Studying the Ecology of Trash in the Chicago River

Sustainability Studies @ Roosevelt University

This article from August 4th, 2013, by Chicago Tribune reporter, Abby Olena, recounts the research on trash in the Chicago River and its potential impact on microbial communities that exist in the slimy “biofilms” that cover objects in the water. These little-studied ecosystems are part of the river’s larger ecological processes of oxygen production and consumption, nutrient cycling, etc.

Like a doctor with a complicated patient, aquatic ecologist Timothy Hoellein is determined to assess the health of the Chicago River by focusing on one of its major problems: garbage.

Hoellein is spearheading an effort to examine trash in the river more carefully than anyone has before. Two years ago, he and his students collected, measured and cataloged all the garbage they could find along some stretches of the North Branch.

But that was just a starting point. An assistant professor of biology at Loyola University Chicago, Hoellein ultimately wants…

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