LACMRERS: Productive Partnerships
Every day seems to bring a flood of negative environmental news. The problems are so complex, they often seem beyond the scope of what one
person can address.
IIHR researchers know how challenging the problems can be. That doesn’t stop them, though, and in fact, they believe they knows the key: collaboration.
LACMRERS can bring people together to form partnerships to benefit the river. The problems are so difficult, it takes a collaboration to solve them.
Understanding the Mississippi
LACMRERS is a place where people who care about the river can meet and find common ground to make positive changes. LACMRERS was created in 2002 to support research and educational activities related to the Mississippi River and other large river systems. It is the first university-owned research and education center on the Upper Mississippi River, and it is operated by the University of Iowa College of Engineering’s IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering. More than $2 million in financial support from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust made LACMRERS possible; the research station was named to honor Lucille A. Carver.
In the last year, research at LACMRERS has grown exponentially. Current studies are focusing on mussel propagation, real-time water quality, the fate and transport of sediments, and hydrodynamic modeling of large river systems, linking computational fluid dynamics models with water quality. Collaborative work at LACMRERS involving colleagues in other academic disciplines at the university is taking off too, in areas such as geoscience, engineering, and geography. Collaboration is crucial to all these projects.
Learning from the River
As an engineering graduate student, Tom Smith worked with the LACMRERS/IIHR modeling team, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to help develop hydrodynamic models of the Mississippi River, using fundamental physics-based equations to simulate the river’s geography and geometry. Smith, who recently earned an M.S. degree, completed a model for Pool 8 and also supplied data to researchers at the University of Illinois for their ecological model. “Working with all the partners was great and really helped improve my team-building and production skills,” Smith says.
Jeff Houser of the USGS serves as the water quality specialist for the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP), which funded the work. LTRMP is funded by the USACE, with scientific administration and coordination by the USGS. “I worked with the engineers to help provide some perspective on how the model output might be beneficial to river managers and ecologists,” Houser says. “We have already learned a lot about the hydrology of Navigation Pool 8 from the output it has generated.”
Users can run various scenarios through the Pool 8 hydrodynamic model to see what would happen under different circumstances. For example, the model could be used to determine the best sites for rebuilding some of the islands that were lost when the lock and dam system was built on the Mississippi in the 1930s. The islands provide important backwater habitat for wildlife, but it’s crucial to put them in the right place to avoid creating more problems. For Smith, it’s rewarding to see the model in action. “Finally seeing the model producing results and [then] using those results to formulate ideas and solutions was exciting,” he says. “This gave me a chance to use my engineering skills to help make a small difference, aiding river managers and biologists in restoring the environment.”