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Oklahoma Water Resources Center

2017 REU

Summer 2017 Projects and Advisors

Congratulations to the 2017 NSF-REU students! We are pleased to announce the following students were selected:

  • Madison Bowe, Susquehanna University
  • Danielle Czekai, Chestnut Hill College
  • Kevin Helenurm, Whitman College
  • Margaret Johnson, Oberlin College
  • George Valentine, Middlebury College
  • Katherine Wardinski, University of Wisconsin - Platteville
  • Dani Winter, North Carolina State University

Click on the titles below for more information about the Summer 2017 projects. Projects will run May 30-August 4.

  • Katherine Wardinski (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) is being mentored by Dr. Garey Fox (in Raleigh, NC) on Project #1: Quantifying the Role of Vegetation on the Erodibility of Streambanks using Jet Erosion Test.
    • Current streambank erosion and failure models include procedures and equations for the impact of vegetation on increasing the geotechnical strength of the bank sediment. However, only empirical work has been performed to date relating root characteristics to reduced soil erodibility by fluvial forces. Undergraduate students will utilize a jet erosion test (JET) to measure the erodibility characteristics (erodibility coefficient and critical shear stress) of Cow Creek banks stabilized with three different vegetation types and across various growth stages by comparing results over the three years. Students will also collect soil samples for quantifying soil texture, bulk density, and moisture content and vegetation samples for quantifying root characteristics at the time of the JET. Students will quantify root cohesion using root tensile strength tests in the laboratory and root characteristics using the WinRhizo software (root density, average root diameter, and distribution of roots relative to size). These experiments will identify and develop key relationships between erodibility parameters, soil parameters (texture, bulk density, and moisture content) and root characteristics as a function of vegetation type. This research directly supports the long-term research program on streambank erosion/failure of Dr. Fox. The students’ work will lead to the eventual incorporation of resistive forces due to roots into a fundamental detachment erosion model, potentially as a year 3 student project, which could transform erosion and stability modeling.
  • Madison Bowe (Susquehanna University) is being mentored by Dr. Shannon Brewer (in Stillwater, OK) on Project #2: Evaluation of Sediment Effects on Stream Fishes.
    • Suspended and deposited sediments are pervasive problems for fishes in warmwater streams.  In fact, excess sedimentation from erosion occurs in nearly 50% of all streams in the United States. While streams carry sediment loads as part of natural processes, excess sedimentation causes adverse impacts to aquatic ecosystems.  Increased sedimentation relates to various land-use and riparian practices and increasingly rehabilitation practices are considered to reduce sediment inputs to streams.  The hypothesis of this undergraduate research project is that rehabilitation techniques (e.g., planting riparian vegetation) and structures (e.g., cross veins) decrease levels of suspended and deposited sediment during and after storm events. Undergraduates will quantify levels of sediment in reaches of Cow Creek where rehabilitation practices have been implemented and in reaches with no mitigation. In addition, undergraduates will quantify fish-community structure in adjacent locations to determine if there are implications for the persistence of communities in these areas.  In one of the years an undergraduate project will address the tolerance (growth and survival) of several fishes to varying levels of sedimentation in the laboratory. A recirculation tank will be used to examine fish growth and survival under known concentrations of suspended sediment.  These projects will provide valuable information on the fitness responses of fishes to sedimentation and the effectiveness of rehabilitation techniques, supporting the larger research theme of Dr. Brewer’s laboratory which examines the effects of landscape change on aquatic biota.
  • Danielle Czekai (Chestnut Hill College) is being mentored by Dr. Andy Dzialowski (in Stillwater, OK) on Project #3: Use of Aquatic Macroinvertebrates to Assess Streambank Modifications.
    • Aquatic macroinvertebrates are often used to assess watershed health [41].  Because different taxa vary in their tolerance to disturbances, the presence or absence of specific taxa can be used to assess the condition of a stream either on a particular sampling date or as a stream responds to changes over time.  Understanding how humans impact aquatic ecosystems is the major focus of Dr. Dzialowski’s research and the streambank modifications (e.g., vegetative plantings, alterations of channel slopes) at the Cow Creek site provide a unique opportunity to understand how macroinvertebrate communities respond to improvements in stream and riparian habitat.  The hypothesis in this undergraduate research is that streambank improvements will lead to increases in overall habitat and water quality in stream reaches that have been modified at Cow Creek, which will in turn lead to increases in macroinvertebrate taxa that are less tolerant to disturbance. Macroinvertebrates as well as habitat and water quality data will be collected from areas where streambanks have been modified and compared to upstream and downstream reaches where no modifications have occurred.  In addition, the student will compare macroinvertebrate data from these sites with a large database of macroinvertebrate data from 394 Oklahoma stream sites of varying quality with the goal of developing a broader framework for assessing how macroinvertebrate communities respond to streambank modifications.  Also, by collecting data over three summers the students will be able to determine not only how macroinvertebrate communities respond to streambank modification, but if these responses vary over time.
  • Kevin Helenurm (Whitman College) is being mentored by  Dr. Todd Halihan  (in Stillwater, OK) on Project #4: Influence of In-Stream Rehabilitation Structures on Transient Surface and Hyporheic Storage.
