Thursday, December 24, 2009

A merry Christmas flume.

More of the little prototype I'm working on, the lights in the background are in our front windows.  Peace and happiness to all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Emflume takes another step forward.

Could you use a small 2D flume to teach fluid mechanics to your engineering, stream ecology, and geoscience students?

I got this small prototype in working mode today.  We hope to build a version that would sit on the end of our Em2 models.

I should thank the amazing Steven Vogel for helping me with the design, which uses a propeller pump like his "swim tunnels" used for fish research.  It's a very efficient and interesting way to short-lift a lot of water.  The motor at upper left drives a shaft and propeller in a 3-inch duct.  Flow circulates clockwise.  Here you see it pumping around 1.5 cfs using only a couple of amps and making very little noise.

Having the fluid mechanics part nearly done, we have to integrate mass production, safety issues, economics, university science curriculum, and a dozen more things to get to a final design.

The middle photo shows hydraulic jump over a broad wier; at bottom you see a flash photo I took of the sheet aluminum propeller we made running at around 800 rpm.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Minnesota geomorphology trip, part two.

After visiting the St. Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory, Kate and I met with Peder Thompson, who develops exhibits for the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Peder has done some amazing exhibits on hydraulics, hydrology, and atmospheric phenomenon for SMM, perhaps the best in the world.

Here you can see him with an incredible hydraulics bench display he's working on.  That's a fully operational pump he scratch built from acrylic.  Peter and I've talked a lot about modeling rivers for museum work.

Here you see a huge interactive wave simulation tank--the floor has many cool interactive exhibits, my scientist wife and I learned a few things in the physics and biology sections!  Visit if you can, and plan to spend some time there.

Minnesota geomorphology trip, part one.

Two weeks ago Kate (my spouse and silent partner in LRRD) and I took a working vacation in Minnesota, first visiting the St. Anthony Falls Hydraulic Laboratory.  Karen Campbell was kind enough to give us a tour.

This is a fantastic facility.  Built in the 1930's, it uses a natural drop in the Mississippi River (geomorph here, rich history of the area here) to provide head for the lab.  Researchers can get hundreds of cfs without pumping.  It's the only facility of its kind in the world.

Here you see Karen and Kate overlook SAFL's new Outdoor Stream Lab, an experimental channel built last year.  OSL link: 

We were also able to see the lab's famous Jurassic Tank and other research facilities.

The Lab has done a lot of work on scale modeling, most famously of a couple of dam removals.  Video from National Geographic here.  Here Karen shows Kate a model of a model; a small representation of the Elwha Dam removal.

We'll be collaborating with Karen on an upcoming NSF proposal to develop curriculum for river models.  I'm very grateful to her for working with us on that.

The last couple of photos show an old flume I'm pretty sure is featured in some of the first educational films on fluid mechanics.  (I wish SAFL/UMN would put these online and not require DVD orders.)  Quite a steampunk contraption.  Check out those massive galvanized iron pipes.  Lots of history at this place.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Please take our stream table survey!

We're resubmitting a proposal to NSF to develop stream table curriculum in collaboration with no less than eleven institutions, led by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. 

Can you help? We're asking for information on existing stream tables, or movable bed river models (MBMs), my preferred term.

We've set up a very short (<3 minutes) survey here. Please complete it if you can.

And forward to your geoscience colleagues!  Here's the full link for cutting and pasting:


Monday, November 23, 2009

Urban stormwater surfing, and too busy to blog.

I'm just swamped these days--with personnel changes at LRRD, the flu, grantwriting, consulting, all of it. Lots of cool things at LRRD, just no time to report them.

In the meantime, here are some kids in Brazil surfing urban stormwater. Don't do this. Drowning would be the least of it--if they had any idea of the little beasties in that water, diluted or not, they'd be scared to death.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

GSA in Portland Thursday

Wow, what to say about GSA this year? It was a great meeting for LRRD, we made many new friends and people flocked to our booth and praised the Emriver Em2 there. This makes the hard work of running a business worth it, and reminds me why we do it.

Janine Castro stopped by for a long talk--she's a main organizer of River Restoration Northwest. Last year we donated an Em2 for use in that workshop, at Portland State University, and by other users, and borrowed it back for the meeting.

There's so much interest in our models, but we hear the economic reality again and again: "I'd love to have one. Maybe by next year." Budgets are in bad shape.

Kate (my wife), Cara, and I worked very hard on this meeting, with support from the rest of LRRD, and it was quite a success.

