding Request: Winter Grab: A Multi-Institutional Great Lakes Winter Sampling Campaign

Key Project Personnel: Ted Ozersky (University of Minnesota Duluth)

About: Winter on the Great Lakes is rapidly changing. Predicting and managing the consequences of these changes is complicated by a scarcity of winter research on many limnological aspects of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Knowledge gaps include basic information on ice properties, water thermal and mixing regimes, concentrations of nutrients, and abundances of important organisms and their community dynamics. Recently, with support from CIGLR, a network of Great Lakes researchers (Great Lakes Winter Network; GLWiN) has coalesced around a common interest in winter and a set of priority research questions. This proposal will leverage GLWiN to address several urgent knowledge gaps about winter in the Great Lakes, including information about physical, chemical, and biological processes; help sustain existing momentum and interest in winter limnology among Great Lakes researchers by creating a common, collaborative project for the GLWiN community and support the long-term viability of this group; generate data that will be published in the peer-reviewed literature and used as preliminary information for follow-up proposals; and work with local media outlets to highlight this work and raise public awareness of the importance of Great Lakes winter research and collaborative science.

A multi-institutional coordinated winter sampling campaign will take place across a broad spatial and trophic status gradient in the nearshore of the Great Lakes. The project will include academic and government researchers, who will collect and analyze a standard set of samples during a 1-week period in late-February/ early-March of 2022. Sampling will include characterization of ice properties (thickness, light attenuation), water column physical and chemical conditions (temperature, clarity, conductivity, oxygen, nutrients, etc.), and biological patterns and processes (plankton biomass and community structure, primary and bacterial production rates). Eighteen research groups have expressed interest in participating in sampling and/or sample analyses. In addition to hands-on fieldwork at approximately 10 sites, the project will work with US and Canadian Drinking Water Treatment Plant (DWTP) operators to obtain samples of raw water for analysis of nutrient concentrations and phytoplankton biomass, increasing the spatial coverage of the project. 




LimnoTech | Ann Arbor, United States |

Project Title: 2021 Rapid Funding Request: RNA/DNA Processing of Samples Collected near Lake Erie Drinking Water Intakes of Toledo and Cleveland

Key Project Personnel:  Edward Verhamme (LimnoTech) 

About: This past summer LimnoTech was able to work cooperatively with a private company, Environmental Quality Operations (EQO:, to test a new RNA/DNA sample collection and preservation system on Lake Erie. The Rapid Funds will be used to contract EQO to isolate RNA and DNA from the collected samples using a proprietary process to provide high yield and remove enzymatic inhibitors that are ubiquitous in environmental samples. EQO will further develop and produce primer/probe sets for use in quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays to analyze the expression level of toxin-related cyanobacteria genes of interest. These will include the microcystin family of genes (McyA through McyE), as well as the most common genes associated with anatoxin-a and saxitoxin production. Additionally, following isolation, an aliquot of the extracted RNA and DNA will be sent to Veracet Inc ( for whole-microbiome analysis using the proprietary PhyloChip microarray platform. The information collected from this process is intended to support determination of the risk of toxic event severity and serve as a proof-of-concept study to be expanded upon for development of a toxic event risk analysis and prevention forecast model in the future. Both companies are providing substantial discounts for this probe development exercise and are offering to collaborate with UM-CIGLR and NOAA-GLERL on development of future proposals and on the use of data generated by this probe development exercise.

LimnoTech views this project as a necessary step toward developing a viable future proposal to establish an RNA/DNA surveillance network that blends the capabilities and capacities of public research (NOAA-GLERL & UM-CIGLR), private expertise (EQO & LimnoTech), and needs of public water utilities (Toledo and Cleveland). LimnoTech has been a leader in tech transfer and direct integration of research into decision support systems for water utilities on Lake Erie. This includes the development and operation of an early warning real-time sonde network and inclusion of water utilities on multiple collaborative research proposals (ECOHAB, MERHAB, and hypoxia projects). LimnoTech has been the de facto operator of the Lake Erie water treatment plant sonde network since the Toledo water crisis in 2014. This has allowed LimnoTech to have routine access to install and maintain sensors in approximately 12 pump station facilities owned by utilities from Toledo to beyond Cleveland. The eventual goal is to expand the collection of preserved RNA/DNA samples that can either be analyzed rapidly (days) or on an as-needed retroactive basis using a cache of preserved samples. This will allow operators to determine how to rapidly adjust treatment approaches to changing raw water conditions to protect public health.



