News and Events

Are there tsunamis in the Great Lakes?


Yes, but not from earthquakes — meteorological events can trigger rapidly moving waves.

Tsunamis have been on the news lately with another wave system hitting Japan in November 2016. The Nov. 22 tsunami hit the island country after a magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred in the ocean offshore of Japan. Have there been and could there be tsunamis in the Great Lakes? The answer is actually yes, even though the Great Lakes region is an area of low seismic activity. New research published in, November, 2016 has found that tsunamis have occurred in all five of the Great Lakes, but not one formed from earthquake activity. Rather, the tsunamis in the Great Lakes are actually caused by gathered groups of thunderstorms.

Tsunamis in the Great Lakes are technically called meteotsunamis, or tsunamis caused by meteorological conditions. A meteotsunami is defined as a rapidly moving wave that can be generated by quickly changing air pressure or high wind speeds or a combination of both. While these meteotsunami waves are not nearly as big as those generated by seismic tsunamis, NOAA reports a wave was actually measured off Chicago in 1954 at 10 feet high, and when it hit, several people were knocked off a pier and seven drowned.

Have there been any notable meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes in recent years? Yes, according to the new research, in 2014 a Lake Superior meteotsunami overtopped the Soo Locks, impacted shipping operations and caused evacuation of some homes in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. And the NOAA report documented another one in 2012 off Cleveland, Ohio, knocking people on the beach off their feet and swamping boats in harbors.

Map of meteotsunamis reported in the Great Lakes. Image from Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 37832 (2016), used with permission.

Map of meteotsunamis reported in the Great Lakes. Image from Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 37832 (2016), used with permission.

What does it take for thunderstorms to form meteotsunamis in the Great Lakes? Usually, situations which cause these tsunamis are a long line formation of thunderstorms or an organized grouping of long-lasting thunderstorms. The highest probability of occurrence of these convective events is during the late-spring to mid-summer timeframe, with April and May being the highest probability months.

Researchers used the NOAA water level gauges in the Great Lakes to analyze causes and frequency by detailed analysis of these long-term water level records. Results indicated an overall average of 106 meteotsunami events per year throughout the entire Great Lakes basin with Calumet Harbor, Ill., on Lake Michigan having the most frequent (29 per year) followed by Buffalo, New York, on Lake Erie (17 per year) and Alpena, Mich., on Lake Huron (14 per year). Of the 5 Great Lakes, Lake Michigan had the highest frequency of meteotsunamis at 51 per year, followed by Lake Erie (27/year); Huron (17/year), Superior (6/year) and Ontario (5 /year).

How are seiches in the Great Lakes related to meteotsunamis?  Time of duration is a key. Seiches result when strong winds and rapid changes in atmospheric pressure push water from one end of the lake to the other. The water rebounds to the other side of the lake when the wind stops. As a result the water then continues to oscillate back and forth for hours or possibly even days. The time period between the “high” and “low” of a seiche can be as much as four to seven hours. Contrast this with waves that are generated by meteotsunamis in a matter of minutes. It is quite possible some reported seiches have actually been meteotsunamis.

While water level changes are dealt with by coastal communities as part of their resilience planning, this research found that waves generated by meteotsunamis are not considered in planning or design along the Great Lakes coasts and the available forecast models are not sufficient for public safety efforts. It seems this research has also shown the value and  need for continued monitoring of existing Great Lakes water level gauges and possibly even additional ones in the future. Coastal communities that might be impacted need to understand what meteotsunamis are and the potential risk they pose to human safety, infrastructure and resilience.

This entry was posted in News.

2017 Ludington Regional Fishery Workshop

Event Date: 1/14/2017

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant invite you to attend the 2017 Ludington Regional Fishery Workshop. The workshop will include presentations on Lake Michigan’s plankton problems, tribal fishing, salmon and trout tagging program and more. Presentations by MSU’s Quantitative Fisheries Center will include “Lake Michigan Fisheries Models: Where are we going, where have we been,” and “Should we treat Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as one lake?” An interactive computer modeling exercise will help the audience see how computer simulation works and provide feedback. See the full workshop agenda.

The workshop is $30 and includes lunch.

To register by phone, contact Cara at (231) 843-5825 or via email at
Payment can be made the day of the event, reservations are required. Deadline to register is Dec. 23, 2016.

Date: January 14, 2017
Time: 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
Location: West Shore Community College, Administration and Conference Building, 3000 North Stiles Road, Scottville, MI 49454
Contact: Cara at (231) 843-5825 or via email at

Putting back the (Little) Rapids: River restoration in the Saint Marys Area of Concern

Improving water flow, fish spawning habitat likely to improve river’s health.

