Team Zaaga’igan

team zaaga'igan

Zaaga’igan means “Lake” in Ojibwe, and Team Zaaga’igan lives and works near the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior, in Duluth, Minnesota.  Team Zaaga’igan conducts research in collaboration with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and spends several weeks each summer shadowing employees of the FDL Resource Management Division to learn about tribal resource stewardship.  The 2021 REU will look at the effect of sulfur on the growth of wild rice.  Members will work with Dr. Nathan Johnson from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and Nancy Schuldt, Water Protection Coordinator for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Project description

Background & Objectives

The effect of sulfur on the growth of aquatic plants has been well documented in the literature, but the mechanism of effect has only recently identified with respect to Wild Rice in the state of Minnesota.  Wild rice is an economic and culturally important resource to native American tribes in the region and is the subject of a statewide water quality standard review by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  The effect of sulfur seems to occur indirectly through the transformation of sulfate to sulfide and interactions with plants in the rooting zone.

It has been suggested that the accumulation of iron and sulfur on the roots of aquatic plants could change the efficiency with which nutrients are taken up by the plant.  The goal of the NSF-REU project in Duluth will be to quantify the quantity and speciaion of iron and sulfur on plant root tissue and adjacent sediment.  We will collect surface water, plant roots, and sediment at different locations around northeastern Minnesota and measure different forms of sulfur, iron, and carbon.  We expect to collect samples from waterbodies with a range of sulfur impact.


The first 1-2 weeks of team Zaaga’igan’s summer will focus on background material, equipment preparation, and site reconnaissance visits.  Samples of plant tissue and sediment will be collected in conjunction with Fond du Lac and UMD ongoing sampling initiatives.  Sediment, porewater, and plant tissue will be extracted and used to quantify iron and sulfur speciation.  Finally, results will be analyzed and interpreted in light of the implications of reservoir operation on sediment geochemistry.

REU participants on Team Zaaga’igan will receive training and then be directly responsible for assembling, deploying, and retrieving samples from the passive samplers.  Participants on Team Zaaga’igan will split their time between Dr. Johnson’s lab and Fond du Lac.  Transportation can be provided.  Dr. Johnson’s group has technical expertise related to sulfur and iron-related sediment chemistry.  Fond du Lac Natural Resource Management has the responsibility of managing various natural resources on the reservation, providing students with a variety of resource management experiences.  During the summer, Dr. Johnson’s group typically consists of 5-10 undergraduate and graduate students working on a variety of projects seeking to quantify and understand the transport and transformation of sediment-associated contaminants.   In addition to the field and lab work directly related to this project, on Team Zaaga’igan will have an opportunity to help with related projects at UMD and Fond du Lac as time allows.