Project Title: 2021 Rapid Funding Request: DNA Analysis of Lake Superior Cyanobacterial Blooms

Key Project Personnel: Cody Sheik (University of Minnesota Duluth)

About: Cyanobacterial blooms have initiated earlier and to a greater extent across the western arm of Lake Superior. These blooms are contrary to previous blooms that are thought to be driven by heavy rainfall events (Sterner 2020), as Minnesota has been in a significant drought. The Sheik Lab has initially sampled the first bloom of the season on July 17, 2021 and have begun initial characterization of the organism (toxin analysis and microscopy), cultivation and stored filters for future DNA analysis. Currently the Sheik Lab has no funding in place to begin detailed DNA based assessment of the organism we observed. Previous work by the Sheik Lab on the cyanobacterial species from the 2018 bloom (Dolichospermum sp.) (Sheik in review), show that highly similar strains may or may not contain genes for microcystin production. Furthermore, the Sheik Lab has cultured a novel cyanobacterial species from Siskiwit Bay that looks similar to the Dolichospermum frequently observed in previous blooms but is proving to be quite toxic. Thus, using a genome-based approach the Sheik Lab will be able to compare this organism to the previous bloom of 2018 and cultured organisms and ultimately assess whether the genotype is capable of producing toxins. 

CIGLR Rapid Funds will be used for targeted sequencing of isolates from the bloom(s) and for generating metagenomes from the bloom and samples collected from Sheik Lab routine monitoring.

2020 Rapid Awards

Center for Freshwater Research and Education (CFRE) - Lake Superior State UniversityProject Title: 2020 Rapid Funding Request: Characterizing Great Lakes Atlantic salmon microbiome and virome

Key Project Personnel:  Kevin Kapuscinski and Ashley Moerke (LSSU), Jason Knouft (St. Louis University), Fangqiong Ling, Washington University in St. Louis)

About: The microbiome represents the collective genomes of microbes in a particular environment and is generally characterized by high-throughput next generation sequencing of 16S rRNA genes. The virome is the viral analogue to the microbiome, representing collective genetic material of viruses within a particular environment. The gut microbiome has received significant attention in humans because of the role these microbes play in human heath, physiology, and behavior (Lozupone et al. 2012). Recent investigations of the gut microbiome in non-human animals confirm the important role that microbes play in organismal fitness and behavior (Colombo et al. 2015; Johnson and Foster 2018). These roles are particularly important in fisheries, where altered gut microbiomes in hatchery fish may contribute to decreased individual body condition (e.g., individuals not suited for food assimilation in natural habitats), suboptimal behavior (e.g., lack of neophobic responses and more susceptible to predation), and altered migration patterns. The virome in freshwater fishes is almost totally unexplored, leaving a significant gap in our understanding of the importance of viruses to the regulation of natural populations and the potential detrimental impacts of viruses on fish health in hatcheries.

The gut microbiome of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has been shown to vary throughout the lifecycle of individuals, suggesting the association of these microbes with various aspects of the life history of this species (Llewellyn et al. 2016). More generally, the gut microbiome has also been suggested to be an important consideration for successful re-establishment of extirpated species (West et al. 2019), which is also relevant to Atlantic salmon. However, nothing is known about how the microbiome varies among Atlantic salmon individuals in hatcheries, the impact of this variation on survival, and whether hatchery conditions influence microbiome composition throughout the life-cycle of fish.

The Center for Freshwater Research and Education (CFRE) at Lake Superior State University operates an Atlantic salmon hatchery in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). As a result of this unique operation, we have the opportunity to collect important preliminary data on the gut microbiome and virome of adult Atlantic salmon (hatchery-reared but living in the wild for 2-4 years), and whether these differ from assemblages in age-0 fish reared in the hatchery. However, there is a rapid need to conduct this work within the next several weeks.

Adult individuals reared at CFRE and at MDNR hatcheries are in the process of returning to the St. Marys River and will be sampled by scientists at CFRE in early November. Rapid funding will allow us to characterize the microbiome and virome of these fish which were raised and released from different hatcheries several years ago, along with juveniles currently in the facility. While protocols are available to preserve the microbiome for later processing, the virome will require almost immediate processing to avoid sample degradation. Moreover, these results are necessary to support larger proposals that will examine effects of diet and rearing conditions on the microbiome, virome, and performance of hatchery-raised Atlantic salmon.asdas



The most recently funded CIGLR-funded Spotter buoy was deployed near Munising on June 27, along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Grand Portal Point. Photo Credit: John Lenters.

