Split Rock lighthouse on Lake Superior's North Shore

Minnesota Water Stories News



ST. PAUL, Minn. (Feb. 7, 2020) — Minnesota Water Stories is the Bell Museum’s latest production, premiering in the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium on Saturday, April 11. The show will launch at a Spotlight Science event at the museum, where visitors can learn directly from the U of M scientists and researchers working to understand and protect our waters. 

These experts include Robert Sterner and Jay Austin from Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Kate Brauman from the U of M Institute on the Environment’s Global Water Initiative, Jacques Finlay from the University’s College of Biological Sciences, and guests from the UMN Water Resources Center and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 

Water: We can’t exist without it, but regional and global challenges threaten our clean water. This full-dome production dives into a close look at water first from a cosmic viewpoint, then a global perspective, down to a local look at our most precious resource.

Immersing viewers in stories set around the state—filming ranged from the Twin Cities to the North Shore to Moorhead, and many spots in between—Minnesota Water Stories explores our water challenges, current research, and opportunities to help improve water quality by examining Minnesota’s three largest water basins. Travel to the Red River of the North, which flows to Lake Winnipeg; visit the upper Mississippi River, where water flows to the Gulf of Mexico, and set sail with scientists studying Lake Superior, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean. 

The Bell Museum planetarium staff collaborated with researchers and planetarium professionals in these three water basins to identify the story lines that will best connect people in each region to the water issues that are important to them. 

A modular format allows presenters to structure this live show in a variety of ways, tailoring it for a local approach to exploring innovations in sustainability and agriculture. Each version of the show includes stories about the origins of water in our universe and global water issues, but as the production travels around the state, each presentation will include the most relevant local vignettes. As audiences will discover, even small changes can make a difference to those downstream.

April 11 Premiere at the Bell Museum

In the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesotans have many water stories to tell. On April 11, the Bell Museum will tell ours with the premiere of our original production, Minnesota Water Stories. Join us for limited showings throughout the day and learn more directly from the University of Minnesota scientists & researchers working to understand and protect our waters. Three full-length showings of Minnesota Water Stories take place at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. Tickets to Minnesota Water Stories go on sale on March 21; the other activities are free with gallery admission and require no advance purchase.

Scientific partners on-site from 11 am–3 pm this day include:

Bob Sterner & Jay Austin of the Large Lakes Observatory at UMN Duluth will discuss their research and work on the film, as well as demonstrate their field equipment.

Kate Brauman with the University’s Institute on the Environment will share her insights on land use and its effect on water resources. 

Jacques Finlay in the University’s College of Biological Sciences will explore freshwater ecosystems on the Bell Museum’s Learning Landscape.

Graduate students working with the Water Resources Center through UMN Extension will present research on drinking water protection and host a water bar.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will share how the Citizen Water Monitoring Program has tracked the health of Minnesota waters and help you get involved. Visitors will also have the opportunity to connect with other community organizations dedicated to protecting our water resources.

Statewide partners

After its premiere at the Bell in April, Minnesota Water Stories will travel to eight partner planetaria in Brainerd, Champlin, Duluth, Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead, Rochester, and St. Paul. School groups visiting the Bell will also be able to see the show during the week. It will be added to the Bell’s regular public show schedule in the summer. 

Presentations will take place in the following cities this spring: 

April 16, 2020: Southwest Minnesota State University Planetarium, Marshall, Minn. (public)

April 24, 2020: Mankato East High School Planetarium, Mankato, Minn. (public)

May 12, 2020: Como Planetarium, St. Paul, Minn. (public)

May 12–13, 2020: Minnesota State University Moorhead Planetarium, Moorhead, Minn. (school groups and public)

May 28, 2020: Mayo High School Planetarium, Rochester, Minn. (public)

TBD: Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, Duluth, Minn. (school and public) 

TBD: Valley View Middle School, Bloomington, Minn. (ExploraDome)

In addition, Jackson Middle School Observatory in Champlin, Minn., and Forestville Middle School Planetarium in Brainerd, Minn., will be able to use the show.

This program will also be added to the Bell Museum’s offerings for the ExploraDome, our traveling planetarium, which tours to schools, community centers, and libraries statewide.

Featured researchers

David Mulla, co-director of graduate studies in the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, studies crop management, as well as the evaluation of policies for soil and water resources, while also taking a look at alternative farm management strategies for improved soil quality and sustainability. Mulla takes us to a cornfield to describe the use of precision agriculture and drone technology to improve crop yields, maximizing crop yield while minimizing water contamination. Tyler Nigon, who has a doctorate in land and atmospheric science, concentrates on hyperspectral remote sensing in corn. Grace Wilson, who has a doctorate in land and atmospheric science, models impacts of precision nitrogen management on water quality.

Robert Sterner, director of UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory, gathered a group of scientists who study Lake Superior and other Minnesota waters to explore the physics of Lake Superior and learn how climate change and invasive species are affecting the lake’s native life. The team includes physics and astronomy professor Jay Austin, whose recent research focuses on the long-term effects of climate change on large lakes; physics graduate student Grace Weber, who’s involved in mooring installation and retrieval; and undergrad Kaelan Weiss. Sterner and Kait Reinl, a doctoral candidate for water resources science, along with Brenda LaFrancois of the National Park Service, focus on the lake’s algal blooms. Donn Branstrator studies the spiny water flea, an invasive species.  Graduate student Kirsten Rhude, is a team member studying ecology, limnology, impacts of climate change and land use on water quality, environmental policy, and science education.

Kate Brauman, lead scientist for the U of M’s Institute on the Environment’s Global Water Initiative, studies the interaction of land-use change and water resources. She talks about the importance of understanding the use of water worldwide and managing our resources here in Minnesota. Brauman is focused on hydrologic ecosystem services and global water availability and use, particularly by agriculture.

Additional researchers involved in filming

Cory Goldsworthy, supervisor for Minnesota DNR Lake Superior area fisheries at French River, is responsible for the Lake Superior fishery, which includes lake trout, Kamloops rainbow trout, king salmon, coho salmon, steelhead (migratory rainbow trout), brook trout and other game and forage species. 

Josh Blankenheim, of the Minnesota DNR, focuses on Lake Superior trout restoration.

Owen Gorman, a research fisheries biologist at Wisconsin USGS Great Lakes Science Center, studies community ecology, population dynamics, biogeography, physiology, and life history of fishes of the Great Lakes region. 

Thomas Hrabik, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, studies aquatic ecology, fisheries, and hydroacoustics.

Brenda LaFrancois is an aquatic ecologist for the National Park Service with expertise in lake, stream, and coastal ecosystems (including large lakes and rivers), water quality trends, watershed biogeochemistry, algal and invertebrate communities, nutrient enrichment, aquatic invasive species, contaminants, and climate change.

Deanna Erickson, education coordinator for Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve, plans, implements and evaluates the reserve’s education program.

Jim Rock, director of indigenous programming for Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at the University of Minnesota Duluth, researches ethno-astronomy and archeoastronomy. 


Filming sites across the state included Red Wing, Wabasha, St. Paul, Moorhead, the Red River Valley, the Minnesota River Valley, Duluth, Two Harbors, and Waseca, as well as Gooseberry Falls, Tettegouche, Temperance River, Split Rock, Itasca, and Jay Cooke state parks, Sugarloaf Cove, and Caribou Falls.


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

Minnesota Water Stories is recommended for ages 10+