University of Maine Graduate Student, Amy Kireta, never lost her infatuation with the Great Lakes when she moved to the East Coast. Now, in her graduate thesis, Kireta is investigating the effects of climate change on the lakes that she and the rest the of the Heartland hold dear. Through microscopically observing a type of algae called diatoms, Kireta is delving into the muddy history of these central bodies of water to see how the lake’s ecosystem has changed over time.
Through countless hours spent hovering over a microscope, Kireta is able to examine the fossilized skeletons that diatom species have left behind over thousands of years in the sediment of the Great Lakes. Kireta, in what is surely a labor of love, must identify the species of the sample she sees by finding a matching image in diatom log books — which contain thousands of different diatom species. By identifying the species of the diatom and the time period in which it lived in the Great Lakes, Kireta is able to determine what the climate of the lake was at that time based on which species were present.
The effects of climate change on the Great Lakes are not yet known. But by looking back at the Great Lakes’ history, Kireta is hopeful that the past will give the answers as to what lies ahead.