Project Title: 2020 Rapid Funding Request: CIGLR Rapid Grant Proposal: COVID-19 Delays Great Lakes Buoy Deployment, Michigan Technological University Helps Fill the Gap

Key Project Personnel:  John Lenters (Michigan Technological University) 

In The News:

About: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused substantial delays in the deployment of weather / wave buoys throughout the Great Lakes, placing human lives at risk just at a time when communities are beginning to return to recreation, fishing, and boating on the Great Lakes. As of the start of Memorial Day weekend, none of the regularly deployed buoys from the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) are on the lakes, and NDBC does not expect full deployment until mid July. Continued delays into the fall are possible, putting commercial shipping at risk during the height of the storm season. In addition, numerous nearshore buoys such as those along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore also remain out of service due to COVID-related delays, despite reliance on these buoys by the National Weather Service (NWS), National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, recreational kayakers, and commercial fisherman, among many other groups. This constitutes an emergency situation that puts Great Lakes communities and businesses at significant risk from the massive gap in data and the adverse impact it will have on NWS nearshore marine forecasts.

The GLRC at MTU proposes to address this gap for Lake Superior by purchasing a Sofar Ocean “Spotter” wave buoy to measure wave conditions, wind velocity, and surface water temperature. The buoy would be deployed at a strategic location such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or Stannard Rock (a popular fishing reef, and close to commercial shipping traffic). MTU is uniquely positioned to tackle this problem, as the GLRC has experience operating and testing the new Spotter technology, including transmission of data to public outlets (e.g., UGLOS, NDBC, and GLOS), and the GLRC also has a fleet of small boats that is capable of rapid deployment on Lake Superior. Sofar Ocean is prepared to ship a new Spotter immediately.

2019 Rapid Awards

Researchers Trevor Pitcher (back), Katelynn Johnson (middle), and Aaron Fisk (front) prepare high-tech buoys to deploy in the Detroit River channel between LaSalle and Fighting Island. Photo Credit: University of Windsor.

Project TitleCIGLR Rapid Grant Proposal: Protecting Great Lakes coasts during periods of high water

Key Project Personnel: Aaron Fisk (University of Windsor) and Trevor Pitcher (University of Windsor)

In The News:

About: Great Lakes water levels have reached record highs in 2019, eroding shorelines, threatening and damaging public/private infrastructure (e.g., marinas, homes and cottages), and overwhelming water systems in communities. On July 7, 2019, strong winds from the northwest pushed Detroit River water above the storm water system in Lasalle, Ontario, resulting in significant flooding, closure of streets, and limiting access to homes, public spaces (closed swimming pools and sport fields) and many businesses. The flooding also raises issues for the health of the Detroit River ecosystems, and downstream systems including Lake Erie. Currently, there is an urgent need to monitor water levels in the region and catch this event while it is still ongoing. Rapid funding provided by CIGLR will support water level, wind speed and direction and wave height instruments to be installed on the Detroit River and will be leveraged with instruments and technological support from the Realtime Ecosystem Observation Network (RAEON), which is based at the University of Windsor and provides instruments for Great Lakes research.

2018 Rapid Awards

Project TitleEnhanced monitoring and data management to support meteotsunami research and detection

Key Project Personnel: Dr. Phillip Chu (NOAA GLERL) and Ed Verhamme (Principal Investigator, Limnotech)

In The NewsScientists launch pilot project to warn of potentially dangerous ‘meteotsunami’ waves in Great Lakes; Michigan News; 8/3/2018

About: The recent occurrences of a meteotsunami event on Lake Michigan, including a 14 inch water level rise in only 40 minutes near Ludington MI on April 13, 2018 (MLive), demonstrated that the existing observing network is not adequate to observe or attempt to predict this phenomenon. Meteotsunamis have the potential to cause significant damage to shoreline structures and can endanger lives (Bechle et al. 2016, Nature). A more robust monitoring and alert system is needed on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie to monitor, detect and mitigate the impact of future events. The rapid funding provided by CIGLR will be used to immediately supplement ongoing projects at NOAA GLERL and LimnoTech to develop a monitoring and notification system for atmospherically significant events that could lead to meteotsunami events. The rapid response funds will be used to (1) develop a data management system to log, archive, and display relevant meteorological (wind speed, direction and air pressure) and water level data from existing and new stations and (2) upgrade the existing observing system reporting frequency and add up to four new stations. Both tasks will focus on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie as those two lakes have higher occurrence and resulting impacts to life and property.