National Science Foundation grant funds research on the Platte River Posted on July 24th, 2012 by

Prof. Laura Triplett has received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study silica cycling in large western rivers. The grant, totaling more than $150,000, was received in conjunction with collaborators Dr. Karin Kettenring, a wetland plant ecologist at Utah State University, and Dr. Michal Tal, a geomorphologist at the University of Aix-Marseilles in France. For each of the three summers of the project, two Gustavus student researchers will join Prof. Triplett in her lab and in the field as they explore how human activities, including the introduction of invasive plants, is changing how much silica flows down rivers to the ocean.

From left: Zach Wagner (’13), Tara Selly (’13), Prof. Laura Triplett, Will Metcalf (’15), Lance Erickson (’14)

Last week, our team conducted the first fieldwork on the Platte River in Nebraska. This year’s student collaborators (Zach Wagner, ’13 and Lance Erickson, ’14) were joined by two additional Gusties (Tara Selly, ’13 and Will Metcalf, ’15) and the three faculty team leads. The fieldwork was intense due to the hot dry weather gripping the middle of the country, but our group was efficient and ambitious, and we successfully collected a van-load of sediment and plant samples from along the Platte and its tributary, the Loup River. Now, we return to the lab to figure out what it all means!

Many areas of the Platte are being intensely managed with heavy machinery and frequent herbicide application to try to maintain more natural, vegetation-free bird habitat.  In those areas, for example, pictured below at the Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary, we collected ‘control’ samples.  This area of the Platte is what the river looked like in the 1800s before irrigation and reservoirs decreased the river’s flow.

Crossing the Platte at sunrise

Other areas of the river are thickly infested with Phragmites australis, a non-native grass that grows in tall, dense patches.  Below, the students are standing in front of a patch in a Nebraska state recreational area and campground.

Students in front of Phragmites australis in a small branch of the Platte River

Unfortunately, Phragmites has spread across the U.S. in the past decade, and Prof. Kettenring also studies it Iowa wetlands, around the edges of the Great Salt Lake, and all through estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay.  Intensive efforts at control are underway on the Platte, and the largest patch of Phragmites that our team saw last week was actually in a roadside ditch just 10 miles from home in St. Peter, MN.  We received substantial assistance in the field from Rich Walters of the Nature Conservancy and Jason Farnsworth of the Platte River Recovery and Implementation Program.  Below, Profs. Triplett, Kettenring and Tal agree on how to dress for summer fieldwork.

Profs. Triplett, Kettenring (Utah State) and Tal (Aix-Marseilles): 100 deg. F at the Platte


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  1. […] Read more about this project on the Geology Department’s blog. […]