For more than 40 years, our faculty and scientists have been conducting internationally recognized freshwater research across four essential themes: human and ecosystem health, freshwater system dynamics, freshwater technology, and freshwater policy and economics.

Our tradition of pioneering freshwater research began decades before our school was even formed. We’ve maintained the Great Lakes’ largest academic research institution and only year-round research vessel. You’ll find our researchers at work at sea, in the field, and in the lab from the Great Lakes of North America to the Great Lakes of Africa. Our students and scientists study at the edge of the largest freshwater system on the Earth’s surface — the Great Lakes.

We are the first graduate school in the nation dedicated solely to the study of freshwater and one of three such schools in the world, and are a launch pad for critical and fascinating freshwater research.

Our pioneering graduate programs began in 2009 following a decades-deep history of freshwater studies. Starting with the Center for Great Lakes Studies in 1966 and continuing with the Great Lakes WATER Institute, we are the largest academic research institution on the Great Lakes, and UWM’s freshwater expertise has been key to advancing Milwaukee’s reputation as a world water hub.

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Our facility is perched right on Milwaukee’s inner harbor, offering unparalleled access to Lake Michigan as a classroom and laboratory. A $53 million renovation and expansion, which opened Summer 2014, provides students, faculty, and scientists with state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities.

We are made up of 21 research laboratories including: the Center for Water Policy, the Great Lakes Genomics Center, and the Great Lakes Aquaculture Center. We also house offices for the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Guardian vessel.

Partnerships are crucial to solving the freshwater issues of today and tomorrow, and we leverage strong relationships with other UWM programs and industry partners, including the 150-plus water technology companies in the Milwaukee region.

We’ve formed powerful collaborations with UW-Whitewater and industry partners at the Water Technology Accelerator located at the Global Water Center, and are also forging connections with universities in Australia, Singapore, Western Europe, and China.


We maintain the largest academic research institute on the Great Lakes, and the only research vessel operating there year-round.

Our story began in 1966 with the Center for Great Lakes Studies under the leadership of Dr. Clifford Mortimer, the center’s founding director and a highly respected limnologist. The Great Lakes WATER Institute, which opened in 1973, now operates as our research arm. Our faculty and scientists continue to make important discoveries with implications for urban rivers, storm- and wastewater infrastructure, groundwater and inland lakes, aquaculture and fisheries, water robotics, and human and environmental health.

For decades, UWM’s freshwater scientists have worked out of the university’s 11-acre Harbor Campus, in a former ceramic tile factory that is still part of SFS’s home today. Our renovated 200,000-square-foot space is complemented by a 100,000-square-foot addition. These state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities are the perfect place to continue UWM’s legacy of freshwater research while training the next generation of freshwater scientists.

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