Katherine Weber received a YIBS Small Grant for her Master’s research on water quality modeling.
Biospheric research often involves huge datasets and requires scientists to gather information around the clock, giving accuracy to analyis and precision to predictions. While improving measurement technology is making this type of data collection easier, the field still provides many challenges for scientists to grapple with.
“I work as part of Professors Peter Raymond and Jim Saier’s lab. They recently got an NSF grant to install water quality probes in nested watersheds within the Connecticut River basic. The probes themselves take measurements every 15 minutes on pH, conductivity, depth and two different types of dissolved organic carbon. They give a really good picture of how water quality responds to other events and how long it takes for us to see changes manifest themselves,” said Katherine Weber, a Master’s student at Yale F&ES.
“There are eight sites within each of two areas. In order to get this data we had to install the probes in the watershed and then revisit each probe to change the batteries every two weeks. To install them we had to drill directly into the granite bedrock with a handheld drill since we were in the middle of a river. The drills kept breaking so the process took weeks. We also ran into quite a few beavers that clearly felt territorial about the area as they came out to make noises and scare us off.”
Beavers aside, the huge amount of information that is generated by these probes provides a dataset that is unmatched in its size and detail. Working with this data, students like Katherine Owers are able to bring a new level of precision to water quality modeling. Her project measures nutrient levels in sediment and will provide a method for predicting how future changes in the watershed might affect water quality.
“For example, my model shows how water quality could be affected by a conversion of forest land to farmland but also, and this is becoming increasingly important, how extreme weather events like huge amounts of rainfall, impact the watershed. Knowing more about what climate change might do to affect water systems in the future is essential to managing them well,” says Weber
Climate change also explains why the dataset as a whole has focused on measuring dissolved organic carbon. We currently know very little about how rivers interact with the global carbon cycle. The studies that exist are small and have led to a few hypotheses, but so far haven’t been able to nail down a good understanding of the relationship between rivers and carbon in the atmosphere. Again, this highlights how important large amounts of information, collected over time, can be to researchers and practitioners alike. Though it is expensive to get it can be essential to our understanding of the world.