LLO History


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Growth and development of a global scientific enterprise

Conference Sparks Creation

The idea of creating an institute focused on large-lake studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth began in April, 1988 with a "Lake Superior Water Policy Conference" held in downtown Duluth, MN followed by a state-sponsored (LCMR) assessment to evaluate the need for a Lake Superior research unit.

An "Institute for Lake Superior Research" was founded using further state support and was led by Professor Bob Carlson of UMD. In 1994, Professor Tom Johnson was recruited to lead the unit and its name was changed to "Large Lakes Observatory" and its mission was broadened to its current global scope.

Immediate Growth

During the next ten years, LLO grew in size and stature, and it maintained a strong focus on geophysical sciences because that was a unique and undercapitalized niche in large-lake science. LLO was instrumental in the International Decade for East African Lakes program during this time.  

In 2004 Professor Steve Colman was hired to lead LLO and for the next ten years LLO built on its early successes and diversified considerably in its approaches. It launched much new work in Africa while establishing new observation platforms on Lake Superior. Faculty numbers grew and outreach programs were broadened.

Renewal and Reach

LLO underwent a major renewal during the period of 2013 to 2016, replacing close to 50% of its faculty and increasing further in size. Today, it is led by Professor Robert Sterner and it has continued to grow and broaden. Active areas of investigation include paleoclimate, carbon cycling, geomicrobiology, water and ice dynamics, benthos and plankton dynamics and ecological stoichiometry. LLO is active in graduate curriculum reform in limnology.  Today LLO is one of the largest, if not the largest, water-based units at the University of Minnesota.  

LLO scientists have carried out major expeditions to the great lakes of the East African Rift Valley, Lake Issyk Kul in central Asia, Lake Nicaragua, Lake Qinghai in China, Great Slave Lake in the Canadian Arctic, as well as to smaller lakes throughout the world while Lake Superior continues to be a focus.