Northern Michigan in Focus: CMU Research Project in the Straits of Mackinac

It’s a program called “Assessing and Enhancing the Natural Attenuation Potential of the Great Lakes Ecosystems to Remediate Hydrocarbon Spills.”

It’s a mouthful, but it’s a very important research program being studied by Central Michigan University.

“This has been done in saltwater ecosystems before, but in these freshwater ecosystems, we’ve never done anything like this,” said Don Uzarski, CMU research technician.

Just west of the bridge in the Straits of Mackinac lies the Point St. Ignace Wetland.  It’s a 77 acre area full of wildlife and beauty. 07 22 20 Nmif Cmu Students.mov

It’s also a place where Jack Mouradian and Don Uzarski from Central Michigan University slip on their waders, walk into the mud, and study.

“Today we are collecting sediment and water samples from the wetland in the Straits of Mackinac. The purpose of this is to use the sediment and water to create microcosms, and then inoculate with crude oil, then observe what would actually happen if a potential oil spill was to occur. We will observe if that oil degraded and if it has broken down at all. Then we are going to look at how the microbial community, what changed in the process, and we’re going to look at what change will be affected and expressed from the oil,” explained Jack.

Basically what jack said was if there was an oil spill in the Straits, can the bacteria and microbes in this wetland eat the oil.

“We are looking at the capacity of the microbes are living in this wetland to degrade hydrocarbon for crude oil or other petroleum products,” said Don.

To do that they have to recreate the wetland in a lab at Central Michigan University, so samples need to be taken.

“We are using that clear PVC pipe to see what sediment looks like and the microbes it live at the site here,” explained Don.

Jack added, “And then we put it into an environmental chamber, which allows us to control the light and temperature.”

In 45 days they can start testing. One of the things they’re hoping to find is a way to help the microbes and bacteria with their appetite, should a spill happen.

“So if we learn how we can aid these microbes in breaking this stuff down, it’s all the better to be prepared,” said Don.

So far, the research is looking good.

“From that research we did last year, it is very likely that these microbes are decomposing hydrocarbons at a higher rate when we introduced this crude oil to them,” explained Don.

Jack added, “We think that this wetland would be very important in the case of a potential oil spill.  Our preliminary data shows us that this wetland does have the capability to absorb some of that oil and to start eat it and consume it.”

Categories: Northern Michigan In Focus