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Stone Lab shares Lake Erie research with community

Researchers at OSU Stone Lab use Lake Erie as an outdoor laboratory to study biology and ecology. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

Researchers at OSU Stone Lab use Lake Erie as an outdoor laboratory to study biology and ecology. Credit: Courtesy of OSU

Researchers work on an island in Lake Erie to investigate topics, such as harmful algal blooms and nutrient loading to help explain the impact of these phenomena on Ohio citizens.

Stone Laboratory, located on Gibraltar Island in the western basin of Lake Erie, is an OSU research center, where researchers and OSU students study the issues facing Lake Erie.

Although OSU began research at the lab in 1925, the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 led Stone Lab researchers to turn their focus to water quality research. Chris Winslow, the interim director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, said it is more than a research center.

“We do outreach because it is my opportunity and my staff’s opportunity to convey the science to the general public, the ultimate goal being to inform wise decisions,” Winslow said.  

Stone Lab hosts one- to two-day field trips for grades five through 12 from Columbus-area schools, but mostly from the communities along Lake Erie.  

Winslow said county commissioners, mayors and state representatives are also invited to the island to hear about the research so that they can make informed policy decisions.

Winslow said that local people are responsible for their actions as well as legislators, corporate farms and factories. Families in the suburbs often put harsh fertilizers on their yard that can seep into nearby streams and head straight to Lake Erie.

“You know oil is a dwindling resource, but water is a resource, too, and if we don’t take care of it, and it’s polluted in such a way that it’s not accessible to humans, we are going to have an issue,” Winslow said.

He said that in places such as the desert southwest of the U.S., water might someday be in short supply and that certain cities are in danger of sea level rise, which is why aquatic research is so important.

OSU students can work alongside some of the scientists at Stone Lab who are researching topics such as the dead zone, or low-oxygen area, invasive species and climate change. There are 25 courses offered to OSU students during the summer session.  

Jill Jentes Banicki, assistant director of Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Stone Laboratory, said the lab on Lake Erie is a mini campus complete with a dormitory and dining hall. She said it is a great opportunity for field experience and hands-on lab work.

“This is such an amazing experience for students where their lab is literally a lake,” Banicki said.  

Banicki said roughly 250 students, from a range of majors, take one or five-week courses on the island campus each summer. Students have the chance to study introductory biology and ecology courses, as well as upper-level courses.  

“A lot of students say it is extremely life changing,” Banicki said. “They change what they want to do professionally by that one class and because of this experience — it’s truly amazing.”  

Banicki said that students spend at least two hours on the lake conducting research. Outside of class, students stay on the island and can participate in activities such as canoeing on the lake.

Banicki said she hopes to someday have enough students that there is a waitlist. She said it is not only a great experience but a very important resource to the community and vital to Lake Erie.

“Lake Erie has a very complicated ecosystem and food web and we, as people, have the potential to impact it, and so I think it’s critically important to always be studying that and taking care of it,” Winslow said.

The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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