On Monday night we had quite a meeting of geobloggers, very well documented by Callan at the NOVA Geoblog. Many thanks to him. It was wonderful to meet Callan (who's a new Emriver owner), BrianR, who's helped me with contacts in the geology research community, and others in person. A super interesting group. The photo above features Jim, Anne, and Kim (L-R). I can't identify the others. Callan has a great photo up. He has a lot of energy! Anne co-writes the ScienceBlogs geoblog Highly Allochthonous.

Kate and I are having a great time in Portland taking a couple of days off, our first in a long time. We've had a blast just walking around the City, and of course visiting Powell's. We're both serious bookworms. Kate spotted a book on geomorphic techniques that included a whole chapter on scale modeling; a nice addition for my current research. Tomorrow we head up the Columbia River Gorge, which I've never seen, to Hood River.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

GSA in Portland Sunday

Wow, what a day. It began very early, with a couple hundred geologists waiting at the Pioneer Square stop for a train that took an hour to arrive; with a talk at 11, I had plenty of slack, but others had to scramble for cabs. Somebody forgot that not many people want to ride around downtown before sunup on Sunday morning!

My talk on use of plastic media in models went well I think. Doing it led to my understanding the benefits of plastic media much better, and lots of attendees echoed my statement that "quartz sand destroys things." That's one of the reasons a lot of homebrew stream tables fall into disrepair; the pumps and other moving parts are ruined by sand.

Callen Bentley, of NOVA Geoblog (and Emriver Em2 owner) made a point of snagging me after my talk and showing off his LRRD hat. Very nice of him.

Afterwards I met with Pete Klingeman of Oregon State. Pete oversees the Em2 model we donated to RRNW last year, and they were kind enough to loan it to us for this conference; Pete did us the huge favor of delivering it.

We were swamped at the exhibit during the first night happy hour. I don't think 30 seconds passed without a visitor. It's so cool to see the bright young faces of students, and see them dig the model so much. A lot of interest from faculty, and plenty of compliments. Positive vibes that make all the hard work worth it.

Last night I shared an elevator with Reds Wolman; a brush with geomorphological greatness.

Cara arrives to night and my wife Kate later tomorrow, we'll have a great meeting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

GSA in Portland

I leave tomorrow for Portland and GSA. BrianR at Clastic Detritus has a thorough set of links, including info on a geobloggers get together Monday night.

We'll have a booth there with an Emriver Em2. We're all pretty psyched--we expect to see a lot of collaborators and friends we've made in the last couple of years.

I'm giving a talk about use of thermoset plastic media on Sunday morning at 11 in the Geoscience Education session. We were dinged a bit in an NSF proposal, and I paraphrase, "if this plastic media's been around for a decade, how come it's not more widely used?" Perhaps because nobody's ever given a talk at a major geoscience conference on it, so here goes.

I hope to have a little fun using Godzilla movie footage to talk about hydraulic similitude and how we scale moving water and sediment down. If you're there, you'll be able to bore your friends with a description of Reynolds number and how it explains why Godzilla's water-based battles look especially fake.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stereo photography in geoscience education.

Fuji just released a new 3D digital camera. I think this is the first such consumer grade digital system. We'll see how this camera works out, but others will follow, and this is great news for geoscience education.

Until now (or if you used one of the many old film-based stereo systems), you needed two cameras and a synchronization system. You can use a sliding camera, but anything that moves (e.g. water and sediment in a river model) won't be correctly rendered. So an all-in-one system like Fuji's is welcome.

We've been working on stereo photography, both for the Geowall system and for Close Range Photogrammetry (CRP). This photo (click on it for a high resolution version) is a quick sliding camera shot I took to display on Saint Louis University's Geowall system. We hope to develop a simple system for students to capture morphology in their Emriver Em4 for later display on the Geowall.

This month I talked with Neffra Mathews, a researcher who works for the BLM in Denver, about CRP. She's done some amazing work with it and was kind enough to give me a one hour phone tutorial. More on CRP later, but we're hoping that with a simple digital camera-based stereo system we can capture images of our river models that are useful both for stereo viewing and for measurements of topography that are at least good enough for student training.

The possibilities for our river models are endless. Time sequence capture of changing fluvial morphology without the hassle of multiple cameras and complicated software makes this technology accessible for student use. Very exciting stuff.

Thanks to the NY Times, article here.

UPDATE: The Fuji is not a camera I'd run out and buy based on early reviews.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

John Stewart on western water.

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From the only place to go on television (via the Internet) for a straight story, a hilarious skewering of Sean Hannity, whose argument Stewart sums up thus:
The government should stop meddling in the business of the farmers, who would actually still be living in a desert if not for government meddling.

A well-spent seven minutes--the bit at the end doesn't make sense at first, but stick with it.

Via WaterSISWEB, thanks.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Recipe for a river; more on the Braudrick flume study.