Fishing using traditional methods in the Saint Mary’s River Rapids circa 1902. Photo: Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fishing using traditional methods in the Saint Mary’s River Rapids circa 1902. Photo: Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Saint Marys River today in the bi-national cities of Sault Ste. Marie, and you will experience a vibrant area based largely around the locks structures that allow large ships to pass between Canada and the United States on lakes Superior and Huron. These impressive structures support both an important commercial shipping industry as well as a thriving tourism industry. However, travel back in time prior to the 1600s and the Saint Marys River looked vastly different. Pounding rapids, coastal wetlands, and rustic islands created wildlife habitat for a large variety of species. In particular, the rapids of the Saint Marys provided spawning habitat for native fish species including lake whitefish and lake sturgeon. This thriving fishery was used as tribal fishing grounds for thousands of years by Native Americans and later attracted fur traders and European settlers to the of little rapids area

Since the industrial development of Sault Ste. Marie, portions of the river closest to the city have seen large amounts of habitat degradation. While impressive wetlands and riparian habitat still exist downstream of the cities, the area of the river nearest to them has had severe habitat degradation along with contamination from nearby industry, which have resulted in it receiving an international designation as an Area of Concern. Areas of Concern (AOCs) are designated by the bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as areas where “… impairment of beneficial uses has occurred as a result of human activities.” AOCs designated through this agreement now receive special attention through state, provincial, tribal and federal governments and funding through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The goal of this funding is to remove contaminants and restore habitat so the areas can be “delisted” and can once again be enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.

Throughout the last 30 years, a number of activities have improved the habitat and water quality within the Saint Marys AOC, and around 3 years ago a collaborative effort began to restore a section of the rapids. The bi-national public advisory committee, which provides input on the cleanup and delisting process for the AOC, partnered with many local agencies to initiate an effort to restore fast flowing rapids to a section of the river near Sugar Island known as the “Little Rapids.” More than a half-century ago, a road and berm were created near the island’s ferry dock that had only two small culverts, restricting flow to a slow trickle. These culverts were beginning to deteriorate and the committee saw an opportunity to replace the aging structure with a bridge and reconnect the natural fast flow that once existed. Given that only 10 percent of the original rapids remain within this stretch of the Saint Marys River, restoring them could have a large, positive impact.

Over the last two years, funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative were used to plan the design and construction, perform scientific studies to assure the process would result in a positive outcome, and over the course of summer 2016 the construction was completed. Many agencies such as the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning and Development Commission and Lake Superior State University (LSSU) Aquatic Research Lab assisted with public outreach and scientific studies to ensure the success of the project.

On a recent visit to the site, Dr. Ashley Moerke of LSSU commented on how impressive it was that the riverbed was already returning to its original state. Where silt and sand once existed, there is now lush cobble and gravel riverbeds scoured clean by the fast moving water. Moerke notes that in areas of the river that retain fast flowing rapids the macroinvertebrate life is far more diverse and rich than in degraded areas such as the Little Rapids site prior to restoration. By restoring the rapids, not only will spawning habitat be created for native fish, but increased macroinvertebrate populations could create higher quality food sources for a variety of fish species. Wading and small craft fishing opportunities for species such as walleye, whitefish, trout and salmon are likely a reality thanks to the Little Rapids restoration project. Prior to this project there were no accessible rapids for fishing on the U.S. side of the Saint Marys.

The Little Rapids restoration project is a great example of how multiple organizations can partner together to improve habitat for humans and wildlife alike within the Great Lakes region. The restoration of these rapids has the potential to improve fish populations, fishing opportunities, and ultimately contribute towards the delisting of the Saint Mary’s River as an international AOC.

Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

Water temperature, wind direction and a chilly blast from Canada might push the snowfall totals.

Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

As noted in Part 1 of this series, the fall 2016 water temperatures of the Great Lakes are significantly warmer than average and there is no ice that has even come close to forming as of late November, 2016. Meteorologist Mark Torregrossa’s research using two Lake Michigan NOAA buoys shows average surface water temperatures set a record high in Lake Michigan (consistent data has been collected from 1979 onward). This is due to a warm winter 2015-16 and a hot summer 2016. This is a stark contrast to three years ago when ice started forming in shallow protected areas of the Great Lakes by Thanksgiving, Nov.28, 2013. What are some of the implications this might portend?

