A New Job for the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light

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Date: February 22, 2017
Contact: Paul Reneau, 608-821-3901
Contact: Brenda Moraska Lafrancois, 715-682-0631


A New Job for the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light

Apostle Islands NL- One hundred and one years after casting its first glow across Chequamegon Bay, the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light, the newest addition to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, has a new assignment. In addition to continuing to serve as an aid to navigation, it will now serve as a weather and water quality sentinel, providing real-time data on environmental conditions, thanks to support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Paul Reneau, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is a modern day lighthouse keeper, though there will be no blustery nights atop the tower for him. He and other technical staff keep tabs on the data stream and equipment function from their offices in Middleton, Wisconsin, making occasional visits to Ashland to check up on the equipment. “Since last summer we’ve installed a variety of monitoring equipment on the Light, including a weather station that measures temperature, precipitation, and wind speed and direction as well as underwater sensors that measure waves, water currents, and lake levels. In addition, this spring we’ll begin monitoring water quality conditions.”
Mark Vinson, chief of the USGS Lake Superior Biological Station, can see the breakwater and lighthouse from his office window. The site has long struck him as an ideal location for monitoring weather conditions as well as long-term water quality trends. “Its central location in the western part of the bay makes it a good spot for evaluating incoming waters from Fish Creek and other small tributaries along with water that the bay exchanges with Lake Superior. Plus, it’s so visible to the public,” he says. Vinson, cooperators Brenda Moraska Lafrancois and David VanderMeulen from the National Park Service (NPS), and other local partners hope this new information will shed light on how water circulates in the bay, how lake temperatures and nearshore conditions change over time, and offer new public interest tools as well.
Weather data and time lapse photos from late 2016 and early 2017 show how quickly wave and ice conditions can change in the Bay. The station’s sensors picked up significant lake level changes during a big nor'easter in November 2016, due the wind- and pressure-driven sloshing effect known as seiche, and photos during the past week’s thaw show ice melting along the breakwater. Says David Cooper, cultural resource specialist at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, “For just over a century, the Ashland Harbor Light has played an important public safety role, guiding navigation and boat traffic into the bay. This effort is a great extension of the light’s legacy.”
The historic Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light was added to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by an Act of Congress in 2014. The NPS and the USGS have worked to make sure that the weather monitoring equipment is installed in a way that protects the historic fabric and appearance of the lighthouse.
The data and time lapse images are publicly available and served up in real-time at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/uv/?site_no=463741090521301. For Bay enthusiasts and the Lake Superior management community alike, the Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light continues to be a welcome sight in the Bay.
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Last updated: February 22, 2017

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