Carlton High School Students Conduct Research at Thomson Reservoir

Location: Lake Superior Reserve

Since this winter, students in Tracy Bockbrader’s advanced chemistry class have been studying the muck at the bottom of the Thomson Reservoir with the assistance of biologists and researchers. During two days in May, students put their learning into practice sampling fish from the reservoir alongside fisheries biologist Josh Dumke from the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute. The fish will be analyzed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl s, or PCBs, in their tissue, two contaminants that are historically known to be present in the reservoir.

Setting nets in the Reservoir
Setting nets in the Reservoir

Dumke worked with the students over several class periods to prepare them for participation in the research project. Both students and teachers, including Mike Land’s 7th-grade environmental science class, were involved in the permitting process to sample fish, and participated in sampling with hook and line, as well as nets set overnight. Most of the fish sampled were bass, as well as a few northern pike.

The advanced chemistry students also analyzed historical data collected from the sediment at the bottom of the reservoir for those same chemicals and collected water quality information. They made recommendations for what should be done about past contamination in the St. Louis River Area of Concern, which includes the reservoir and the estuary closer to Lake Superior. They met with researchers from the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve in Superior, Wisconsin, and from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to better understand how scientists and policy makers know if a waterway is polluted and what can be done about it.

Students help Dumke set up his scales to weigh fish.
Students help Dumke set up his scales to weigh fish.

Tracy Bockbrader and Mike Land are enrolled in the Rivers2Lake Education Program at the Lake Superior Reserve, which helps teachers integrate the Lake Superior watershed into their curriculum using outdoor education and place-based learning. They will complete the yearlong program in June.

The Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, a research and education program based at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and jointly operated by the University of Wisconsin-Extension and NOAA, encompasses over 16,000 acres along the St. Louis River estuary.