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Purdue Study Could Help Scientists Track Lake Currents

A Purdue professor and his students spent a week in Michigan tracking the movement of dye in the currents.

Lake Michigan

Photo: Andy Simonds (Flickr)

Currents can get as strong as a half-meter per second in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Scientists at Purdue hope a better understanding of how materials move through Lake Michigan could help in the event of an oil spill or other disaster.

Professor Cary Troy studies turbulence and mixing in natural water bodies, and circulation – among other things. Troy and his students spent about a week on a boat in the middle of the lake’s southern basin, tracking dye and recording its movement.

They will use the data to put together computer models. Troy says he was surprised at how fast the dye spread.

“It’s initially very concentrated, only a couple of meters to a side. And then within several minutes, it’s already hundreds of meters in size,” says Troy. “I’d do the calculations, but from an observational standpoint, I was really impressed by how quickly the dye actually dispersed, much faster than we had ever expected.”

He says the study is needed because what’s known about ocean currents does not necessarily apply to lakes. Currents can get as strong as a half-meter per second in the middle of Lake Michigan.

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