NMC Water Studies Institute earns two national firsts

Students’ bathymetric research published, Aquahacking challenge launching

TRAVERSE CITY — As northern Michigan works to become the hub of the blue economy, Northwestern Michigan College’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute has earned two national firsts in water research and water entrepreneurism.

NMC’s two firsts contribute to the body of knowledge about freshwater in general and the Great Lakes specifically, which is the foundation of the blue economy. As a blue economy hub, Traverse City would become like a Silicon Valley for freshwater knowledge. That knowledge will lead to innovation, jobs and solutions for water challenges from contamination to climate change.

  • Last week, a team of six NMC Marine Technology students became the first undergraduates to publish underwater, or bathymetric, survey data to an online database run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data was collected from around the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula the week of May 15 as part of the students’ capstone course, taught by John Lutchko. Water depths, hazard locations and seafloor contours and elevations were among the data collected. Currently, only 15 percent of the Great Lakes have been mapped with high resolution technology. Only half of that amount is on the U.S. side of the lakes.

“The fact we know so little about it is a problem,” said Ed Bailey, director of NMC’s Marine Center and Project Management course instructor. “You cannot solve a lot of other problems around habitat, invasive species, and resilient communities without bathymetry. It’s all connected.”

“Huge congratulations on being the first multibeam dataset in the Great Lakes!”Jessica Nation, bathymetry data manager for NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information told the students via email.

  • In September, NMC will be the first binational partner for an Aquahacking challenge. Created in 2015 by AquaAction, a Canadian nonprofit, Aquahacking is a tech innovation program focused on developing solutions to pressing freshwater issues, including growing demand, life-threatening contaminants and climate change. AquaAction’s programs have spawned 50 start-ups across Canada since it was founded in 2015, creating 100 water jobs.

Participants in the nine-month Great Lakes challenge must be 18-35. The top three solutions will receive prizes of at least $35,000, $15,000 and $10,000. The challenge’s semifinal, where Aquahacking competitors pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, will be held in Traverse City in March 2024.

“By hosting this challenge here and the innovation that goes along with it, the hope is they’ll want to stay and spin those businesses up in Traverse City,” Bailey said. “This becomes the pipeline for the Freshwater Research & Innovation Center. It’s bringing blue tech, high tech jobs to Traverse City.”

Evidence of the demand for the knowledge lies in the fact that all four graduating Marine Technology students on the team working with NOAA had multiple job offers before they graduated, Bailey said.

NMC offers the only bachelor’s degree in Marine Technology in the United States. In addition, NMC will begin offering a Water Quality & Environmental Technology (WET Tech) associate degree this fall. The first in the state, the WET Tech program will train the skilled workforce needed to respond to this growing demand for monitoring and cleanup of waters within the Great Lakes watershed. NMC also offers three other water-related programs:

  • An associate degree in Freshwater Studies, the first in the nation when it was created in 2009.
  • The Marine Center — professional development and training in marine systems, geospatial technologies and land surveying.
  • Great Lakes Maritime Academy — Trains deck and engineering officers for the commercial shipping industry. Bachelor’s degree first granted in 2014; program founded in 1969.

Release date: June 19, 2023

For more information:

Hans Van Sumeren
Director, NMC Great Lakes Water Studies Institute
(231) 995-1793


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