It is possible that very heavy lake effect snows could come from having such warm Great Lakes water. But it may not be that simple. Let’s start with a discussion of what lake effect snow actually is. Lake effect snow is created when a large temperature gradient exists between the surface of the Great Lakes and the temperature at 5000 feet above the ground. If the winds and temperatures are right, the air acts like a big sponge that sops up water from the lake and wrings it out on land in the form of snow. The direction of the wind is important—if the wind is blowing in a direction that covers more of the lake, the air will take in more water. The greater the temperature difference the more water the air will take in.

Animated map showing temperatures of the Great Lakes 2014 vs. 2016 courtesy of NOAA. There clearly is the warmth in the water. Perhaps a bigger question is will the cold air masses come in from Canada and for what duration to cause large lake effect? It seems a key to lake effect and annual snowfall amounts is likely related to the overall weather pattern which may have helped create the warm waters. In Traverse City where I reside, a new record high temperature was just reported by NOAA’s National Weather Service at 12:20 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 18, where the temperature was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also the latest in the year that the temperature has been this warm since recordkeeping started in Traverse City in 1896.

We are also just getting started in a weak La Niña winter, contrasting with the strong El Niño winter of 2015-16. This may indicate a bit warmer than normal conditions from December to February. If this is the case, the winter may not be extremely wet or dry.

I have my snowblower ready for the lake effect snows that come to my region of Michigan. I’m sure we’ll have some good lake effect snows but I didn’t have to use the snowblower at all during November 2016. Time will tell how much Great Lakes water comes via lake effect this winter as well as the total amount of ice-cover for the season. I enjoy all four seasons so I look forward to enjoying the snow—and hopefully some ice fishing (probably on inland lakes).

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab has just announced that the water temperatures for all the Great Lakes are the warmest they have been since at least 2010 for the late November time frame. Data has been compiled from satellites and made into an animation (shown above) showing 2014/2016. Here is the full NOAA press release posted Nov. 28, 2016:

According to data from NOAA Coastwatch’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the temperatures of the Great Lakes are the warmest they’ve been since at least 2010 for this late in the month of November. Created with data from several satellites, this animation compares Great Lakes surface temperatures in 2014 with 2016. As you can see, the surface temperatures in November 2016 are several degrees warmer than those of this time two years ago.

As weather watchers—and residents of the Great Lakes region—know, the combination of warm lake waters and cold winter winds blowing across them is a perfect combination for lake effect snow, which NOAA defines as “snow showers that are created when cold, dry air passes over a large warmer lake, such as one of the Great Lakes, and picks up moisture and heat.”

The last time that the Great Lakes were this warm was November 2010. That year, the lake surfaces remained mostly ice-free for the entire winter. Of course, just how much snow particular areas of the Great Lakes region will receive depends on which direction the winds blow. To see annual comparisons of various factors pertaining to the Great Lakes, visit the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory’s website. To see graphs depicting the average surface water temperatures of the Great Lakes for the past 5 years, click here. More information on satellite-derived measurements of sea (and lake) surface temperature is available here.”

To keep up with snowfall amounts:

The Gaylord National Weather Service keeps a snowfall year to date graph with seasonal averages and departures available. All observation stations in this large geographic area are well below normal at this time except the Houghton Lake station.

To keep up with Great Lakes ice cover:

Read this two-part series:

Part 1: How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter?

Part 2: Could warm Great Lakes bring significant lake effect snow to Michigan?

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter?

Last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92% of the Lakes were frozen over.

This graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s. Image: GLERL

This graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s. Image: GLERL

As noted earlier this summer, the 2016 water temperatures of the Great Lakes were significantly warmer than average. Data compiled from NOAA’s Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System allows an easy comparison by date for the past 2 years and it is interesting to view now that we’re at the beginning of the winter season. For instance, on November 22, 2016, the average Lake Michigan whole volume temperature was 50.9 degrees Fahrenheit while the same date in 2015 it was 47.8 and in 2014 it was 45.5.

Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. The graph shows maximum cover from 1973-2016 as recorded at NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab where they have been monitoring ice cover since the early 1970s.

So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28)  ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover.  Images from the GLERL Digital Ice database show the ice cover on those dates.November 2013 ice cover

Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As you can see there is a lot of annual variation and there is still much about ice in the Great Lakes we don’t understand.`

An interesting recent scientific publication by Titze & Austin (Journal of Great Lakes Research, Vol. 42, Issue 5, Oct. 2016) discusses some observations during the strong ice winter of 2013-14 on Lake Superior. So much of the knowledge of ice cover is based from remotely sensed data; this research adds actual observations of ice cover from three sub-surface moorings on the lakebed of Lake Superior. The sensors could observe the ice above all winter long. One finding that was noted is even during a record-high ice cover on Lake Superior of 2013-2014 the majority of the ice in open water areas of the lake was free-drifting and moving.

