Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan staff- Sheena McInnes and Heather Wilson- conduct winter limnology on a Saskatchewan reservoir, Canada at -30oC. (Credit: Rebecca North / MU Limnology Lab, University of Missouri-Columbia)

Missouri reservoirs serve as critical water resources, yet these reservoirs suffer from harmful algal blooms, which can make water treatment difficult and influence the use of the water bodies. Understanding why lakes turn green is one of the first steps to learning more about HABs and how to better respond to them. Rebecca North, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, has dedicated her career to studying the very phenomenon.

Seasonal dynamics can play a role in how blooms are formed across the year, with cyanobacterial communities growing even in the winter. In order to better understand the role of seasonal dynamics, particularly winter variability, North has teamed up with other lake researchers to conduct a year-round multi-lake study.

Challenge: Data-sharing and Viability

The multi-lake study, appropriately named the Thin Ice Project, includes dozens of lakes, all of which experience varying degrees of ice cover throughout the year. The goal of the study is to monitor these lakes throughout the year and observe how winter dynamics influence the rest of the year, particularly algal blooms.

Water Resources graduate students- Fatima Laraib and Yusuf Olaleye- conduct a thiamine addition experiment on Crow Pond, Prairie Fork Conservation Area, Missouri. (Credit: Rebecca North / MU Limnology Lab, University of Missouri-Columbia)Due to safety risks and potential equipment damage or loss, monitoring lakes in the winter is uncommon, and so conditions are largely unknown and unobserved. This gap in data and baseline understanding of the lakes in the winter is one of the primary reasons North and her fellow researchers embarked on the project.

Solution: Shared Data Goals and Year-Long Deployments

Since the focus of the study is to better understand bloom dynamics, each lake will be monitoring light attenuation and various water quality conditions. The deployment of real-time monitoring systems will make data collection safer and easier.

For both the Marceline and Table Rock reservoirs a CB-450 data buoy will be deployed year-round in order to capture fluctuations in water quality throughout the year. Attached to each of the buoys are a LI-COR 190R and 192 PAR, an Airmar 200WX-IPX7, and a NexSens data logger.

The data logger is connected to multiple YSI EXO3 sondes that have sensors measuring temperature, oxygen, chlorophyll a, phycocyanin, conductivity, and pH. The goal of the system is to capture lake conditions year-round, particularly, before, during, and after blooms. The collected data is then pushed to WQData LIVE where North and other researchers and resource managers can view the real-time data.

Rebecca North takes a YSI sonde profile through the ice on Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Credit: Sheena McInnes / Global Institute for Water Security, University of Saskatchewan)Benefits: Establishing a Baseline in Missouri Reservoirs

The data collected by the systems will provide baseline data for Missouri reservoirs and a reference point for other lakes. While each of the lakes in the study experience different conditions throughout the year, a select number of the lakes will serve as reference points for climate models. Both Marceline and Table Rock reservoirs serve as a reference point for ice-free lakes—something that may become more common as temperatures continue to rise.

The individual lakes involved in the study will also benefit from the data, as the information could highlight how winter dynamics influence conditions for the rest of the year. In the more immediate sense, water treatment plants will rely on the data to inform them of incoming water conditions.

The Bottom Line

The Thin Ice Project will help fill the knowledge gaps surrounding winter lake conditions. While the winter is often considered the off-season for monitoring, North argues that monitoring throughout the year is essential.

She explains, “[Winter dynamics] are literally changing around us, and we don’t have any baseline data from which to make projections about what to expect in the future. So that’s kind of the premise behind the Thin Ice Project [. . .] We’re using a latitudinal gradient of lakes to try to predict what’s going to happen in the future when we completely lose our ice cover because, unfortunately, that is the trajectory we’re currently on.”

The data collected by the systems will be available to water treatment plants as well as the public since the Missouri reservoirs serve as source water resources and places for recreation. The data will also contribute to the great Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network database, serving as a reference point for year-round data in future research.


NexSens CB-450 Data Buoy

The NexSens CB-450 Data Buoy is designed for deployment in lakes, rivers, coastal waters, harbors, estuaries and other freshwater or marine environments.

LI-COR LI-190R PAR Sensors

The LI-190R Quantum Sensor measures photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), which is energy that drives photosynthetic reactions in plants.

LI-COR LI-192 Underwater PAR Sensor

The LI-COR LI-192 Underwater PAR Sensor Quantum sensor accurately measures photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) in freshwater or saltwater environments.

NexSens X2-CB Buoy-Mounted Data Logger

The X2-CB is a fully featured data logger housed inside a waterproof enclosure specifically designed to integrate with NexSens’ CB-Series data buoys.

Airmar 200WX Ultrasonic WeatherStation Instrument

The Airmar 200WX is a compact weather station ideal for moving platforms. The sensor outputs apparent and true wind, barometric pressure, air temperature, GPS location, and more.

NexSens WQData LIVE Web Datacenter

WQData LIVE is a web-based project management service that allows users 24/7 instant access to data collected from remote telemetry systems.