Team Stream

Spirit Island is a small island located 15 miles South of Duluth, Minnesota. This island is on Spirit Lake, a widening part of the St. Louis River near the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The orange pin denotes the location of Spirit Island.

The community-based research our team is conducting will be in coordination with the Ojibwe people of the Fond du Lac Reservation. Spirit Island, as the 6th out of 7 stopping places along the path of the Ojibwe people’s’ migration from present day Montreal, holds great cultural significance for the Ojibwe. Along with being one of migration’s stopping points, this region was prophesied to provide every resource needed for the Ojibwe people to survive — wild rice, animals to hunt, fish, maple syrup, berries, birch bark, and more. Until 2011, the island was owned by a private homeowner from Duluth but was recently purchased by the Fond du Lac Reservation due to its cultural significance.

An elder member of the Fond du Lac tribe expressed concern over the recent increased rates of erosion observed on Spirit Island. The first goal of this project is determine the cause for this rapid erosion: is it purely natural processes, such and wind and water, or is there anthropogenic activities, such as waste products from a nearby former steel industry, that have been exacerbating the erosion rates? The second goal is to quantify the rate of erosion.

Our project will help to determine future possibilities for the island. Some of the members of the tribe wanted to use the land for wild rice cultivation. However, due to the operation US Steel’s steel mill plant, the land might be susceptible to contaminants. Our research will determine the likelihood of contaminated sediment being transported by the river. Overall, our goal is to produce results that will benefit the tribe for future plans.

Throughout this project we will be performing flume experiments and implementing Python programming to computer model various wave processes. We will also work on understanding the mathematical concepts needed for calculating the wave properties that influence erosion on Spirit Island. Our group will be visiting Spirit Island to conduct field research in order to understand the effects of erosion on the island.