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NCCOS Research Project

Lakebed Mapping and Assessing Ecological Resources off Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan Coast

Primary Contact(s): charles.menza@noaa.gov
This project began in April 2016 and is projected to be completed in April 2019

Bathymetric model of clay outcrops on the lakebed off Wisconsin in Lake Michigan. Model by NOAA Biogeography Branch.

We are working with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and local partners to map and assess important lake resources in Lake Michigan offshore of Wisconsin.

Why We Care
The area where we are working was proposed by the state of Wisconsin in 2014 as a national marine sanctuary with the goal of conserving a nationally significant collection of shipwrecks and other underwater cultural resources. These cultural resources are part of a broader interconnected lake ecosystem. This project collects and assesses key ecological information to map how lake resources are interconnected, and supports monitoring, protection and management of ecological and cultural resources.

This project began with the goal of supporting the proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary, though work on the sanctuary stopped in 2018. However, having begun while the designation process was active and because of commitments to our partners, NCCOS followed through with plans to deliver new lakebed maps and assess ecological resources. The maps and assessments will benefit a variety of planners and policy makers (e.g., Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) notwithstanding sanctuary designation.

What We Are Doing

A bathymetric model of the Hetty Taylor shipwreck, sunk off Wisconsin in Lake Michigan. Model by NOAA Biogeography Branch.

  • We collected new sidescan and multibeam mapping data off Manitowoc and Sheboygan, Wisconsin. These data were interpreted to map important
    lakebed habitats, substrates, invasive mussels and nuisance algae. These data are also being used to update nautical charts, and improve our understanding of lake habitats and underwater cultural resources.
  • We gathered lakebed mapping priorities from researchers and managers spanning a diversity of fields to prioritize future mapping and promote collaboration.
  • We compiled and interpreted existing information on water quality, invasive mussels, fish, and lake ice within the boundaries of the proposed sanctuary to support lake resource conservation.
  • We partnered with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Sea Grant, the University of Wisconsin and other local partners to build on previous research, leverage lake mapping resources, and discover the region’s data gaps and management needs.
  • We are developing online tools and archiving data for policy makers, managers and researchers to explore and use new lakebed maps and other data.



Benefits/Impact of Our Work
Data generated from this study will be the first of its kind in Lake Michigan offshore of Wisconsin. It highlights the unique natural setting found in the underwater environment out of reach to many people. Our maps and data will help coastal managers make more informed decisions, and support future research on invasive mussels, nuisance algae, fish habitats and additional lakebed mapping.

Next Steps
There are no plans to continue this study after April 2019. The lessons learned from this study will benefit other mapping efforts in the Great Lakes.

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