More on the Braudrick et al. work published last week: NPR's Science Friday made a nice little video, in which Bill Dietrich used the phrase "recipe for a river." Click on the image above to see it.

The recipe includes two sizes and densities of sediment, one quartz sand and the other plastic. And stopping the run no less than eleven times to replant alfalfa outside the bankfull channel, then waiting 7-10 days for it to grow.

After reading the paper and the suppliments in PNAS, I have a lot of questions. Two authors have replied to emails I sent (thanks), but I don't have the details yet. I'm most interested in why both lithic and thermoplastic media were used, and suspect its because plants don't grow well in the plastic media, something we've tried.

This work is very exciting for us because we've recently developed our big Em4 model for just this kind of research, and I'm giving a talk on thermoset plastic media at GSA-Portland in a couple of weeks.

Here's video of an Emriver run we made in 2007. After setting conditions to simply visualize meander initiation from a straight channel, and getting the video we wanted, we cranked up the flow and injected dye to make interesting patterns. Strictly for fun. The patterns we got are sort of the opposite of what Braudrick et al. were looking for--a highly braided channel. Those guys were looking for a single thread channel with point bars connected to the floodplain.

I might argue such rivers aren't as common as we'd like to believe, and lots of gravel bed rivers tend more towards a braided form. But that's for another post.

UPDATE: This technical memo by Bill Dietrich for Stillwater Sciences covers details of modeling efforts leading up to the Braudrick paper.

UPDATE: A nicely done news article by Phil Berardelli in Science, with quotes from the authors and David Montgomery.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A landmark paper in physical modeling.

A groundbreaking physical modeling study was published this week in PNAS (subscription required). NSF has a press release here. Christian Braudrick and others at EPS-Berkeley used a 17m flume filled with a mix of lithic and plastic particles to achieve what they call "the successful experimental generation of a lateral migrating, bedload-dominated, meandering channel with repeated cutoffs."
Using the lithic/plastic sediment mix, and stopping flow periodically to replant alfalfa used to create hydraulic roughness and bank cohesion, they created a remarkable simulation of river behavior over a 136 hour run. The photo above shows the remarkable resemblance of the channel and floodplain to a larger fluvial system.
Building on Bill Dietrich’s work on meandering and bedload transport through bends, the authors observed that matching outside bank erosion rates to bar deposition was critical, and that fine sediments (in this case the plastic particles) were necessary to fill in the chutes that form between point bars and the higher floodplain to allow the bar surface to build as channel migration occurred. Very good stuff that beautifully matches with my observations of our models and what happens in real rivers.
I’ve been immersed in this topic lately, so this paper was a very timely and pleasant surprise. Especially since the authors used plastic media similar to that in our Emriver models and concluded that their scaling, both geometrical and temporal, of roughly 1/50 to 1/100 produced realistic results.
Just yesterday (!) I arrived at a similar scale conclusions based on Reynolds number analysis and measurements of our models: Our Em4 is capable of scaling small streams (e.g., with a 7m bankfull width) at 1/50. At this scale the media particles would scale to a D50 of ~40mm (same as the paper). We’re still working on the alfalfa issue (and cohesive banks), but clearly this research supports use of models like our Em4 for research on real world rivers. The figure below shows how Reynolds numbers for a small real world stream would scale to a physical model; below 1/75 or so the distortion is reasonable and you can expect fully turbulent flow and a decent Froude relationship.
The authors addressed time scales in some detail in the suppliments to the paper--very good stuff, because that's been nearly ignored in the engineering literature on modeling because most of that work uses models that are not time-dependent.
You can see a movie of the experiment at PNAC, apparently not behind a paywall, here.
The paper’s title is Experimental evidence for the conditions necessary to sustain meandering in coarse-bedded rivers; authors are Christian Braudrick, William Dietrich, Glen T. Leverichb, and Leonard Sklarb.
Photo NSF and PNAC.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Approaching the elegance of an insect.

The NY Times published an article on insect aerodynamics last week (and also a beautiful photo series featuring recent science photos).

I've been immersed in micro-hydraulics for a few weeks now. Our Emriver models work in this realm of centimeter-deep flows and low Reynolds numbers. I've been going through the literature trying to make sense of it. No small feat; authors can't even agree on basic things, and most of the work's in engineering, with severely restricted experiments, not freely meandering channels like the ones we use. I keep going back to Steven Vogel's wonderful book Life in Moving Fluids. Vogel explains these things much better than the engineers who write about hydraulic modeling do.

The Times article scientists used a combination of mathematical models and tethered insets in wind tunnels. While there is much work to be done on the use of low density plastic media in river models, I argue that the mathematical models are not any better at prediction. Which is one of the reasons we keep building the physical ones. And because they're a lot more fun.

