Laura Naslund, sitting in a canoe on a pond, smiles while taking emissions data.

A Day in the Life of a Pond: Measuring Small-Reservoir Emissions to Inform Infrastructure Decisions

By 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, Laura Naslund had already spent over an hour in a canoe on a little pond on the east side of Athens, Georgia. Naslund, a graduate student in the Odum School of Ecology and a 2022 Spencer Grant recipient, was finishing up the first field sampling event of her new research project. She’d started work early on Monday morning, and was still paddling a canoe out to measure gas emissions all over the pond 24 hours later.

“The idea is to understand the times, places and pathways that are most important for emissions,” Naslund said over a quick breakfast, “and then apply that information to a later study at more sites which examines the drivers of the differences in emissions between sites.” 

There are 364 reservoirs in Athens-Clarke County, but only 23 of them are listed in the National Inventory of Dams, leaving hundreds of smaller reservoirs that receive far less attention from freshwater research and management alike.

Laura Naslund and volunteer assistant Ally Whiteis paddle a canoe across a small pond for field sampling.
Laura Naslund and volunteer assistant Ally Whiteis paddle a canoe across a small pond for sampling, around the 2-hour mark of the 24-hour field sampling.

Naslund believes these small reservoirs may have a much larger impact on inland water systems than we currently recognize. She hopes to expand our understanding of freshwater reservoir emissions by focusing research attention on the small ponds of Athens. The end goal of Naslund’s research is to help inform infrastructure decisions regarding which of these dams have the greatest environmental impact and which may be highest priority for removal.

“Particularly as we are about to have the largest infrastructure investment probably in my lifetime, I think now’s a good time to start thinking about how we can use ecological knowledge to inform where and what kind of infrastructure we have,” she explained. “And this project, I think, is a little bit unique among that body of work in that it’s focused on the end of an infrastructure life cycle.”

Naslund is particularly dedicated to accurate field testing: data collection for this research will involve sampling all over each test reservoir for over 24 hours at each event. These methods were designed to get the most accurate possible understanding of where, when and how gases are emitted throughout a day.

Laura Naslund paddles a canoe across a wollfia-covered pond.
Laura Naslund paddles a canoe across a wollfia-covered pond, around the 6-hour mark of her 24-hour field sampling.

“I think researchers have thought about spatial variation a lot, we’ve thought about seasonal variation a lot, but we’ve though less about the variation in emissions that happens over the course of a single day,” Naslund explained. By focusing on variation at a daily scale, Naslund hopes to collect emissions data that more accurately represents the natural history and spatial heterogeneity of a system.

It’s strenuous work to sample for 30 hours at a time, but Naslund doesn’t mind camping out. “The places that I’m working in are beautiful. So that always helps!”

She also acknowledged that she could not do this research alone. Her team of volunteer assistants included professors, undergraduates, and fellow graduate students, who came in shifts throughout the 30-hour sampling. “It’s been really great to collaborate with people, to show them new techniques, and to learn from them,” Naslund said.

Ally Whiteis, Odum undergraduate, paddles a canoe on a wolffia-covered pond.
Ally Whiteis, Odum undergraduate, paddling a field canoe.
Olivia Allen, Odum undergraduate, sitting behind Laura Naslund in a field canoe and recording data.
Olivia Allen, Odum undergraduate, recording data.

Naslund’s research is funded by the Network for Engineering With Nature, a collaboration between UGA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, along with a grant from the Odum School of Ecology and a 2022 Spencer Grant from the River Basin Center. The Spencer Grants are annual awards given to graduate students studying freshwater management and conservation. The grant is named for the late John Kyle Spencer, an Odum graduate student who was passionate about freshwater research. Research like Naslund’s is a reflection of this passion for freshwater science and cooperation among environmental researchers.

Photos and story by Olivia Allen

Phillip Bumpers presents his research wearing sandals, jeans, and a white collared shirt. A screen displays the image of a stream and text. Above the screen in black and red lettering reads the words Innovation District.

University units collaborate to host Climate and Water Research Slam

Great minds don’t necessarily think alike—and the River Basin Center feels that’s valuable.  

That’s why it partnered with The Office of Sustainability and the Georgia Initiative for Climate and Society to host the Climate and Water Research Slam on May 12, 1 to 5 p.m. 

Twenty-two speakers—including lawyers, engineers, ecologists and social scientists—from organizations across the University of Georgia campus gathered to present lightning presentations in their areas of expertise. The event featured talks from students and faculty alike.   

Presenters distilled years of research into bite-sized pieces: Talks lasted five minutes, with time for a handful of questions after each. Topics ranged widely, from melting Antarctic ice sheets to economics and irrigation, to hydrosocial concerns, to the impact of policy on Georgian wetland.

“Personally, I was very excited to see this exchange of ideas between our RBC affiliates, who mainly work in freshwater and coastal systems, with colleagues working on climate-related project in other realms,” said Seth Wenger, director for science at the River Basin Center. He co-facilitated the event alongside Cory Struthers, affiliate at the Georgia Initiative and Tyra Byers, director of the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Sustainability.  

Struthers agreed with Wenger. Collaboration encouraged by interdisciplinary events is not only useful—it’s necessary.

“Cultivating community, including friendship, is so important for fostering intellectual creativity and innovative scholarship on epic challenges like climate change. Events like the Research Slam help us re-energize on these fronts,” she said.

Struthers was hired two years ago at the School of Public and International Affairs. She’s been motivated to work on climate issues and organize climate faculty ever since, and she wanted to host a networking event through the Georgia Initiative.

So she reached out to Byers. When they in turn reached out to Wenger, to ensure that the River Basin Center wasn’t hosting an overlapping event, he let them know the center was optioning a research slam.

“We decided to all join forces,” Struthers explained.

And for the three organizers, climate and water were a natural thematic fit. “That kind of cross-sectional issue space between water and hydrology and climate is so joined together. It would be hard to just study water without talking about climate,” Struthers pointed out.

The venue for the event was the newly renovated Delta Innovation Hub. Presentations were followed by a networking reception for participants to exchange ideas and to brainstorm new collaborations.  

“It was an opportunity to socialize and just get a feel for everybody’s research and personality,” said Struthers.

For those who missed that opportunity, not to worry. The organizers plan to make the research slam a recurring event.