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Carrie Davis: Playing in the Mud

Carrie Davis collects water quality data at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine, Iowa.

Carrie Davis collects water quality data at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine, Iowa.

by Shianne Gruss

Penny Davis likes to say that her daughter Caroline never grew out of the sandbox.

Today, Carrie Davis, an assistant research scientist at IIHR— Hydroscience & Engineering, often spends her days knee-deep in riverbeds, monitoring water quality. Before joining IIHR as a postdoc in 2011, Davis was a contract geologist for Iowa Geological & Water Survey at the University of Iowa Oakdale Campus. She’s now based at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) in Muscatine, Iowa.

Davis holds several degrees in geology and geophysics, including a PhD from the University of Missouri-Rolla, and says her studies flowed naturally toward water quality. All of her research seems to cycle back to the same issue: How does water quality change from upstream tributaries to larger rivers, and what are the drivers for these changes?

“If I’m driving down the road and see a water body, I do think about what’s coming downstream,” Davis says.

Sharing the Data

Davis oversees 22 water-quality monitoring stations—up from just seven sites two years ago—that look specifically at nitrates, dissolved oxygen, turbidity (murkiness), and several other water-quality parameters in streams and rivers in the Iowa-Cedar and Skunk River watersheds. Davis and a team of field technicians, graduate students, and other researchers can now access data online before analyzing it. The team has recently begun to compare yearly data for various field sites.

While Davis admits it can be a challenge to deal with so much data, which come in every few minutes from the sensors, it’s worth it when she gets to interact with the public. “We often have curious property owners, farmers, and other folks who stop by our field sites to see what we’re doing,” Davis says. “It is so fulfilling to talk with folks about the purpose of our water-quality monitoring and what it means for them personally.”

Effecting Change

A friend once observed that Davis treats her life like an experiment. “I really like diving into the data and seeing what’s in there,” Davis says. “I’m trying not to be boring, but I do like taking work home with me.”

Davis is also collaborating with a research group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which seeks to understand the patterns of nitrate movement from agricultural landscapes to the typical Midwestern watershed, particularly after periods of drought. With several IIHR colleagues, she’s also conducting research funded by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center based at Iowa State University.

Davis says she has always been fascinated by agriculture and farming and loves knowing that her research could affect farming in a positive way.

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Last modified on June 29th, 2015
Posted on April 3rd, 2015

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