From the Times article:
The researchers suggest there is a lesson in this for engineers who are trying to develop tiny flying vehicles that mimic insects. Camber and the ability to twist while flapping are the keys to success, they say. But insects are far advanced when it comes to wing materials that can flap and twist thousands of times without cracking or tearing. The researchers note in the paper that it may be difficult for engineers “even to approach the elegance of an insect.”
I'd argue the workings of an alluvial river are certainly as complex as an insects wings, and we have a long way to go in our understanding, and need all the tools we can find.

Photo from the article in Science.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Em4 installation at St. Louis University.

We installed an Emriver Em4 model at the St. Louis University (SLU) Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences on Friday.

Several faculty members there are interested in the model. Since we're only two hours away, and there really is no substitute for seeing the model firsthand, I decided to loan it to them for for a trial run.

The model sits on the third floor of Maclwane Hall, with a beautiful view to the east and north, including the Arch. Despite the three story climb for the 4m x 1.5 meter box (bottom photo) the installation went without a hitch.

As is always the case, everybody was wowed. These models are magnificent tools.

We worked with faculty in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences to arrange this, including David Kirchner and Ana Londono, who joined SLU last year.

Ana (second photo, center) is shown teaching her first class only an hour after the model became operational.

We're very excited about this, and hope SLU will decide to give this Em4 a permanent home. They're close enough for collaborative work, and SLU is in a great geographical location for workshops on movable bed models that we hope to initiate next year.

We'll be visiting again next week for a meeting with interested faculty.

SLU has a rich history. The department of geophysics (renamed in 1969) was founded as the first in the western hemisphere in 1925.

Update:  Google Maps location of the lab and model here.  If you're driving, best to park in the Laclede Garage on the east side of Grand Ave.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Extreme accomplishment at LRRD.

I haven't done an update in a while, so fans of LRRD, here goes:

We have several potential Em4 clients now, and are very excited to be installing one at a university in Missouri next week (can't quite say who yet). We designed the Em4 to be adapted to both museums and academic teaching/research, and it's getting attention in both areas. We're now working with a museum developer for the Science Museum of Minnesota on an Em4 museum variant. We've also made contact with a Danish firm that can help us get models to the EU.

We've had great reviews on the Em4 installed at Winona State. (They also have six Em2s. All NSF-funded.) Toby Dogwiler and Cathy Summa there have done a wonderful job of teaching with the models. We're anxiously waiting for formal reviews--what we've heard so far is very encouraging. A nice article on their lab here.

We now have 50 Em2 models in the wild. Here's a map showing where they live. Aside from warm reviews from users, I'm happy to know we got the engineering right--except for a couple of bad pumps, we've had zero parts, safety, or other user problems. And, from user polling, no suggestions for improvements. This is what 20 years of careful tweaking yields!

Budgets seem to have recovered a bit from the panic of last fall and winter, and we've had many orders this year. And, overall, the economy has picked up. We narrowly missed NSF funding this spring, disappointing because there was stimulus money available. I can't think of a small business who could put it to better use.

We've made so many contacts this year--we have a long list of people interested in the Em2 model who're limited by the economy or waiting for the new fiscal year. And we've connected with many scientists who're interested in the models and collaborative research and curriculum development. Our visit to the American Fisheries Society (AFS) national meeting in Nashville last week was very encouraging--the biologists who need to educate stakeholders can see the great potential our Em2 models have to do this.

It's a great lift to get out of the office and meet literally hundreds of people who're fascinated with our models. We're looking forward to doing this again soon at the Portland meeting of the Geological Society of American (GSA) in October. I'm giving a talk there on use of plastic media in geoscience models.

Our new business manager, Stephanie Rhodes, is transforming much of the way we work, especially with her marketing savvy.

In the consulting/research arena, we're talking with the managers of the Cache River in southern Illinois about directing research at this Ramsar site, which is a geologically and biologically unique. This site will also feature in work done by SIUC's new $3.2 million NSF-IGERT program. Many of our SIUC collaborators are working on this project, and we're happy they've gained this funding. I hope to soon be adjunct in three departments at SIUC, adding Geology to Geography and Zoology.

Things are looking up, partly from the economic recovery, and also because of our hard work making connections, writing grants, continuing R&D, and marketing of our wonderful river models.

Bottom photo, taken about this time in 2008, of Jesse and Cara and the first Em4 model. Top photo full caption/credit for the photo above: Winona State University Geoscience majors Kristen Dieterman, left, and Valerie Johnson examine how water can form a river on one of the Emriver stream tables in WSU’s flume laboratory in the Science Learning Center. (Katie Derus)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

LRRD at AFS Nashville.

