The Science of Watermarks

Jessica Gordon
Swim Drink Fish
June 10, 2019
miller watermark

Watermarks are stories about personal connections to a body of water. For scientists, the bond may relate to research. The stories they share provide a meaningful and important perspective on waters in the Great Lakes region.

Three scientists highlighted below set out to research and study nature, and in turn built a personal connection that continues to inspire them.

Mary Ellen Miller is a research engineer who lives in Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes. Miller built the Rapid Response Erosion Database, which replaces about a week’s worth of work.

“It rapidly assembles your topography, your soils data, which is the hard part, and your land cover. Both your land cover and your soils are impacted by fire and they change, so now (Burned Area Emergency Response) teams can just have their data inputs in seconds and focus on modeling the effects of their fire.”


Dr. Oana Birceanu fell in love with a fish. Birceanu says it was the opportunity to experience the passion of others working in the field, as well as lake sturgeon she studied.

“To conduct a 20-year study and come back so many years later and realize that it’s working and the population is being rehabilitated and now they have a clean waterbody to thrive in, it was just something really amazing to me.”


Michael Gilbertson is a former research manager with the IJC. Gilbertson’s work studying herring gulls on Lake Ontario demonstrated the presence of dioxins and dioxin-like chemicals in the environment.

“There’s a very small island called Scotch Bonnet Island which is off the southwest corner of Prince Edward County and that was really like my laboratory … I thought ‘Well, if we’ve got a problem of toxicology in the Great Lakes, I’ll see it manifested in the fish-eating birds breeding on the island.’”


Watermarks create a digital record and allow us to better understand how people connect with local waterways. The IJC began partnering with the Watermark Project in 2016 to help collect these stories.

What has inspired you to care about water? To share your experience, submit your Watermark here or browse the archive for more stories about the important role water plays in our lives and communities. For more Watermarks in the Great Lakes region, visit Great Lakes Guide.

Jessica Gordon
Swim Drink Fish

Jessica Gordon is a communications coordinator at Swim Drink Fish, a Toronto-based charity working toward a swimmable, drinkable, fishable future for everyone.