Since invading the Great Lakes, filter-feeding zebra and quagga mussels have brought increased water clarity to lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario. This has boosted the growth of bottom-dwelling filamentous algae like Cladophora, which washes ashore in stringy green mats to foul beaches and harbor harmful bacteria. The invading mussels also recycle phosphorus — a nutrient that feeds algal growth — through their feces. Pengfei Xue, an assistant professor in the Michigan Technological University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will lead a team building computer models to simulate how wave and current patterns influence the distribution of mussel-boosted phosphorus levels. They will investigate how that cycle affects Cladophora growth near Sleeping Bear Dunes and Grand Traverse Bay.
University Professor Mike Drewyor said his senior capstone project class of 16 is wrapping up a semester of work examining how to build an underground tunnel beneath the straits. They’ll present their findings in May on what they hope could be a way to protect the Great Lakes from environmental disaster.
Chad Brown, a civil engineering major on the class’s geological investigation team, said he thinks there’s a good potential the tunnel could come to fruition.
“I think that there’s so many concerns, environmental concerns for the public that they would actually like this to happen,” he said. “In terms of it being economical, it could have some complications there, but in terms of preserving the beauty of the Mackinac Straits, I think it’s a very good solution.”