The Laurentian Great Lakes (LGL) constitute one of the largest freshwater systems in the world while providing social and economic value to two powerful nations. The spatial scale of these inland seas falls between two endpoints: small lakes and oceans. Lacustrine in many characteristics, the LGL often require a scientific approach with attributes similar to those of oceanography. There is a strong sense that within the LGL support for scientific research has not kept pace with the need for process-oriented research and that we lack basic information needed to forecast change, mitigate impacts and restore and preserve the LGL. Consequently, 58 researchers met in September 2014 and identified five “Grand Challenges for Research in the LGL”: (1) How has this vast inland freshwater system responded to shifting climate in the past, and how will it respond in the future? (2) What is the current status of the most important ecosystem processes, including their variability in space and time? (3) What processes are characteristic only of large lakes, and how do the distinct habitats integrate into a whole? (4) What are the ecosystem responses to major anthropogenic forces such as nutrients and invasive species, and are these reversible? and (5) What are the small to large-scale linkages and feedbacks among societal decisions, biological systems, and physicochemical dynamics? An urgent need exists for a unified scientific voice that articulates the Grand Challenges for research in the LGL and the need for associated funding. This treatise describing the Grand Challenges develops that voice.
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We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Bopi Biddanda and Ryan Thum, who assisted with the development of the Grand Challenges Workshop. We also give special thanks to Kaycee Morra who assisted with meeting organization and registration. We thank Sam Kelly for his contributions to the discussion about biophysical scales and discussions with Doug Haffner about the status of LGL research and funding in Canada. Finally, we hereby acknowledge the generous and engaged workshop participants, whose names follow Dave Allen, Jon Bartholic, Mark Baskaran, Bopi Biddanda, John Bratton, George Bullerjahn, Hunter Carrick, Anthony Chappaz, Jiquan Chen, Kendra Cheruvelil, Jim Cotner, Bernie Crimmins, Vincent Denef, Greg Dick, Norm Grannemann, Steve Hamilton, Alan Hamlet, Dave Hyndman, Dana Infante, Gary Lamberti, John Lenters, Elena Litchman, David Long, Frank Lupi, Phanikun Mantha, Gerald Matisoff, Mike McKay, Galen McKinley, Liz Minor, Colleen Mouw, Pat Norris, Ted Ozersky, Steve Pueppke, Jiaguo Qi, Jen Read, Paul Roebber, Joan Rose, Carl Ruetz, Kim Scribner, Pat Soranno, Jan Stevenson, Keven Strychar, Jen Tank, Michael Twiss, Michael Wagner, and Steve Wilhelm. Funding was provided by the Environmental Science and Policy Program, Center for Water Sciences, College of Natural Science, and AgBio Research at Michigan State University; Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University; the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the Canada Research Chair program. Workshop facilitation was provided by Jan Urban-Lurain of Spectra Data and Research, Inc. Briana Hauff, Josh Haslun, Kateri Salk, Megan Schuetz, Matthew Flood, Jeny Lai, Shayna Petit, Kyana Young, and Seth Hunt documented workshop discussions.
For a host of reasons that we articulate here the LGL have, essentially, fallen through the cracks scientifically. In contrast to the U.S. Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), which hosts 89 platforms via consistent funding of approximately $55,000,000 per year, there are no efforts of similar magnitude in the LGL (National Science Foundation Program Solicitation 17-524, oceanobservatories.org). Moreover, none of the eight research arrays funded by the OOI are located in the LGL leaving long term in situ observations of the LGL to a sparse buoy network that primarily collects only easily measured surface physical and chemical data (Great Lakes Observing System). There also are no individual research sites within the LGL such as those supported by the National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research Program or National Ecological Observatory Network or time-series stations such as the Hawaiian Ocean Time Series or Bermuda Atlantic Time Series anywhere in the LGL.