GVSU Water Resources Institute receives funding for research

Endowment to finance study of microplastics in Great Lakes

By Drew Schertzer | 9/10/17 9:10pm

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GVL / Courtesy - GVNow Allen I. and Helen J. Hunting

The Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) has been given funding for high-risk, high-payoff research for this year. The funding was provided by Allen and Helen Hunting.

This endowment will pave the way for critical research that could help preserve the Great Lakes or the Grand River, said Alan Steinman, director for the AWRI.

“The reason why we want to protect and preserve the Great Lakes is because they are an iconic part of Michigan’s identity,” Steinman said. “They are a spirit for us and an economic engine.” 

Steinman believes there are two main factors affecting bodies of water in Michigan: global warming and microplastics, or pieces of plastic the size of sesame seeds. 

Global warming makes the atmosphere warmer, which in turn allows it to hold more water, Steinman said. This leads to more rain and storms. Following this, the storm water runoff can be too much for facilities to handle. This creates more discharge from facilities and in turn more pollutants and sewage in water sources, according to Steinman. 

“In my opinion, global climate change is a significant threat to sustaining and preserving the unique and sensitive ecosystems of the Great Lakes,” said Kurt Thompson, research associate for the AWRI. 

Thompson and his team agree that global warming is playing a part in changing the Great Lakes. They know that global climate change is a negative factor, but they will be considering the role of microplastics as well. 

In accordance with his thoughts on global warming, Steinman believes microplastics may play a negative role in affecting the Great Lakes, as they are very commonly found in lakes and oceans. Steinman said these plastics have a good chance of affecting the ecosystems of large bodies of water, although he is not sure. The AWRI will begin its research very shortly to find out if microplastics play a role in the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. 

The endowment fund supplied by Allen and Helen Hunting will be crucial in new discoveries of information, Steinman said. According to him, research on the national and state-wide level is very competitive. 

This is the reason why Steinman thinks philanthropy is so important. Since it is easier to back researchers who are conducting low-risk research, funds have been harder to come by for the AWRI. 

Steinman said they want to conduct riskier microplastics and climate change studies and that what the Huntings have done makes him grateful beyond words. He said funding is critical for being able to research new areas. 

Steinman and Thompson are both huge believers in keeping the Great Lakes alive. Steinman said the Great Lakes are used for our economy as an icon and for navigation. Thompson presented his opinion, saying the Great Lakes are historic and vital natural wonders. 

Steinman said they want to stimulate businesses and energy manufacturing from the Great Lakes.

“Water resources are a part of Michigan’s identity, and it is crucial that we save them," he said.

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