DULUTH, Minn. -

Biological changes in microscopic organisms on the bottom of the Great Lakes food chain send up a big red flag to scientists of possible changes to come.

To better understand the trajectory of stressors on this vast freshwater resource, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency upped its funding for ongoing research by the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

NRRI will receive a five year grant of $2.5 million to continue monitoring freshwater algae, but will allow research to expand to gathering data in the near-shore areas and deploying robots to collect data year-round.

Deploying year-round robots to collect samples will gather data that have been previously unavailable to scientists. This will all be done with submerged buoys with remote sampling devices that will be stationed in each of the Great Lakes to collect and preserve phytoplankton samples and store them.

Several new sampling locations in shallower, near shore regions of each lake, will allow for data related to the stress associated with human activities on the land. Scientists expect the various samples to tell a unique, but related stories about lake conditions.