We're at the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society (AFS) in Nashville now. Though the depressed economy has attendance down to about 1,500 (half last year's), we're having a great time. Our booth, featuring an Emriver Em2, is getting a lot of attention.

Fish biologists are fun. They face huge challenges--aquatic ecosystems are integrators of human impact, and suffer accordingly--but the fisheries scientists and management biologists I've known do this hard work with a good attitude.

Cara's doing a wonderful job, as always, and my wife Kate's here to help as well, which makes me very happy.

We've made many new connections and I've reconnected with clients I haven't seen in years. And we've enjoyed talking to the many international students and scientists.

And of course we've been mobbed with excited visitors the whole time!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SIUC wins NSF grant to train watershed scientists

Several of our friends and collaborators at SIUC have been awarded $3.2 million by the NSF IGERT program to develop an elite watershed science and policy program. Nicholas Pinter is leading the effort, and our collaborators Matt Whiles, Lizette Chevalier, John Nicklow, Jim Garvey and others will be key players.

The program will recuit top notch PhD candidates. Though Southern Illinois is a wonderful place, it's not always easy to get the cream of the crop to come here. This program will do that. From today's SIUC news release:

Nicholas Pinter, professor of geology and principal investigator on the project, said the Watershed Science and Policy program also involves SIUC researchers from educational psychology, forestry, agricultural economics, microbiology, and fisheries. The team will work together to provide the doctoral students with a varied and diverse background on solving watershed and river basin issues.

“We are looking at training 18 to 20 national-caliber scientists,” Pinter said. “This doctorate fellowship program will train students as cutting-edge watershed scientists at SIUC, which is shaping itself as a center of excellence in this area of study.

“SIUC has wanted one of these IGERT grants for a long time and watersheds are an area of strength here at the University,” Pinter said. “Our faculty have been doing national and international work in this area for years and we thought this was our chance to land the grant. It was the right combination of people and the right timing…a very good fit.”

Plans call for three groups of students working as a team and conducting research toward earning their doctorate. Each group will work in a target river basin of key interest, including the Cache River, Atchafalaya River, Middle Mississippi River and the Tisza River in Europe. In addition to classes and seminars, students also will perform internships with various government agencies and other organizations and all will take at least one extended, two-week tour of a foreign country to observe watershed management practices there, Pinter said.
Photo is of my wife Kate on the middle Cache River, one of the study sites.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mad science at LRRD.

So much LRRD news to report, but I've been too busy to blog.

Some interesting work from this week: We're designing a small 2D flume. To do things like this. Here's a Google SketchUp excerpt.

And a photo of Jesse making inserts for the Emriver Em2 to simulate hydraulic structures.

I worked late last night on the motor/electronics for the flume, and needing a power resistor, tried a pencil, shortening it to get the value I needed. It worked wonderfully until it caught fire. Some of you will appreciate how proud I was to solve an electrical design problem with a simple pencil and start a lab fire in the process.

Jesse made some nice aluminum propellers for the system--they look just like the drawing.

We're hoping to finish the prototype flume in time to take a working version to the American Fisheries Society national meeting in Nashville next week.

Last photo is the pencil stub that gave its life for research, at about 15 amps.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Virtual Luna Leopold Project.

This site holds a rich compilation of pre-PDF works by Luna Leopold, one of the early luminaries of fluvial geomorphology. The site's a bit odd in that nobody takes credit for it, but it holds nearly 200 PDF files of his works.

I've always liked Leopold's writing style, and reading Sand County Almanac, written by his father Aldo, a true pioneer of ecological thinking, in a grad school soils class was something I'll never forget (see the "atom X" passage, and thanks, Gray Henderson, wherever you are.)

In scanning the PDF list I saw this one: A reverence for rivers. It's the text of a keynote speech given in 1977 (the year I graduated high school), and published in Geology. This short talk is an incredibly thoughtful and well-written treatment of water resources science, engineering, and management.

Leopold manages to weave stories of the Greek Herodotus and Persian reverence for rivers into an ongoing California drought and the rising conservation ethic of the day, and in his fashion, write beautifully about the statistics of risk and flood return intervals, engineering design, and the perils of letting raw economic forces control all use of natural resources:
The management of resources cannot be carried out successfully if it is looked upon as just another facet of economics, administration, and politics. Yet the latter view describes rather accurately our present approach to resource use (it can hardly be called management).
We haven't move forward much, have we? He finishes with this:
Man’s engineering capabilities are nearly limitless. Our economic views are too insensitive to be the only criteria for judging the health of the river organism. What is needed is a gentler basis for perceiving the effects of our engineering capabilities. This more humble view of our relation to the hydrologic system requires a modicum of reverence for rivers.
Luna died in 2006.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Robert Glennon on The Daily Show

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I know this has been well aired on the water blogs, but I can't pass up the chance give props to John Stewart. Micheal Campana gives a thorough review of Glennon's book.

