A Deep Dive into Lake Mendota

Latest update June 5, 2018 Started on April 11, 2018

Two stellar teachers from Wisconsin and Minnesota will bring along four star students each to take a ride with researcher Jake Walsh and maritime archeologist Tori Keifer to explore the depths and beautiful Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin. They will do water quality testing with Walsh and will explore the "habitat" with Keifer.

UW-Madison is known as the birthplace of limnology in North America. Edward Birge and Chancey Juday were the pioneers of the field and Lake Mendota is considered the most studied lake in the world.

April 11, 2018
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In The Field

Notes From the Field

Adrianna VanDerGeest: In summer we usually only think of getting a tan and swimming with friends, but the reality is that warmer weather can have a negative impact on some species. As the water gets warmer, less and less oxygen gets to the bottom of a lake and some of the fish that like cooler water have a difficult time.

Sam Johns: Today we were part of the Beta-test group for the Trident ROV (remotely operated vehicle). While the Trident was fun and easy to drive, we did discover some glitches with it: the Trident floated up towards the surface even though it was supposed to have neutral buoyancy, which means it should float where you stop it. Because of this, we had to put the salt water weights on it even though we were in a freshwater lake. When we finally figured out which weights to attach, we deployed the ROV but struggled to find the Habitat because of poor visibility. Eventually, we deployed it in a shallower part of the water where we saw different plants, fish and an invasive species called zebra mussels.

Liz Schmidt: The last time we saw Tori, a marine archaeologist who usually drives to study shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, was in the middle of winter. It was nice seeing her again to learn more from her experience with underwater research and ROVs. Tori selected the place to deploy the Trident and shared information about the Habitat. Unfortunately, we had difficulty finding the Habitat because of wind, waves and visibility problems.

Olivia Troyer: Lake Mendota is a beautiful and popular body of water located in Madison, WI. Not only does the beauty of the lake draw the attention of those who live near it, the lake’s amazing water quality history draws the attention of people who want to learn more about the lake. Mendota is a Eutrophic lake, meaning that when more nutrients enter the lake, more algae grows and dies. When the algae dies it sinks and causes sediment to build up on the bottom of the lake. Because Madison and other towns surrounding the lake are very agricultural, pesticides and fertilizers flow into the lake and speed up this process.Of course Eutrophication takes many decades, but we can still help the lake by reducing the amount of chemicals that farmers use on their fields. Another interesting fact about the lake is that the deeper you go, the colder it gets because of a lack of sunlight. Although cold water can hold more oxygen, the oxygen levels also decrease because there is less sunlight due to algae that has died at the top (using the sunlight) and drops to the bottom of the lake to decompose.

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Sheridan from Rochester asked what our favorite cookies are. I said chocolate chip. Anyone else want to weigh in?


Hi everyone. My name is Tori Kiefer and I am a maritime archaeologist for the Wisconsin Historical Society. I am super excited to meet all of you and talk with you about what I do and the relationship between humans and the waterways near them. Let's see what kind of cool things people have left on the bottom of the Lake Mendota.


Hi Tori! Welcome. Are you looking for anything in particular on this trip, or just more of a survey?

9 Days and Counting!

Hello! My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI. I am honored to have the opportunity to travel to Madison to work with my students and colleague, Jackie Bizer, as part of the Lake Mendota expedition. Over the past twenty-five years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) research vessels on Lake Superior, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad. The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is. Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom.

At PRMS we strive to provide our students with a rigorous curriculum through the exploration of local phenomena and the appreciation of the world around us. Therefore, the Lake Mendota expedition aligns perfectly to our curricular goals.

After reviewing many quality applications, we are excited to have the following students who were selected to explore Lake Mendota introduce themselves:

Olivia Troyer:

Hello, my name is Olivia Troyer, and I am a seventh grade student at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, WI. Some of my favorite summertime hobbies are boating and swimming, because not only are they fun, but I get to be close to the water and aquatic organisms. I am a 13 year old, and I am very grateful that I was selected to take part on this amazing opportunity. I think this trip is a great experience, and a great way to learn more about the interesting, Trident ROV, and see what’s going on beneath the surface of Lake Mendota.

