USU river research improves quality of water

Members of USU’s biology and ecology department studied rivers in Idaho and Wyoming during summer 2010 in hopes of learning more about river ecology. Michelle Baker, associate professor of biology and ecology, said the studies aim to help develop research methods that will be used with Utah rivers the summer of 2011. Baker said ongoing funding from a collaborative grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) helped the needs of the team. They were joined by researchers from the University of Wyoming, Notre Dame University and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a private New York school. “Our main focus was the factors that control the river’s ability to process nutrients,” Baker said. “That’s important because it’s the processes responsible for clean water.” She said they chose to start in Idaho and Wyoming because they had smaller, clear water rivers that the scientists were familiar with from past studies. “Nobody has studied rivers in this way,” Baker said. “It’s not exploratory in the sense that we don’t think we’ll be able to accomplish our objectives, but it definitely took a long time to convince people that we could do it.” The team’s research addresses growing concerns about water quality and the availability of chemicals such as nitrogen, which has doubled over recent years. Baker said this is an aspect of global change that should be brought to people’s attention. This summer, the team will move to the Green and Colorado Rivers in eastern Utah to study much larger rivers with higher sediment loads, Baker said. “This is the first time I’ve really worked on nutrient chemistry,” said graduate student Matt Schroer. “It was a steep learning curve, but it was something you learned really quickly and it was a lot of fun doing it.”

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