Finding Water in the Desert

Water scarcity in arid environments around the world is a threat to ecosystem health as well as to the livelihoods of the one billion people who inhabit them.

Dr. Adam Milewski, an affiliate with the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia and an Associate Professor and Associate Department Head in the Department of Geology, is helping to tackle this issue by researching the best way to locate groundwater recharge in arid regions in the southwestern United States and in several Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.  

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Join the River Basin Center team!

A postdoctoral position is available on a College of Engineering research project at the University of Georgia, Athens Campus. The candidate will work on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-funded project: Engineering with Nature Initiative. This postdoctoral associate will anchor an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UGA and the US Army Corps of Engineers that is studying how large-scale nature-based infrastructure can contribute to biodiversity conservation and enhancement. Project elements could include:A case study of how levee systems can be designed and managed for biodiversity.Quantification and valuation of the historical loss of biodiversity due to large-scale grey infrastructure, and the potential for reversing or mitigating these losses.A study of the potential for biodiversity enhancement by “depressurizing” river systems.A vision for incorporating biodiversity into the design of nature-based infrastructure for managing freshwater at a national scale.The postdoctoral associate is expected to work with the team to help define the foci of the project, lead some elements of the project, and contribute to others.

The successful candidate will have a PhD in ecology or a related field (although other disciplinary backgrounds are possible), a strong publication record, and the interest and ability to conduct integrative research as part of a large, interdisciplinary research team that includes ecologists, engineers, and social scientists.

Desired competencies include experience with structured decision making and a broad array of quantitative skills, including statistical analyses in R and facility with GIS. Knowledge of freshwater ecosystems and communities is a plus. Excellent communications skills are required.

Learn more about the position here.

Supporting Policy in the Face of Sea Level Rise

Writer: Hayley Hunter, River Basin Center

Contact: Katie Hill, Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Sea level rise is an issue many coastal communities are already facing. The sea level off the Georgia coast has risen over 9 inches in some places, and that number will only continue to grow (UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant). The Georgia coast has seen more frequent flooding events, more significant tides, and stronger, more dangerous hurricanes.

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partners with University of Georgia to form the Network for Engineering With Nature

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and University of Georgia (UGA) recently announced a partnership that connects the interdisciplinary expertise of UGA’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS), with the vast on-the-ground experience of USACE’s Engineering With Nature® (EWN®) Initiative to form the Network for Engineering With Nature (N-EWN).

Through this partnership and a new $2.5 million award to UGA from USACE, researchers are expanding and accelerating EWN and the practice of natural infrastructure in the public and private sectors.

EWN is an initiative developed by USACE to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through the use of natural infrastructure. By using a combination of natural and conventional processes and materials, natural infrastructure can protect people, homes and habitats. It can come in many forms and scales, including sand dunes engineered to prevent erosion, floodplains along rivers, which allow the river to ebb and flow without flood risk to communities, and coastal wetlands, which filter out pollution and provide habitat. 

Sixteen UGA researchers from 10 different colleges and departments will apply their expertise to N-EWN’s mission. The project leader for UGA is principal investigator Dr. Brian Bledsoe, a professor in the College of Engineering, who specializes in resilient infrastructure. The N-EWN partnership will also draw from the expertise of the UGA’s River Basin Center and Center for Integrative Conservation Research. In addition, an equal number of researchers from USACE will add their knowledge and skill to the network, led by Dr. Todd Bridges, the EWN National Lead and Dr. Jeffrey King, EWNDeputy National Lead.

“We are delighted to be working closely with USACE’s world class researchers. Together, we can take our research on natural infrastructure to the next level and inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists who will reshape the nation’s water resources infrastructure,” Bledsoe said of the partnership.

In an ambitious set of pilot projects, the researchers will improve methods for using natural infrastructure to strengthen community resilience, create models and dashboards that allow designers to map out how natural infrastructure can provide more benefits to society, and inspire a new generation of engineers, ecologists and social scientists to utilize natural infrastructure through education and workforce development.

To come along on the journey, follow the hashtag #N-EWN on Twitter and Instagram, where we will post updates on the individual projects, researcher profiles, and exciting innovations in the field. Find more information about N-EWN on our website, https://n-ewn.org/

Tennessee Aquarium and UGA’s River Basin Center to Host Pioneering Workshop Addressing Freshwater Microplastic Pollution

Writer: Casey Phillips

Chattanooga, Tenn. (Sept. 10, 2020) – It is the inevitable destiny of all water that falls on land to eventually return to the sea. And like an enthusiastic tourist, it can’t help but pick up souvenirs along the way, whether it’s dirt, fertilizers or — as many scientists now suspect — plastic.