    • The hyporheic zone is the region beneath and to the sides of the streambed affected by small-scale water exchange between surface stream flow and shallow groundwater. Hyporheic zones support intense biological and biogeochemical activity such as nutrient transformations [30]. Stream bed topographic features (e.g., side pools) and hyporheic zones are often regions where water velocity is slower than that of the main advective flow. The attendant increase in mean residence time due to above- and below-streambed surface storage zones is referred to as hydraulic retention or total storage. Most hyporheic and transient storage research has focused on gravel bed streams with limited work in fine bed streams. The hypothesis in this undergraduate research is that rehabilitation structures such as cross vanes and rock riffle structures promote not only additional surface transient storage but also hyporheic storage even in fine bed streams. Undergraduates will quantify hydraulic retention in reaches of Cow Creek and at stream restoration sites in the Illinois River with and without in-stream structures by conducting conservative tracer and Rhodamine WT transport studies and inversely estimating storage parameters using solute transport models. Drive point piezometers will be used to sample shallow groundwater around the stream structures. Also, electrical resistivity imaging will be used to image solute transport in the shallow groundwater for reaches with and without structures, directly the supporting the research program of Dr. Halihan. Experiments performed each year will be at variable stages (discharges) and therefore will cumulatively quantify hyporheic and total transient storage as a function of discharge. This research could transform the design of structures to promote hyporheic flows.
  • Margaret Johnson (Oberlin College) is being mentored by Dr. Andy Dzialowski (in Stillwater, OK) on Project #5: Spatial and Temporal Change in Pollutant Load Reduction by a Constructed Floodplain Treatment Wetland.
    • Constructed surface-flow wetlands have been utilized for reduction of common environmental pollutants such as nutrients, sediment, and bacteria in urban and agricultural runoff and in treatment plant effluent. However, the rate of pollutant reduction varies depending on a number of physical variables in the wetland including depth, vegetation, rainfall amount, and water temperature, pH, and water clarity. Additionally, the pollutant reduction rate of newly constructed wetlands often changes over time and may take 2-5 years (or more) to stabilize. A floodplain treatment wetland was constructed in Fall 2011 at the Cow Creek Stream and Floodplain Rehabilitation Site. This wetland receives continuous inflow of OSU wastewater treatment plant backflow water and intermittent agricultural runoff from the adjacent agricultural fields at the OSU Agronomy Farm. The REU student will collect and analyze water samples during baseflow (wastewater treatment plant backflow water) and storms (agricultural runoff) at the inflow and outflow of the wetland, and at selected locations within the wetland to document temporal and spatial variability both during storms and during different times of research period. Collected samples will be analyzed for nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous compounds), suspended sediment, and E. coli.  Other parameters that will be concurrently measured with these samples include specific conductance, flow rate, pH, turbidity, water temperature, rainfall intensity, and stream stage, as applicable. 
  • Dani Winter (North Carolina State University) is being mentored by Dr. Garey Fox (in Raleigh, NC) on Project #6: Innovative Engineering Restoration Designs for a State Mitigation Program.
    • Excess sediment from upland sources, channel and gully erosion, and the resuspension of bed material is a major polluter of surface waters across the United States, with streambank erosion from unstable channels contributing as much as 50% to 90%. Stream restoration or stabilization can reduce sediment contributions from the streambanks and these practices have become more common in recent years with the goal of correcting anthropogenic disruptions to streams. However, an increase in stream restoration has not reduced the number of degraded miles of streams since the early 1990s. Extensive research has been conducted on restoration strategies, but this information is not used in most projects or policies leading to unsuccessful restoration. Restorations fail for several reasons, including failure to understand erosion processes, failure to consider bank erosion on the appropriate scale, and failure to understand secondary effects of bank infrastructure. While the effect of stabilization on sediment transport and downstream bank erosion is apparent, very little literature exists on the actual sediment reduction to be expected from streambank stabilization. Many bank stabilization projects do not consider the downstream impacts or include a long term monitoring plan; therefore, the amount of sediment reduction on the reach or watershed scale is not known. Stabilization or restoration projects often utilize an empirical “cookbook” approach rather than utilizing process-based models that are available to determine the effect of restoration on sediment reduction prior to implementation. In addition, the lack of guidelines for the evaluation of stabilization or restoration practices through the use of process-based models limited the use of these tools. Further research is needed to actually quantify the amount of sediment reduction from bank stabilization on the reach-scale and prioritize stabilization practices prior to the implementation of these practices. This research will evaluate a framework for prioritizing streambank stabilization practices for sediment reduction, evaluating the potential sediment load reduction from those practices, and determining the cost associated with a desired amount of sediment reduction. The framework will be applied using a case study on a stream near Raleigh, NC.
  • George Valentine (Middlebury College) is being mentored by Dr. Shannon Brewer (in Stillwater, OK) on Project #7: Thermal Regimes and Fish Assemblages in Eastern Oklahoma Streams.
    • Stream restoration aims to re-establish the structure, function, and diversity of streams that have been altered from their natural state. Effective restoration approaches address both physical and ecological aspects of stream environments. To assess the physical and ecological condition of a restored Oklahoma stream, this study will investigate spatial and temporal variations in water temperatures around in-stream structures, along vertical profiles, and in shaded versus nonshaded reaches using automated temperature loggers. Also, fish species richness and diversity (Shannon-Weiner diversity index (H’) ) will be quantified at nonshaded and shaded locations by sampling in the morning and afternoon. The research will address whether in-stream structures affect thermal regimes and whether water temperature, more so than light, plays a more important role in shaping fish distributions. In the future, stream restoration projects would benefit from considering  the influence of in-stream structures on water temperature and water temperature on aquatic organisms.
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