2016 Sustainability Progress Report


The U-M Water Center addresses regional and national water resource challenges by engaging faculty and students at U-M. Science teams collaborate with natural resource managers and others to foster the co-production of science.

  • 35+ million people affected by the Great Lakes
  • 95K sq miles of surface water on the Great Lakes

Microplastics in the Great Lakes

Female scientists from the U.S. and Canada, including two from U-M, set sail on all five Great Lakes to conduct the world’s largest simultaneous sampling of aquatic plastic debris pollution.

The all-female crews of the seven lead research vessels of eXXpedition Great Lakes 2016 collected plastic debris on the five Great Lakes, as well Lake St. Clair-Detroit River and the Saint Lawrence River. The data collected will contribute to growing open-source databases documenting plastic and toxic pollution and their impacts on biodiversity and waterway health.


Historic Milestone

Historic Milestone

Erbs & Water Center

In 2012, the U-M Water Center is established with a $4.5 million gift from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

View other historic milestones

Mercury contamination in western North America

An international research team, including a U-M biologist, concluded mercury contamination is widespread across western North America in the air, soil, lake sediments, plants, fish and wildlife.

The researchers on the Western North America Mercury Synthesis team found that mercury accumulation rates in western lake sediments have increased, on average, by four times from 1850 to 2000 and continue to increase today.

Viruses in world’s oceans

A U-M biologist was part of the international team that reports they’ve tripled the known types of viruses living in waters around the globe and have a better idea what role they play in nature. Researchers said their work will likely have far-reaching implications, including ultimately helping to preserve the environment through reducing excess carbon humans put into the atmosphere.

The oceans currently soak up half of that carbon, but that comes at the cost of acidifying the oceans, which puts some ocean-dwellers, including shellfish, at risk. Understanding how microbes and viruses interact is critical to any possible management efforts.


First geospatial database of Great Lakes

With a grant from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and support from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, an interdisciplinary team led by U-M researchers developed the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework, the first publicly-available database that includes harmonized habitat data and a classification of fish habitats across the entire Great Lakes basin.

Lake Erie algal bloom

U-M researchers and partners predicted a less severe harmful algal bloom for western Lake Erie in 2016 than 2015’s record-setting event.

Researchers develop annual forecasts alerting resource managers and the public to the severity of the algal blooms.

The main driver of the harmful algal blooms is elevated phosphorus from watersheds draining into Lake Erie’s western basin, particularly from the heavily agricultural Maumee River watershed.

About 85 percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie comes from farm fertilizers and manure.