In recent years, the world slowly has awoken to the, ironically, enormous impact microscopic plastic has on marine life. Every year, an average of 8.8 million tons (about 17.6 billion pounds) of plastic fragments or manufactured plastic objects measuring smaller than five millimeters across enter the ocean. There, they’re consumed by microscopic organisms and eventually work their way up the food chain to humans.

Although the bulk of plastic waste originates inland, microplastic is largely seen as a coastal issue thanks to images of plastic debris piled up on beaches or found inside marine animals. Little is known about how this plague of plastic affects the rivers, lakes and streams through which it passes on its way to the sea.

On Sept. 14, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute hopes to make inroads to answering that question as host to a virtual workshop on freshwater microplastic research. The workshop was organized in partnership with the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia. 

Among other topics, participants in the one-day summit will focus on developing standards to ensure current and future researchers can reliably compare and build on each other’s findings.

“In a new field of research where so many different methods are being used, it is extremely important that studies are designed and conducted so we can compare and replicate results from different labs,” says Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education.

“Not only will these studies improve our understanding of how plastic pollution reaches the ocean, they will also provide insight into an emerging threat to maintaining clean water for us all.”

The workshop initially was scheduled to take place in April at the Conservation Institute’s headquarters on the banks of the Tennessee River. However, the ongoing health crisis necessitated a different approach, and it now will be held via Zoom video conference.  

Dr. Krista Capps, an assistant professor with the Odum School of Ecology and Savannah River Ecology Lab, helped organize the workshop of 50 participants. Her research into how microplastic is affected by water treatment facilities has been hampered by a lack of agreed-upon research standards.

The issues caused by this absence of structure spurred the idea for the upcoming workshop, Dr. Capps says.

“There are currently no accepted standard methodologies to collect and identify microplastic pollution, as the field is developing so quickly,” she says. “Many researchers I contacted were also frustrated by this situation. The workshop is an outgrowth of my search for expert advice and a quest to develop standard quality assurance and quality control protocols for sampling and analysis.”

The workshop participants represent a variety of institutions, including the University of Georgia, Sewanee: The University of the South, Auburn University, Mississippi State University, the University of Alabama and Vanderbilt University as well as Riverkeeper organizations, SeaGrant consortiums and government agencies.

“Plastic pollution is a problem that affects everyone,” Dr. Capps says. “The greater diversity of stakeholders and academic disciplines involved in working on this problem, the more holistic our approach to understanding plastic pollution will be.”

The workshop will feature presentations by several experts, including:

·         Dr. Rae McNeish, an assistant professor of biology at California State University, Bakersfield

·         Dr. Jeremy Conkle, an associate professor of physical and environmental science at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

·         Dr. Andreas Fath, a professor of physical chemistry and analytics at Germany’s Furtwangen University

Dr. Fath made headlines in 2017 with a record-setting marathon swim of the entire 652-length of the Tennessee River. During this 34-day undertaking, he and his team took daily measurements of various water quality indicators, including the presence of microplastics. With data from locations along the entire course of the river, this “swim for science” represented one of the first comprehensive studies of how microplastic moves through freshwater systems.

Analysis of the project’s findings found microplastic levels in the Tennessee River that were 80 times higher than Dr. Fath detected during a similar study of Germany’s Rhine River in 2014. These results were a clear sign that microplastics have a greater, if largely uninvestigated, potential to impact freshwater sources than previously assumed, Dr. George says.

“Some freshwater-focused scientists, myself included, thought plastic in freshwater was moving out to the ocean so quickly that it probably wasn’t having a major impact on freshwater habitats or animals,” she says. “Dr. Fath’s work demonstrated that there was enough microplastic pollution in freshwater habitats that we needed to learn more about its impact in our streams and rivers.”

For more information about the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, visit tnaqua.org/conserve

To learn more about the River Basin Center at the University of Georgia, visit ecology.uga.edu.

Details about Dr. Andreas Fath’s TenneSwim project are at en.rheines-wasser.eu.

Third Wednesday Symposium, Fall 2020

This year’s line up of Third Wednesday speakers is here! Due to COVID-19 all seminars will take place via Zoom. Scroll down for information about how to access them.

Due to Zoom security considerations, we will not be publishing the link until two hours prior to each Third Wednesday Seminar.

