Students searching for answers to lake’s blue-green algae problem

Students from around the U.S. are spending this summer collecting water samples and chatting with farmers and local policy makers about water pollution in the Menomonie area…

Their efforts are aimed at discovering information to help make Menomonie’s waters a bit less green.

“Basically we’re looking at Lake Menomin and Lake Tainter and all the different factors that go into the blue-green algae blooms,” said Lauren L’Esperance, a student from Rhode Island participating in the Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience for Undergraduates, or LAKES REU, program.

Under the guidance of UW-Stout professors, 10 student researchers spent about two months researching algae blooms on Menomonie waters, caused by phosphorus pollution, part of a three-year project paid for by a $282,000 National Science Foundation grant. Student researchers are working on analyzing data and preparing to share their findings in Menomonie on Aug. 6.

LAKES REU participants looked at the biological and geological angles, such as the sediment and groundwater; sociological angles, such as determining how the social network of farmers influences sustainable farming practices; and economics, such as what people are willing to pay to fix the algae bloom problem.

“I’m doing economics, but less of the money and more of the decisions farmers make and just seeing how incentives relate to their decision making process,” L’Esperance said.

Cassandra Beckworth, a LAKES REU researcher from UW-Stout, said she’s been visiting farmers and distributing surveys.

“(I’m) trying to figure out who’s connected to whom and what management practices they’re using that impact the lake,” Beckworth said, noting most farmers are helpful and receptive to students working on the project. “It’s exciting. Lots of driving around and meeting people.”

The grant is geared toward undergraduate students who plan to continue on to graduate school, said Nels Paulson, a UW-Stout professor and LAKES REU director.

“This is really a grad school prep kind of program,” Paulson said. “That’s the whole idea with the National Science Foundation. They wanted to free up time for undergraduates, especially for those who really don’t have the financial means, to really experience research during the summer.”

Beckworth said the experience has taught her even more than she expected.

“I’ve learned not only about survey design and research application, but also a lot about who I am as a person,” she said.

Since the grant is to be spent over three years, different groups of 10 students will be selected to be part of the program for each of the next two years.

“We’re going to end up with 30 different projects, with some overlap, but it’ll really help us capture a lot of questions we have about how to fix the water pollution,” Paulson said.


Photo caption: Mary Marchiafava and Peng Vang, participants in the Linking Applied Knowledge in Environmental Sustainability Research Experience for Undergraduates, or LAKES REU program, collect water samples and data from Tainter Lake to better understand causes of phosphorus pollution.

View original article at: Students searching for answers to lake’s blue-green algae problem

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