Sam Johns:

My name is Sam Johns and I am an 8th grader at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, Wisconsin. I live on the Wisconsin river. I am a Boy Scout in Troop 599 in Merrill, and I volunteer in my community by making wooden pens for the veterans going on the Never Forgotten Honor Flight. My favorite activity to do outside of school is to go camping. I am interested on going to Lake Mendota because I love science and exploring new things, and I love history so I want to learn more about what’s on the bottom of Lake Mendota.

Elizabeth Schmidt:

I am Elizabeth Schmidt, a eighth grader at Prairie River Middle School. I am involved in many school activities including track, cross country, and basketball. In school I work hard on assignments creating high quality projects made to the best of my ability. I enjoy being outdoors with my dogs, and being productive. When I heard of the opportunity to study fish habitats, and a underwater car wreck at Lake Mendota I was interested. It is a great opportunity to expand my knowledge, problem solve, and contribute to a team and the world of science.

Adrianna VanDerGeest:

Hi name is Adrianna VanDerGeest. I attend the school Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, WI. I am 12 years old and I think that this trip is really fascinating because I am really interested in learning more about the Trident ROV and seeing all of the different sites that are beneath the water. I am honored to have been selected for the trip of a lifetime. In the summer one of our favorite family things to do is to get close to the water through fishing, swimming, and boating. Just like this trip fishing, swimming, and boating brings me closer to the water.
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It's so nice to meet all you from Prairie River Middle School in Merrill! Frizby already took the Trident out for a test and it is so slick! It's going to be a great! Hopefully we'll be blessed with a warm and sunny day.

Captain Frizby here. My first mate Ben and I took our new Open ROV Trident, the Benthic Badger II, out on Lake Mendota for its maiden voyage. We had no trouble assembling the parts of the ROV on the UW-Madison Memorial Union pier (43.077536,-89.400923). We were soon diving in the clear waters of the lake. Neither of us are gamers but found the Trident controller a great interface. After a short time, we were piloting the Trident at the farthest reaches of the 25m tether. We did find that the controller worked best with the screen shaded because bright sunlight washed out the video from the Trident. We cannot wait to try it out on the Center for Limnology’s research vessel, the Limnos, on May 18th, 2018.

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Hope it's as beautiful of a day on Friday!

We had a great conference call yesterday to outline our upcoming expedition in a couple of weeks. We'll be out on the Limnos, the Center for Limnology's research vessel, from approximately 11am to 3pm on Friday May 18th. The Trident will be deployed in both activities on the boat - during our water quality sampling and during our exploration of the "habitat," an area of the lake that is a great place for underwater maritime exploration.

Stay tuned for more details soon and to read some posts of our stellar student participants.

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Thank you, Grant! Look for some posts from the students soon! They are getting very excited.

Looking forward to following along with the day out next week!

Expedition Background

Middle school teachers Lynn and Sue met aboard a shipboard science/maritime heritage expedition in August 2017 on the S/V Denis Sullivan, a replica tall ship that travels the Great Lakes. Lynn and Sue continue their friendship and relationship today and are planning a day of water quality testing and underwater exploration on Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin. Sue and Lynn will go out with Jake Walsh, researcher with the Center for Limnology at the UW-Madison. Walsh's research has focused on understanding how species invasions, eutrophication, climate change, and human decision-making affect lakes. Along for the voyage will be Tori Keifer, maritime archeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society. Tori will help the students and teachers find some underwater treasurers.

The most studied lake in the world! That's amazing. Excited to learn more about what that means. Longer data sets? More data collected? Hopefully you'll be sharing more in the posts to come!

This sounds like a great expedition Anne! I'm keen to hear more about what marine archeology you'll be doing

Thanks for the comments, David, Madeleine and Susan! Now that is has warmed up here the excitement is building for May 18th!

It's so nice to meet you, Daniel, Sheridan, and Abigail. I love chocolate cookies and I recently studied the scow schooner shipwreck the Silver Star - it's a very cool story. Ask Tori (the maritime archeologist) all about it on Friday.

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