The zoom link will be sent out to the River Basin Center mailing list. If you want to make sure you receive it, or if you aren’t sure whether you’re already on the mailing list, please add your email using the link below.

Congratulations to our 2020 John Spencer Research Grant recipients!

The River Basin Center John Spencer Research Grants support graduate students affiliated with the RBC with small grants of up to $2,000. This program was launched in 2016 with a generous donation from Kathleen Amos, and is named in honor of her son, John Spencer, a former master’s student at the River Basin Center and Odum School of Ecology.

Donations to this fund are currently being accepted through the River Center Fund. Please include RBC Spencer Grants in the Special Instructions on page two of the form.

Meet this year’s recipients

Carolyn Cummins

I am a PhD student in Dr. Amy Rosemond’s lab, and my research is focused on the effects of temperature on stream ecosystems. Specifically, I am interested in how stream insects respond to temperature and how these responses may scale up to affect ecosystem processes like leaf litter breakdown. I am originally from Durango, Colorado and attended Colorado State University. I have always been interested in the natural world, and this was nurtured further after I got involved with research and had the opportunity to do field work late in my undergraduate career. I switched my focus from pre-vet to Ecology, and the rest is history! In my spare time, I enjoy cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and cooking!


Ranjit Bawa

My research includes two general and overlapping areas of interest. First is how modeling non-point source (NPS) pollution influences water quality, especially as it pertains to the role of human interaction. Second, I am interested in advancing economic applications as it relates to agent behavior in the context of decision-making under uncertainty and ultimately, policy design. My most recent work attempts to value changes in water yields by surveying Georgia landowners whose forests serve as watersheds for the provision of critical ecological services (i.e. increased water yields). I am originally from the Boston area and worked in finance before returning to school for graduate studies in Statistics and Agricultural Economics some years later. Most recently, I was based in Minneapolis prior to starting my research program at the University of Georgia. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring new hiking trails around northeast Georgia and basketball.


Derrick Platero

My project is a detailed characterization of soil physical properties, which are critical inputs for modeling landscape-scale water table fluctuations. Spatial predictions of these properties with depth at the field-scale are often related to microtopography, which can be represented with detailed topographic indices. Proximal sensing techniques like electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and electromagnetic Induction (EMI) are more useful in identifying subsurface features associated with changes in ground conductivity. EMI has been used to quantify a variety of soil properties including texture, moisture, and pH. The objective of this research was to create detailed maps of sand, silt, and clay by depth for a 50-acre crop field in a Georgia Piedmont floodplain using a combination of depth-averaged specific conductance from EMI and topographic indices derived from lidar. We will develop spatial predictions of soil texture for each increment using regression-kriging and random forest models, and will compare them to available data in soil surveys. Models will be validated using k-fold cross validation. The resulting maps will be used to direct a subsequent sampling effort focused on soil hydraulic properties and water table modeling. Soil texture maps are an essential part of the soil assessment framework which can support advances in sensor technology and computer modeling. I am from the Navajo Nation located in New Mexico. I completed my undergraduate degree with a Bachelors in Agriculture in Soil Science with a minor in geology at New Mexico State University. I am currently working on my M.S. in Soil Science at UGA and plan to do my PhD after completion. I have a passion for Geo sciences–specifically soil science, hydrology, geology, and agriculture.


Laura Kojima

I am a first year Master’s student in the CESD program in Odum and my research is focused on alligator ecotoxicology and movement behavior. I am currently looking at the frequency with which alligators on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site move on and off the site to public hunting grounds and whether this puts hunters/consumers at risk of contaminant exposure. This is done through GPS/telemetry and biological sample collection. The funding from RBC will also contribute to looking at the potential for alligators to act as biological vectors for contaminants through a captive study, in which we collect feces, analyze it for contaminant off-loading, and compare contaminant levels to that of other biological samples such as blood and tail muscle. I have a research background in herpetology, and am originally from California, where I worked with western pond turtles during my undergraduate degree at UC Davis. Right after graduation, I worked with USGS on their giant gartersnake project for a season then took a few months off before moving for grad school. 

UPPER OCONEE SCIENCE AND POLICY SUMMIT

In partnership with the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, the UGA River Basin Center, UGA Office of Sustainability, ACC Stormwater,  and ACC Water Conservation will host the third biennial Upper Oconee Watershed Policy Summit.  “Exploring the Intersection of Science and Policy in the Upper Oconee Watershed” will occur on Friday September 25, 2020. This will be a virtual event!

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