Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


The Lab Report: Students use Madison’s lakes to study climate change

Dugan Lab investigates changes in water bodies from climate change, other human activities
Joey Reuteman

The Dugan Lab is part of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Limnology led by assistant professor and limnologist Hilary Dugan. The lab started in 2017 and studies freshwater lakes. 

According to Dugan, UW has been a hub for limnology research for over 100 years due to its proximity to lakes Mendota and Monona. Dugan said her primary role is working on research projects and leading those projects.

Her primary interest lies in understanding how inland water bodies and watersheds change due to the effects of climate change and human activities. Watersheds, Dugan said, are areas of land that drain water from rain and snowmelt into bodies of water.


Environmental science major Charlie Dougherty is an undergraduate researcher in the lab. Growing up on Lake Superior motivated him to explore a career as a research specialist on the Great Lakes. After graduating this spring, Dougherty said he is pursuing his master’s degree with Dugan.

When Dougherty first started in the lab, he was assisting a master’s student in collecting data for their thesis. His task, Dougherty said, was to calculate an agricultural chloride budget, which estimates how much chloride is discharged into the upper Yahara watershed, specifically into Lake Mendota.

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Last summer, Dougherty collected water samples to test for chloride. The data collected will be used as a baseline chloride level for the Yahara watershed, including lakes Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa and Wingra.

“I did a survey of all the tributaries feeding into the Yahara chain of lakes around Madison trying to sample as many of the tributaries at as many points as possible,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said researchers back at the lab can then compare the summer chloride levels to the winter chloride levels. Future students will also use the data Dougherty collected on the lake last summer for their research, Dougherty said.

Last fall, Dougherty said he studied in McMurdo Dry Valley, Antarctica, as an undergraduate researcher. His research was focused on permanently ice-covered lakes, and he plans on starting his master’s degree working there.

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Having multiple roles in the lab provided lots of hands-on experience in research, Dougherty said. Working with the Yahara watershed and lakes of Antarctica exposed him to different research styles, allowing him to figure out what he does and doesn’t like.

The Dugan Lab recently obtained new sensors for observing and collecting data from the watershed, which Dougherty said he is operating. He is currently working on deploying the sensors in multiple stream locations in Madison, which will measure salinity levels and store them in the data logger system.

Other lab members are also interested in researching how winter is changing as a season as an effect of climate change. Dugan said the lab monitors the Yahara watershed throughout the winter to observe the effect the changing amounts of ice and snow have on inland lakes. Currently, students are monitoring the Yahara watershed lakes in the winter, Dugan said.

Ph.D. candidate in limnology Adrianna Gorsky is a graduate researcher in the Dugan Lab. Her research focuses on urban water bodies under the guidance of Dugan and professor of Integrative Biology Emily Stanley.

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One project Gorsky is working on is testing the quality of urban stormwater ponds. The goal is to find the effect greenhouse gases and excess nutrients have on the water quality of freshwater, Gorsky said. She is currently doing fieldwork on Lake Wingra and its aquatic vegetation, which preserves its water quality.

“I am interested in being a research scientist that asks questions and leads and manages people to help improve the quality of our freshwater lakes,” Gorsky said.

Gorsky said lake research typically centers on water quality in the summer. The members of Dugan Lab, however, are taking a different approach.

The Dugan Lab focuses on the winter months where they can observe the effects of road salt and the differing chlorine levels. Gorsky collects water samples from multiple spots on Lake Wingra. This gives her a holistic understanding of the lake and allows her to identify spatial differences.

Throughout Gorsky’s time in the lab, she has collaborated with other students on various projects. The lab members help each other out when needed, Gorsky said. The current collaborative project focuses on examining the influence of chloride levels in lake water. This is of particular interest to the researchers as they want to find out the effects road salt has on water quality.

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She is also a board member of the Friends of Lake Wingra. Gorsky said knowledge from the lab and her board position allows her to communicate the project results with the Madison community.

As a graduate student, every day in the lab is different — students can choose their own schedules, Gorsky said. With this flexibility, she can balance her focus between classes, research, time in the field and lab and conducting and analyzing data. The Dugan Lab focuses on quantitative data and models to gain as much knowledge as possible.

Experience gained in the Dugan Lab prepares students for careers that study water or environment, Dugan said. They gain research, computer and data analysis skills.

Dougherty said the Dugan Lab allows students to find what kind of research fits them best, like he was able to discover for himself.

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