To better understand and better communicate the unique flow conditions that exist in the Straits of Mackinac, the University of Michigan Water Center has used results from a recently published hydrodynamic model (Anderson and Schwab, 2013) of the connected Michigan-Huron system to produce computer simulations and animations of hypothetical contaminant releases in the Straits. Since properties of various contaminants in water vary widely, we used 'neutral' tracers, which follow the ambient current and have no inherent tendency to float or sink. The tracers are released at three locations in the model, one near the south shore of the Straits, one near the north shore of the Straits, and one in the center of the Straits. At each location, tracers are released at three depths: surface, mid-depth, and near bottom. The tracers are released continuously over a 12 hour period at two different times of the year, and then tracked for 20 days as they are moved by the simulated currents. Animations were prepared for 6 cases corresponding to south, center, and north releases at the two different times of the year. Hopefully, these simulations and animations will be useful in understanding and preparing for potential impacts of an accidental contaminant release in the Straits.
These animated videos created by David J. Schwab of the University of Michigan Water Center with support from the National Wildlife Federation show the wide extent to which an oil spill beneath the Straits of Mackinac could impact Great Lakes ecology, wildlife, and coastal communities. The U-M Water Center is a center of U-M's Graham Sustainability Institute.