2024 Vermont Water Center Research Projects Focus on Challenges Facing Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi

By Maeve Potteiger, Science Communications Intern
September 20, 2023

The 2024 Vermont Water Center research projects hit the ground running this September. Two faculty research projects and three graduate student research projects will explore topics ranging from cyanobacteria to opportunities for phosphorus removal in inland lakes to winter microbial dynamics in Lake Champlain. The Vermont Water Center is funded by the United States Geological Survey. Each year, it funds new research on critical water resource issues in the state.

Consequences of warming winters on nutrient export to Lake Champlain. 

Associate Professor Carol Adair, University of Vermont

Winters are changing across the US and in Lake Champlain. The cold and snow that historically limited winter runoff and nutrient loss are increasingly interrupted by runoff-producing snowmelt, rain, and rain-on-snow events with potentially large consequences for watershed nutrient loss. This project will use year-round data to quantify winter nutrient loading to Lake Champlain and determine how warming winters impact watershed nutrient export, sources, and flowpaths. Researchers will examine data from two Vermont watersheds to determine the unique characteristics of winter nutrient transport and what this means for management.

Lake Champlain interannual winter microbial dynamics. 

Assistant Professor Erin Eggleston, Middlebury College

Lake Champlain experiences increasingly warm and ice-free winter conditions, but under-ice and winter microbial dynamics studies are substantially limited. Changing ice coverage is predicted to impact the timing and severity of spring and summer phytoplankton bloom events. Last year, the Vermont Water Center-funded Eggleston to explore winter microbial dynamics in Lake Champlain This project was the first to characterize winter microbial communities at three sites on Lake Champlain by collecting water and nutrient samples at four discrete times. This ongoing study, now funded by both the Vermont Water Center and Lake Champlain Sea Grant, will analyze biological and chemical data in water samples to identify specific variables that help predict spring and summer bloom dynamics.

Influence of artificial aeration on nitrogen fixation and nutrient limitation of phytoplankton in Lake Carmi, VT. 

Assistant Professor Mindy Morales and Graduate Student Maria Alfaro, University of Vermont

Total phosphorus (P) in Vermont lakes has increased significantly over the past 40 years, and cyanobacteria blooms are intensifying or newly emerging across different lake communities. Substantial efforts to control P are underway, but the role of nitrogen (N) in these systems is less understood. As P inputs slow, the role of N in lake systems will become more important. Scientists deployed an aeration system in Lake Carmi in 2019 to mitigate cyanobacteria blooms. The aeration system did not reduce cyanobacteria blooms and caused changes in the lake ecosystem. This project will run small experiments with different limiting nutrients in order to increase our understanding of N cycling in eutrophic Lake Carmi and inform future management efforts aimed at mitigating cyanobacteria blooms. 

Identifying the environmental drivers of toxic vs. non-toxic cyanobacteria strain abundance in two eutrophic bays of Lake Champlain. 

Assistant Professor Mindy Morales and Graduate Student Katelynn Warner, University of Vermont

Cyanobacteria blooms in Vermont lakes are a health danger for people and animals, but not all cyanobacteria blooms are dangerous. The ecological role of cyanotoxins in cyanobacteria blooms continues to remain elusive because not all cyanobacteria species produce toxins, abilities to produce toxins vary between strains, and toxic and non-toxic strains of cyanobacteria share the same form and structure. Through data analysis and sampling in the northeastern arm of Lake Champlain, this project will identify which cyanobacteria species can produce cyanotoxins.

Assessing mechanisms of phosphorous removal at a Champlain Basin wastewater treatment plant. 

Assistant Professor Matthew Scarborough and Graduate Student Amelia McClure, University of Vermont

Wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) remove nutrients and other pollutants from wastewater before discharging the water into waterbodies. This project seeks to understand phosphorous (P)-removal mechanisms at the Burlington, Vermont WWTF to inform future treatment strategies. To assess P removal mechanisms, samples of wastewater before, during, and after physical, chemical, and biological treatments will be collected weekly for one year. Insights into specific P-removal mechanisms at the plant will inform future optimization strategies at WWTFs in Burlington and throughout Vermont and the US.

These one-year projects will finish August 31, 2024. Keep up with these research projects and learn about upcoming funding opportunities and deadlines for the Vermont Water Center on their website or sign up for their mailing list. For specific inquiries, mail VT.Water.Center [at] uvm.edu.

The Vermont Water Center works synergistically with Lake Champlain Sea Grant to support their common water and ecosystem goals.