The Great Lakes are Getting Smarter in 2021

June 10, 2021
smart great lakes logo
The Smart Great Lakes Initiative logo. Credit: Great Lakes Observing System

Today, many of us live as much in the digital world as the physical. Smartphones and other devices are familiar members of our digital family, helping us stay connected, and create, share and consume information.

The binational Great Lakes Observing System, or GLOS for short, also recognizes the opportunity presented by this landscape. GLOS wants to enable easy access to real-time and historical lake data that people of the region need. By leveraging a connected ecosystem of technologies, GLOS aims to improve our understanding, use, conservation and management of the Great Lakes. 

In October 2019, GLOS launched its Smart Great Lakes Initiative to combine the best of today’s smart technologies – including remote sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing and advanced data management and analysis – to improve the way people learn about and respond to lake events.

Examples of useful information that the initiative hopes to make available to the public include knowing whether a local beach is open for swimming, if the water is safe to drink at a popular campground, or the current wave heights at a popular commercial fishing spot. 

For scientists, managers, and policymakers, having on-demand access to detailed information about the Great Lakes informs critical actions and directs future science, knowledge and innovation.

“When you look at the binational challenges we, as a region, are looking to solve and the technology that GLOS has the capability to leverage, this is a natural, and frankly very exciting, next step for the organization,” said Jennifer Boehme, GLOS board chair and an environmental scientist with the IJC.

smart great lakes ecosystem
Smart Great Lakes Initiative: An information ecosystem for the Great Lakes. Credit: Great Lakes Observing System

During its inaugural year, the Smart Great Lakes Initiative focused on building its governance structure, starting by strengthening existing partnerships and building new ones. 

Workshops were held in Toronto in December 2019 and online in April 2020 by GLOS and co-founders from the Cleveland Water Alliance and Council of the Great Lakes Region. Chicago’s Water Innovation Hub, Current, also co-hosted the April workshop. In total, more than 100 participants from across the basin explored how smart technology can be applied to share information and better understand the lakes, as well as barriers that need to be overcome.

As GLOS CIO Tim Kearns shared at the April 2020 workshop: “We feel like we have a really good opportunity in front of us, not just because of technology development and availability … but the community that’s really rallying around the Great Lakes right now … We have a real opportunity to do something amazing that surpasses the vision and the goals of GLOS.”

Fueled by interest generated at the workshops, in September 2020 the Smart Great Lakes Initiative announced teams who will give form and momentum to the project.  

Volunteers from across the Great Lakes region – including the IJC, government and nongovernmental organizations, industry and advocacy groups, scientists and experts from the private sector – have stepped forward to participate in a leadership team, steering committee and issue area strategy teams. Mark Fisher, CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region, and Kelli Paige, CEO of GLOS, are co-chairs for the initiative.

Now in its second year, the Smart Great Lakes Initiative has a number of important milestones on the horizon for 2021, including publishing a common strategy document that also promises to be an important tool for partners to secure funding for the initiative; and launching the initiative’s cloud-based technology platform, known as SEAGULL.

Seagull is still in early development, with an early release coming online in 2021. GLOS is currently accepting Seagull beta test volunteers.

GLOS also announced the Smart Great Lakes Initiative’s Mini-Grants Program in March, which is anticipated to support 10-15 projects valued at an average of US$50,000 each. These projects are aimed at advancing smart technologies and associated tools that will improve the monitoring of the ecological health of the Great Lakes, while also responding to stakeholders’ information needs. Successful grant recipients were announced in May.