As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

What are some possible implications of water temperature, ice and other factors in the Great Lakes during this winter of 2016/2017? Read Part 2 of this article to find out.

December 2013 ice cover

Building Resilient Communities with Green Infrastructure One Code at a Time

Event Date: 11/29/2016

Presenter: Julia Noordyk, NOAA Coastal Storms Program Great Lakes Outreach Coordinator, Wisconsin Sea Grant
Date/time: November 29th, 2-3 pm Eastern
Register here:

Green infrastructure is a proven and effective means to reduce stormwater pollution and volume, but there remain critical barriers to its implementation. Outdated local regulations can have a broad impact on the implementation of green infrastructure and often will directly or indirectly discourage or prohibit its use. Since 2012, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin has worked with 28 municipalities in southeastern Wisconsin to audit, revise and prioritize codes and ordinances that deter and prohibit the more widespread use of green infrastructure.

To help replicate this approach in other communities in the Great Lakes, Wisconsin Sea Grant, with support from the NOAA Coastal Storms Program, developed the Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: An Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances guidebook. The Audit will assist local zoning, land use and stormwater staff, planners and consultants in reviewing codes and ordinances to promote and advance green infrastructure practices in their own communities. During this webinar you will learn about why codes and ordinances are a major barrier to green infrastructure, common code challenges and the positive impact code changes can have on stormwater runoff volume and pollution. You will also be introduced to the Audit which includes a community-oriented engagement approach and provides a detailed codes and ordinances auditing tool. This webinar will be recorded.

Julia Noordyk
NOAA Great Lakes Coastal Storms Program Outreach Coordinator
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
2420 Nicolet Dr. MAC 212
Green Bay, WI 54311
(920) 465-2795 (office)
(920) 664-4054 (cp)
Twitter: @NoordCoast

Visit us at

Detroit museum highlights importance of maritime history in Michigan

Among collections are biographies of more than 20,000 ships that have sailed on Great Lakes.

An anchor from the Edmund Fitzgerald sits on the museum lawn.

An anchor from the Edmund Fitzgerald sits on the museum lawn. Photo: Steve Stewart | Michigan Sea Grant

This is the first in a series of articles focusing on Great Lakes maritime heritage. Maritime heritage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “preserves and protects valuable historical, cultural, and archaeological resources within our coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments.”  The National Park Service has an active Maritime Heritage Program that “works to advance awareness and understanding of the role of maritime affairs in the history of the United States.” As the Great Lakes State, Michigan is richly blessed with maritime heritage resources, and this series will explore many of them.

In 1949, the J. T. Wing, a Great Lakes lumber schooner at the end of its sailing life – and the last commercial sailing ship on the Great Lake – was donated to the City of Detroit Historical Commission for use as a museum ship. The Wing was landlocked on Belle Isle and became a popular attraction.

When the Wing was declared unsafe for visitors in 1956, the Dossin family provided a gift that resulted in construction of the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on the same site. The museum officially opened on July 24, 1960.

The Dossin was an instant hit, attracting over 100,000 visitors in its first 5 months. In addition to a gallery of model ships and a submarine periscope, the museum installed the Gold Cup hydroplane race boat Miss Pepsi, the incredible Gothic Room from the overnight passenger steamer City of Detroit III, and the Deroy Lecture Hall. A group of supporters formed the Great Lakes Maritime Institute and began publishing Telescope magazine as well as sponsoring activities and educational events at the museum.

In 1975, the dramatic sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior focused worldwide attention on the Great Lakes. A major part of the story involved the steamer William Clay Ford which headed out into the storm in an attempt to find the doomed Fitzgerald.

When the Ford was decommissioned in the 1990s, the Dossin acquired the pilot house of the ship and attached it to the river-facing side of the museum. Today it is possible to stand in the pilot house, turn the ship’s wheel and experience what it’s like to be on a Great Lakes freighter.The Dossin museum building seen from outside.

In 2006, the Dossin museum came under the auspices of the Detroit Historical Society and a new era commenced. The museum’s vast collection includes biographical information on more than 20,000 ships that have sailed the lakes, 100,000 photographs and videos, thousands of shipbuilders’ blueprints and hundreds of maritime paintings and artifacts encompassing more than 300 years of Great Lakes history. The maritime holdings gathered at the Dossin are recognized worldwide for their value to researchers.

