High Lake Adventure: MTU research vessel Agassiz launches into Ride the Waves season

Kali Katerberg/ Daily Mining Gazette Students from South Range Elementary School react as they stir squishy sediment from the bottom of Portage Lake to reveal key organisms like midge fly larvae, known as bloodworms.

HOUGHTON — “You guys are going to be working today,” Agassiz captain Stephen Roblee informed a group of excited South Range fourth-graders.

No one seemed to mind.

There was an air of excitement and a little shivering as Jessica Schuett’s class analyzed the health of the Portage Lake. The examination involved charts, scientific tools and words like phytoplankton.

Tuesday was a day of scientific exploration for these students, who are among the first to participate in Michigan Technological University’s annual Ride the Waves summer programming.

Students collected samples of lake bottom sediment and some of that phytoplankton, which smelled “gross” and “fishy,” according to some students.

Kali Katerberg/ Daily Mining Gazette Teaching with a map of the Portage Waterway, Joan Chadde illustrates how boats navigate through Portage Lake during a Ride the Waves session aboard Michigan Tech’s research vesssel, the Agassiz.

Handling the lake sediment was a favorite for some.

“I love playing in the mud,” exclaimed Jean.

It wasn’t regular mud either she explained.

“It was like pudding with Jello inside it.”

For Jean the trip has sparked an interest in lake research, particularly if it involved mud.

“I was gonna do forestry, but now I want to do this stuff here, and forestry because it’s both my favorite things all put into the same job,” she said.

Based on their findings and the number of healthy organisms the student scientists gave the Portage Lake a clean bill of health.

When not on the water the students focused on lab learning, including examining plankton, bloodworms and demonstrating how a fish might use their swim bladders to impact buoyancy.

MTU students Sara Gustafson, Maya Geiselhart and Ryan Kibler led the lessons and will do so for the summer. All three had experience with similar testing and programs in other areas though MTU has a little extra to offer, they said.

“I feel like this one is a little more in depth,” said Geiselhart.

With a lab portion and more time spent out on the boat the Ride the Waves program is a cut above she said.

“I think it’s a very unique opportunity to get hands-on experience,” Gustafson said.

For students the most pressing questions were around the possibility of and projects at the Great Lakes Research Center involving creating dinosaurs and fish dinosaurs, the MTU students said.

Hopefully, they weren’t too disappointed.

While the fourth-grade class participated in the aquatic food web investigation, there are other options for grades from 4-12 this summer, including excursions during Chassell’s Strawberry Fest, said Joan Chadde, director of the Michigan Technological University center for science and environmental outreach.

Other programs include Mine Waste Remediation and Torch Lake Restoration, Navigation Exploration and Jacobsville Geoheritage. Perhaps fish-dinosaur modification will be among them next year.

Registration is available online at blogs.mtu.edu.

Chadde recommended planning trips in groups, even if attendees form them on their own.

The Ride the Waves outreach program is funded through the Great Lakes Research Center and a grant from General Motors Corporation.