The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center has recruited eight U. of I. scientists to serve as faculty fellows who will help set the stage for ongoing learning, discovery and engagement at the center, located near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers in East Alton, Ill. The center is a partnership of Lewis and Clark Community College, the U. of I. and the Prairie Research Institute's Illinois Natural History Survey.
Nicholas Brozovic is a professor of agricultural and consumer economics. He is developing a roadmap for how a research and educational mitigation bank would be developed at the center.
"Ecosystem services are an increasingly important organizing concept in environmental management," Brozovic said. "However, there is a disconnect between research and education surrounding ecosystem services in higher education and the real-world ecosystem services industry."
Brozovic says a lot of academic research has focused on water-quality trading, but very few actual trades have occurred. "Conversely, wetland mitigation is a multibillion dollar industry in the United States but has only been described in a handful of academic papers," he said.
Ximing Cai is a professor of civil and environmental engineering studying the ecosystem degradation problems in big rivers resulting from overwhelming headwater drainage practices. The Illinois River is serving as his case-study site.
"The target is to start a major research project based on the resources of NGRREC, which together with other existing or future projects, is expected to enhance the role of Illinois in the big river research area," Cai said.
Cai also wants to connect his ongoing research and teaching to relevant activities of the center. He has been studying large-scale river basin management using integrated hydrologic-economic approaches.
Bethany Cutts, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences is interested in sustainability concerns in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.
Her research focuses on prevention of further invasion of the Illinois River by Asian carp, reduction of nutrient pollution of the river from agricultural and urban sources, and accommodation of both the benefits and burdens created by changes in the flood regime.
Her educational objective is to develop training networks that can be used to connect community colleges and undergraduate and graduate students with scientists and policymakers.
George Czapar is the director of the Center for Watershed Science at the Illinois State Water Survey. He plans to focus on public engagement, expanding international research partnerships and working with interdisciplinary teams.
Czapar is developing a project that connects community colleges along the Illinois River. He believes the Illinois River can be used to engage students in water quality monitoring and help them understand how land management practices affect water resources.
His second objective is to expand international research and teaching opportunities with the center through his ongoing projects with the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom and Zhejiang University in China. "Both of these top universities have active programs in water research and work on related issues such as nutrient enrichment, flooding, water supply planning and climate uncertainty," Czapar said.
Marcelo Garcia is a professor of civil and environmental engineering. He is taking advantage of the mesocosm flumes at the center to conduct experiments on the transport of Asian carp eggs and flows in the vegetated channels.
Garcia also is assessing the hydropower potential of Illinois streams, specifically the Illinois and Fox rivers where many low-head dams could be retrofitted to generate energy with minimum environmental impact.
"I am also interested in pursuing the development of a facility at NGRREC for the testing of hydro turbine technology taking advantage of the dam that is upstream," Garcia said.
Prasanta Kalita is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering. The primary focus of his teaching and research career has been in land and water resources management for sustainability.
"An ever-increasing demand on water to meet the world's food production, urbanization, industrialization and other sectors is impacting our available water resources, water quality and environmental sustainability," Kalita said. "Sources of water supplies in many parts of the world have declined, yet the drainage of excess water from a significant land resource has been a constant need."
Kalita is collaborating with Lewis and Clark Community College by developing partnerships for education and research. He plans on providing seminars and visiting lectures to classes related to water and the environment.
He also is providing leadership in establishing and coordinating programs between the center and funding sources while working on grant development.
Drew Phillips is an associate quaternary geologist for the Illinois State Geological Survey. With colleagues, he has completed surficial mapping of the St. Louis metropolitan region of southwestern Illinois, including the American bottoms of the Mississippi-Missouri river valleys.
"Recent developments in historic and modern aerial photography and high-resolution elevation data have made possible remote-sensing analysis of landscapes over large areas," Phillips said.
He is continuing his current research, which is geographically focused in the Wabash and Kaskaskia river valleys. Research areas that he would like to address pertain to historic geologic activity associated with the retreat of glaciers from the region, and specifically how glaciers shaped the recent geologic history of the Wabash River valley. Other interests include the mechanisms of large river meanders and earthquakes in the region.
Bruce Rhoads is a professor of geography and geographic information science. He is interested in advancing the research and educational missions of the center.
Rhoads is exploring funding opportunities and various programs that are being considered for proposal development. He also hopes to better integrate the extensive research program he developed on the Wabash River with the activities and goals of the center.
"Our research on the Wabash has been supported by four National Science Foundation grants over the last six years, and we are beginning to expand this work to include a focus on the relationships between river geomorphology and ecological conditions, especially on the fish," Rhoads said. "Tremendous opportunity exists to connect this work to the riparian expertise of scientists at NGRREC. Connecting our work on the Wabash to NGRREC also will expand the scope of NGRREC to a regional scale by moving it beyond its current focus on the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers."
Rhoads also wants to contribute to the growth and development of educational programs between the center and community colleges.