On Dec. 1, the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) announced a new website that displays environmental data from across the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Monitoring application, created in conjunction with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), makes it easy to view and analyze decades of nutrient, contaminant, and water characteristic data collected by universities and government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office.

“Access to high-quality, continuous data has historically been a major hurdle to Great Lakes research,” said Brian Miller, director of IISG. “What used to take months to find and retrieve now takes minutes.”

The first stop for users is an interactive map that provides a quick glance at monitoring locations and the parameters measured at each site. From the Explore Trends view, users also can see basin-wide patterns for environmental characteristics like phosphorus, chlorophyll A, nitrogen, and mercury.

Researchers can delve deeper by examining the detailed data profile for each monitoring site or by comparing results across multiple sites. Menus and slider bars at the top of each page make it possible to quickly hone in on specific parameters, monitoring seasons, and years.

“We designed these data views with different users in mind,” said Paris Collingsworth, IISG’s Great Lakes ecosystem specialist. “A higher-level manager may find the basin-scale views of the Explore Trends interesting, whereas a researcher may want more specific time-series information about a particular parameter at specific location.”

The cutting-edge tool also allows researchers to create and download their own data sets for the locations, sources, environmental characteristics, and dates that most interest them. Further, a variety of available file types make offline use easy.

In addition to improving data access, Great Lakes Monitoring also makes it easier for researchers, universities, and agencies to share data with the public.

“The tool was designed to be as flexible as possible. It wasn’t built for specific sources or data types,” said Luigi Marini, senior research programmer at NCSA, during a presentation of the tool. “All we need is access to an organization’s server to include their data in the tool.”

“We are always looking for more data,” added Collingsworth.

Great Lakes Monitoring was developed in collaboration with Barbara Minsker and her lab at the University of Illinois Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Funding for the project comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.