University of Wisconsin–Madison

Research – Current Projects


North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (NLT-LTER)

A collaborative, interdisciplinary program studying lakes in the landscape. The overarching goal of NTL-LTER is understanding how biophysical setting, climate, and changing land use and cover interact to shape lake characteristics and dynamics over time (past, present, future). Our primary study sites include a set of seven northern Wisconsin and four southern Wisconsin lakes and their surrounding landscapes.

The 11 NTL-LTER study lakes, from “Of bogs and benthos’ by Bonnie Peterson [bonniepeterson.com], as part of the NTL Art-Science Collaboration

NTL-related research activities in the Stanley group focus on biogeochemical dynamics and long-term change in lakes, and this work includes a related project on the susceptibility and resilience of lake chemistry to environmental change in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, led by Jess Corman and in collaboration with Stephen Sebestyen and Randy Kolka, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.

Clay Lake - one of the study lakes in collaborative project on long-term change in lakes of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Photo: Jess Corman
Clay Lake – one of the study lakes in collaborative project on long-term change in lakes of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Photo: Jess Corman

Back to top


Continental Limnology Group

Inland waters are hotspots for storage and transformation of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and carbon (C), and despite their limited spatial extent, these ecosystems make significant contributions to regional, continental, and global cycles of these elements. However, this understanding is largely based on extrapolating site-level measurements to the larger population of unsampled sites—an estimation method that usually includes substantial uncertainty. The overarching goal for this project is to address key challenges associated with extrapolation, and understand and predict nutrient patterns for ALL continental US lakes to inform estimates of lake contributions to continental and global cycles of N, P, and C. Our approach to this ambitious goal will be first, to build a large, integrated database of all lakes in the continental US (LAGOS-US) that includes measures of in situ nutrients collected from tens of thousands of lakes, and ecological-context metrics calculated for all ~130,000 continental lakes. Second, we will use this resource to address 5 central questions:

  • What are the spatial patterns of lake conditions and their ecological contexts at regional to continental scales?
  • How does consideration of lake nutrients as linked biogeochemical cycles improve prediction at continental scales?
  • Which variables are most responsible for the cross-scale interactions that influence lake nutrients at continental scales?
  • How is uncertainty in continental-scale extrapolation of lake nutrients influenced by novelty among ecosystems and ecological context?
  • How are estimates of continental lake nutrients influenced by propagating prediction uncertainties resulting from interactions, nonlinearities, and novelty?

Addressing these questions will require new tools and approaches, so our group emphasizes active collaborations among limnologists, statisticians, and computer scientists.

Lake density across the continental U.S. Graphic from Winslow et al. 2014. Original data set for mapping from the USGS National Hydrography dataset.
Lake density across the continental U.S. Graphic from Winslow et al. 2014. Original data set for mapping from the USGS National Hydrography dataset.

Back to top


FLAMe 2020:  Seeing the hydroscape: developing a new approach for the study of inland waters

Left-John Crawford and Luke Loken FLAMe-ing on Lake Mendota. The water intake structure can be seen attached to the back of the boat behind Luke’s shoulder. Photo: Nora Casson. Right: a FLAMe generated map of surface water dissovleved in oxygen percent saturation of Trout Lake. Graphic: Luke Loken

Automated environmental sensors are used widely by limnologists, and have provided a range of insights about pattern and process in lakes, streams, and rivers. However, to date, these devices are almost always used to collect information about changes over time at a single point.  John Crawford, Luke Loken, and colleagues overcame several logistical hurdles and were able to develop the Fast Limnology Automated Measurement (FLAMe) platform that can be used to generate detailed, spatially-explicit, real-time observations of surface water quality (see Crawford et al. 2015). In this project, we are expanding our capacity to generate detailed, spatially-explicit, real-time observations of surface water quality with the goal of applying this technology in new settings and addressing new questions and provide access to the technology that allows us to do this to aquatic researchers here at UW-Madison and beyond.

Back to top


Ecosystem metabolism of streams and rivers

Stream, river, and lake ecosystems have a limited spatial extent but are increasingly recognized as key components of regional and continental biogeochemical cycles. Carbon flow and resource use in freshwaters are ultimately controlled by ecosystem metabolism, and over the past decade, automated sensors have vastly improved our capacity to quantify this process in aquatic environments. We are examining rates, patterns, and controls on stream metabolism via two ongoing projects.

Working Group: Continental-scale overview of stream primary productivity
Hosted by USGS Powell Center, with: Ted Stets, Jordan Read, and Bob Hall.

This working group will collate and analyze existing U.S. Geological Survey sensor data to create an open, national database of stream oxygen data from which we will calculate stream metabolism. This should allow us to open the black box of stream metabolism to address pressing biogeochemical questions at a scale that has not been considered previously: 1) What is annual stream metabolism in the conterminous U.S.?; 2) What is the role of streams and rivers in regional-scale carbon cycling?; 3) Can we detect trends in stream metabolism in response to anthropogenic changes? Activities began in 2015 and will wrap up in 2017.

StreamPulse: Defining stream biomes to better understand and forecast stream ecosystem change

Following on the momentum of the project on continental-scale patterns of stream primary productivity, StreamPulse will dig deeper into patterns of metabolism to understand mechanisms that shape primary production and respiration within individual sites and regions, and how these mechanisms vary among regions. Here in Wisconsin, we are focusing on the Black Earth Creek system, to investigate effect s of agricultural land use and habitat management aimed at sustaining a popular trout fishery.

Sensor casing at Brewery Creek, stabilized by a habitat improvement structure.
Sensor casing at Brewery Creek, stabilized by a habitat improvement structure.

Back to top