Daylighting large urban stream channels.

Andrew Revkin, in the New York Times Dot Earth blog, writes about a collection of large urban streams being "daylighted," i.e. unearthed from massive underground pipes they were routed into.

The article is very link-rich, go take a look. Here's another take on a $384 million project in Seoul mentioned in Revkin's article.

Near here, the River des Peres in St. Louis was routed underground in a huge project beginning in the 1930's. Another article here. You could drive eighteen wheelers abreast through some of the conduits.

The flickr user "cicadashell" has some nice photos of the River des Peres here, the one above (used with permission) shows a section that was converted into a concrete trapezoid.

And, finally, "Misfit Stream" an interesting eco-blog about efforts to restore environmental values to the City of St. Louis.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Dow hits 9,000.

The Times reports the Dow above 9,000 for the first time since January 2009. Last fall's crash was not good for us--we've seen grants and institutional budgets slashed, and promising projects were lost or canceled. Our expansion in late 2007 was a big move, and we were just getting off the ground when the economy slumped.

We made a bold move for stimulus funding through NSF in January, but were turned down. Frustrating, because our proposal was first rate, and I can't think of a more appropriate use of the money, though of course NSF's review didn't (and wasn't supposed to) consider that.

Friends who know the stress of running a business say things like "in the end it'll make your business stronger," and perhaps that's true, but I'm more than ready for a break from this--we are focusing far too much on cash flow and not enough on the reason I'm doing this--innovative and effective river conservation science and education.

This market climb is good news. It won't return to last year's high for a long time, if ever, but at least it's going up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fluid mechanics time lapse video.

Morningstar Mill Timelapse from Matthew Wartman on Vimeo.

Really swamped with grantwriting, designing new things for our Em4, and relentless grind of running a business in a bad economy lately, so not much blogging.

Here's a nice time lapse movie with some hidden treasures. Notice the regular oscillation in the flows. I had the great fortune of co-teaching a restoration workshop with Marie Morisawa many years ago and remember her talking about regular fluctuations in streamflow velocity, on the order of several minutes I think, that nobody could explain. I think you can see them in this video.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lawsuit over Memphis pumping of the Sparta Aquaifer.

Via Michael Campana's WaterWired, news of a billion dollar lawsuit by the State of Mississippi against the City of Memphis over pumping of the vast Sparta Aquifer.

This problem has been brewing for a long time. The aquifer is being mined for water, and drawdowns over the past century have caused depressions of nearly 100 feet in some areas. Growing up in southern Arkansas, I drank this water (its quality is excellent) for many years. A big problem is use for irrigation, something I've talked about here before. Note on the aerial here you can see much of the Grand Prairie in Eastern Arkansas has been greatly modified to get rid of surface water even as they pump (note circles from center pivot units) from the aquifer for irrigation of rice, soybeans, and cotton.

The USGS has group of studies going, USGS Mississippi Embayment Regional Aquifer Study (MERAS), index here. The illustration comes one of these publications from McKee and Clark, PDF here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Climate change is here now, and we caused it.

Our rivers are in for some changes, and it's hard to see how a lot of flood return interval relationships, for example, won't go out the window soon, especially if we continue to ignore our effect on climate. And river restoration might mean adapting and anticipating this change, rather than returning streams to a prior state in another climate.

This week's EOS (subscription required) has noted the release of an alarming report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

From a New York Times article on the report:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco called the new report "a game-changer."

"I think much of the foot-dragging in addressing climate change is reflective of the perception that climate change is way down the road in the future, and it only affects remote parts of the planet," she said. "This report demonstrates that climate change is happening now, in our own backyards, and it affects the things that people care about. The dialogue is changing."
From EOS:

These impacts include rising temperatures and sea level, increases in heavy downpours, changing growing seasons, more frequent and intense extreme weather including floods and droughts, and the continued rapid decline in Arctic sea ice. The report notes that “global average temperature has risen by about 1.5ºF since 1900. By 2100, it is projected to rise another 2–11.5ºF. Increases at the lower end of this range are more likely if global heat-trapping gas emissions are cut substantially. If emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, temperature increases are more likely to be near the upper end of
the range.”

Photo is of some flood prone property just down the road from my house.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Research at SUNY using our Emriver Em2 model.

Ted Endreny at SUNY's Environmental Science and Forestry program is one of our most enthusiatic Emriver Em2 users. He and grad student Bangshuai Han have done some very interesting work on meander cutoffs and groundwater interactions using an Emriver Em2 and some special accessories we custom-built for them. These include a photogrammetry fixture and groundwater injection and extraction equipment.

They've produced two wonderful posters, links here and here. The abstract is here. The work was presented at the AGU 2009 Joint Assembly.

We've known the Em2 models were capable of serious quantitative research, but few people have taken them to this level. Most scientists use them for demonstrations and less formal student exercises and student research projects.

We're thrilled to see this work, and look forward to more!

Citation for the presentation: Han, B. and T. Endreny, 2009. Asymmetrical Changes in Hydraulic Gradient Along Valley and River Transects During Meander Cutoff Evolution. Eos Trans. AGU, 90(22), Jt. Assem. Suppl., Abstract CG21A-04.

Ted (shown below with an Em2) and his colleagues have also used their Em2 for some amazing NSF-funded outreach programs. Links here and here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

High resolution aerials of the Mississippi River on Google maps.

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I've discovered that much of the lower Mississippi, at least along eastern Arkansas where I grew up, is covered by very high resolution aerials in Google maps. Here you see the Mississippi and Arkansas River confluence. Zoom in on the two barge tows near it and you can almost make out the deck hands. Wonderful stuff for exploring the beautiful meander and bar deposition patterns, effects of navigation structures, and vegetation patterns.

Huge floodplain restoration project in northern Louisiana

The New York Times ran a nice article this week on a groundbreaking floodplain restoration project in northern Lousiana. The US Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy are restoring a 25 square mile patch of floodplain along the Ouachita River.

The area was cleared and leveed in the 1960's. It's now owned by the USFWS and is part of the Upper Ouachita River Refuge. Plans are to breach the levee system and return it to the river. The NY Times article is comprehensive (as those in the Science section tend to be), and links to a TNC video.

The levee is huge--roughly 30 feet high and 120 feet wide at the base. I wish them luck and look forward to studies on how this reconnection works, because I think we'll be seeing a lot of it in the future, and rightly so.

The area is not far from Monticello, Arkansas, where I went to high school. I flew over this refuge in a light plane once, and remember well the huge green wildness of it. (It's always fun to hear outsiders try to pronounce the river's name. It's WASH-i-taw.)

Photo by Steve Haase (TNC) shows the restoration area at left.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cameron Bencini joins LRRD.

Cameron Bencini had a great first day at LRRD as our new summer intern. Cameron just graduated from SIUC with a degree in civil engineering, and has been accepted in the graduate program there for the fall.

Today he was clearly drawn to the Emriver Em2 model, and immediately applied his knowledge of hydraulics to understand what he saw. Part of his job will be help us develop exercises for use in engineering classes.

We're excited about our new colleague and saw right away that having a new pair of eyes looking at our models, especially a pair connected to a brain full of fresh engineering knowledge, is a very good thing.

Welcome, Cameron.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Maple seed vortex visualization.

We're in the throes of NSF grant writing again, and I'm way behind on blogging, which is frustrating, because we have lots of cool things going on at LRRD.

Vimeo hosts this interesting visualization of a maple tree's single wing "helicopter" seed via Science News. has a nice write-up on this work by David Lentink and others, some of which was published in Science.

The researchers also used a scaled up artificial seed in mineral oil. We're working on these issues of similitude in fluid mechanics at LRRD, though we always scale down, and unfortunately there seems to be no good way to reduce viscosity, unless we fill our river models with dangerous hydrocarbons or use very hot water.

I've always loved to watch maple seeds fall in the spring, and if you've studied forestry you know they're called single wing samaras. Steven Vogel (emeritus at Duke now) writes eloquently (and with great humor) about biomechanical things like this in his books. His Life in Moving Fluids is one of my favorite science books.

And speaking of backyard science, see this video captured in a study of the spectacular dives of male hummingbirds. It's a great video, and I like the embedded data graphics at the end.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Massive geoscience teaching linkage at SERC.

In the course of web research today Cara and I found an amazing resouce: Funded mostly by NSF it appears, this project organized workshops on teaching geoscience a few years ago.

One result is a huge resource-rich website hosted by the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College.

See an overview of the project here. The page on teaching geoscience with simulations and models is here. This page links to dozens of visualizations and collections of visualizations--note there are several pages of links!

Here's the page on river systems and forms anda page on using physical models to teach sedimentary geology that features the Jurassic Tank (featured in the photo) at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. There's also a page on the XES Basin (modified Jurassic Tank from what I can tell), along with a giant 0.8GB movie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

NSF MRI-R² webcast.

NSF hosted a webcast todayon the special MRI-R² solicitation. I've updated a past post with other information and a link to the archived webcast.

And here's something funny via Clastic Detritus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dunes and a beautiful delta in Lake Eyre.

Like some other bloggers I know, I can't resist pointing to yet another image from NASA's Earth Observatory site. This one if of Australia's Lake Eyre basin.

Just go read the description there. In how many places do we see a delta system and sand dunes cutting through one other?

And an amazing ecosystem to boot--see the Australian Broadcasting Corp. video (referenced by the EO site) here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A wonderful book on water lifting devices.

Water Lifting Devices, by P.L. Fraenkel and Jeremy Thake.

My wife Kate loves libraries, and on one of our recent trips to the newly remodeled Morris Library at SIUC, I happened to spot this book. I've done innumerable internet searches on pumps and related technology for our river model development, but had never seen this one. Score another one for books on shelves.

The book's aim is a review of applied pumping theory and practice, and description of pumps suitable for, mostly, third world applications. It's amazingly comprehensive, with wonderful sections on theory and pump efficiency--even covering generation of electricity using wind, hydro, and biogas.

Pumping is a difficult topic. This book does an admirable job of making it accessible.

If you work with pumps or fluid mechanics, or are interested in mechanical devices (and their history) you'll enjoy this book. Many of the technologies described, such as the Archimedes Screw, are centuries old and most rely on human or animal power.

You can find the most recent version (3rd edition, 2007) on here, and it seems the UN-FAO has an older online version with a linked table of contents here. Both are richly illustrated.

I also found a wonderful collection of photographs covering this topic by Thorkild Schiöler here. A photo from this site, of a Chinese "dragons's spine" pump powered by three treaders, is shown below.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An "inland hurricane" hits Carbondale.

Last Friday, as a massive storm system we now know was a meso cyclone, roared through southern Missouri and Illinois. Soon after lunch we sheltered in our safe spot at LRRD as sustained winds of 80 mph hit. It's being called and "inland hurricane," and that's an apt description because the damage is very similar. Nearly every block in Carbondale was at least partly blocked as trees came down, often taking overhead utilities with them. News articles here, gif animation here, and here. Not much on the national news, though the damage from this will likely approach that of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf coast.

In Illinois, the damage covers several counties, and we're told Carbondale took the brunt of it. Hardly a home stands undamaged. I counted over 30 trees destroyed on the 3-acre lot my in-laws own.

A 36-inch red oak came down on the back of our building, giving us quite a shock. Like many huge old oaks that were destroyed, it was simply uprooted. Constant rain over the last two weeks left soils saturated, and many healthy trees were destroyed this way. Bad luck.

We just regained power the Internet connection today, though many of us will be without power for several days at home.

Top image is the NOAA Radar, which I captured an hour or so before the winds hit us.

Update: Radar imagery from the University of Wisconsin. A week after the storm, many thousands of homes (including mine) are still without power, and Carbondale estimates over 3,000 trees came down in the City.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Watts Branch, Walter and Merrits

From, a nice piece on last year's controversial Science article by Walter and Merritts (links here)and its implications for restoration, with commentary from Peter Wilcock and Frank Pazzaglia.

Until now I wasn't familiar with Pazzaglia's work, but it looks very interesting.

I had strong feelings about the Walter and Merritts paper--I remember well, as a young river scientist working for the Missouri Department of Conservation, first seeing photos of Watts Branch, the model Leopold and others held up as a typical meandering stream. It didn't look right to me, incised and stripped of woody vegetation--probably grazed by cattle. I never thought it was a good study subject, certainly not to describe a typical unimpacted channel segment.

Here's the photo of Watts Branch, from Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grade control Part 1.

I've been working on an incised urban channel needing grade control, and took the opportunity to review what's out there, and also my own thick files. Here I'll talk a bit about theory, practice, and the politics of using grade control in channel management.

First, a skydiver. On leaving the plane he has huge potential energy relative to the ground thousands of feet below. After opening his chute, he slowly dissipates that energy by converting it to kinetic energy using a parachute.

Water works the same way. Especially in urban channels, I use this simple conceptual approach: We have a certain volume of water entering our area of interest at a certain elevation. As this flow moves down the channel, potential energy (from the elevation difference) is converted to kinetic energy and dissipated. How that conversion and dissipation happens largely controls channel erosion and sediment transport.

Grade control structures are a way to manage this. At the top of this figure we see a smooth channel. Conversion of potential (PE) to kinetic energy (KE) is more or less evenly distributed throughout the reach. Below we've added grade controls. What's important here is that we now see 1) most of the energy is now dissipated only at discreet locations (the GC structures) and 2) we pick and armor those locations.

Pretty simple. And it works. In theory, you don't have to armor the channel between these structures. One of the many things about river mechanics that is counterintuitive to most people.