Observations of winter ecology have been largely neglected as ecologically unimportant relative to the summer open‐water period, when most limnological fieldwork has occurred. Recent indications are that winter conditions and some Great Lakes biological processes may actually be important. However, data collections during the winter months are difficult from research vessels are can be unsafe due to lake ice, icing on vessels, and severe storms.
The Winter Limnology Summit, sponsored by the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) at the University of Michigan on May 13-15 2019, highlighted the absence of information, and the critical need and importance, to collect winter observations that are essential for understanding and forecasting foodweb/ecosystem response and adaptation to change. For example, we do not know how winter may reset and determine the following spring, summer and fall ecological and physical dynamics for critical food web processes. Add to this that winter conditions are highly variable from year to year where total maximum ice cover may vary from 12 to 95% (https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/ice/#historical), duration of ice cover may vary from 24-148 days (≥10% cover, GLERL Ice Atlas), and the duration and strength of inverse stratification is highly variable (Anderson unpublished data). Annual variability in ice and the thermal cycle then drives spatial distribution, vital rates, survival, and recruitment of pelagic nekton (Mysis and fish).
The absence of winter information thus compromises our overall understanding of the Great Lakes ecosystem, and our ability to develop and calibrate ecological and food web models to forecast change, or the ecosystem’s response to system drivers (e.g., invasive species, timing of nutrient inputs, annual environmental variability). In response, we propose to integrate and apply available unmanned technologies with remote sensing capabilities for measuring the winter spatial distribution and abundance of one aspect of the Great Lakes food web that represent important food web components, i.e., Mysis and pelagic planktivorous fishes.