Events that the Dossin hosts in co-sponsorship with the Great Lakes Maritime Institute include the annual Lost Mariners Remembrance in November, the Fair Winds Fall Dinner, the Holiday Marine Mart and the Dossin Invitation high school rowing regatta in the spring.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum is, thanks to the success of the Detroit Historical Society’s Fast Forward fundraising campaign, open Wednesdays through Sundays and admission is free.

Another way to learn about our maritime heritage resources is by coming aboard for some of the Summer Discovery Cruises offered on both Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie each year. Sponsored by Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant, and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks, Summer Discovery Cruises are a fun way to learn about our many historical, cultural, and natural Great Lakes resources.

Recreational Boating Educational Conference (RBEC)

Event Date: 12/7/2016
End Date: 12/8/2016

Where Michigan’s Marine Industry Comes Together

Education. Networking. Fun.

December 7–8, 2016

The Recreational Boating Educational Conference is produced annually by the Michigan Boating Industries Association, bringing in nationally renowned speakers with expertise and information specific to the educational needs of the marine industry. It’s an opportunity for marine business people to come together for education, networking and fun – a great way to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Don’t miss the most important conference to add to your calendar this year!


Radisson Hotel at the Capitol
111 N. Grand Avenue
Lansing, MI 48933

Room Rate: $112.95/night

Radisson Reservations: (800) 333-3333
Hotel Direct: (517) 482-0188

Great Lakes freighters – and crews – get ready for ‘winter layup’

After another successful year, our Great Lakes Education schoolships join in this annual rite.

Each year, Great Lakes freighters lay up in harbors until winter passes and it's safe to venture out on the lakes. Our education schoolships also lay up over the winter.

Each year, Great Lakes freighters lay up in harbors until winter passes and it’s safe to venture out on the lakes. Our education schoolships also lay up over the winter. Photo: Lynn Vaccaro

Last winter, the first Great Lakes freighters to lay up were the Roger Blough, American Spirit, and Indiana Harbor, all of which were docked on Nov. 3. They were laid up until late March, when it became safe once again to sail the lakes.

Winter layup for the Great Lakes Education Program began this year on Oct. 28 when 28 fourth grade students from Parsons Elementary in Gibraltar, Mich., along with their chaperones and teacher, disembarked from the Education Vessel Clinton. They were the final participants of the 2016 program year (our 26th), adding their names to those from 117 other classes fortunate enough to experience the wonders of our rivers and lakes this year.

Since its start in 1991, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Sea Grant, and the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have collaborated to bring the Great Lakes Education Program (GLEP) to nearly 110,000 students, teachers, and chaperones. The GLEP experience has allowed them to marvel at life forms as small as plankton and as large as sturgeon, measure Great Lakes water clarity, analyze levels of dissolved oxygen and pH, learn about Great Lakes geography and hydrology using navigation charts, sample the bottom using a dredge, and tie common sailing knots such as the bowline. Much more than just a field trip, GLEP education combines classroom lessons with a hands-on, vessel-based learning experience that combine to develop Great Lakes literacy and stewardship among participants.

To that number of students and teachers cruising the Great Lakes, we add 1,000+ participants in this year’s Summer Discovery Cruises (SDC) on lakes Erie and St. Clair through MSU Extension’s partnership with the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. Since its initiation in 2002, Summer Discovery Cruises have provided more than 17,000 people with opportunities to learn through a variety of special themed programs.

As the Clinton and her fleet mate Clinton Friendship arrive at the layup dock in Mt. Clemens for fresh coats of paint and a winter tune-up, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the dozens of teachers, volunteers, staff, and partners who have sailed the lakes with us to make both the Great Lakes Education Program and Summer Discovery Cruises a success.

These individuals, coupled with good planning, implementation, ongoing evaluation, and a dash of good fortune, have provided the recipe for creating and maintaining what has become a flagship program for MSU Extension. While the Clinton rests at her layup dock, MSU Extension staff will work through the winter to ensure the tradition of excellence in experiential learning that is the hallmark of the GLEP and SDC programs will continue into the 2017 season.

Ottawa County Water Quality Forum 2016

Event Date: 11/21/2016

November 21, 2016

Opening session with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
Agenda includes:
  • Public Water Supply Safety
  • Water Resources Study Update
  • Project Clarity update
  • Bass River Watershed Update
  • Pipeline Emergency Preparedness
Two workshops follow the 9 a.m.-3:50 forum:
  • Rainwater Rewards Stormwater Calculator
  • Great Lakes Clean Communities Network
For complete agenda and to register for the forum and workshops, see: