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.