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May 5, 2000

UW-RF Students Study Local Watersheds

By Rachel Weddig
UW-RF News Bureau

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls recently received national recognition for geology projects involving the Rocky Branch of the Kinnickinnic River in River Falls and the Hay River Watershed in Prairie Farm.

The first project was directed by UW-River Falls plant and earth science Professor Kerry Keen. His students, as part of a junior-level sedimentary geology course, researched the Rocky Branch, a small tributary of the Kinnickinnic.

Jennifer Erdman, a geology major from Augusta, researched the Hay River Watershed as part of her geology senior seminar class. Her research, the first ever conducted on the watershed, did not find significant pollution problems.

The findings from both studies was presented April 6-7 at the annual meeting of the North Central Section of the Geological Society of America in Indianapolis.

For three weeks Keen and his students researched the Rocky Branch, which is usually 4-5 meters wide and a half meter deep. The bed is sand and gravelly with some submerging aquatic vegetation. The students examined the river to learn about rock sedimentation and erosion. "I feel this is a good project because students get exposed to science and gain learning experience," Keen said. "It is important for them to learn how to evaluate and study rivers."Keen feels most students are a little hesitant when starting this projects such as this because they must develop their own research questions.

"Students are usually not this involved in a geology lab," Keen said. "Some feel uncomfortable and not sure of themselves when heading out to the river to look for questions to research."

After the project is completed, Keen feels, the students realize that it was a valuable learning experience.

"Students feel responsible for what they are pursuing," Keen said. "It gives them a chance to develop scientific inquiry and reasoning."

He continued, "I feel most students appreciate the opportunity to get out and explore science," Keen said.

Erdman completed her project during February and April of 1999 at four locations in the Hay River Watershed near Prairie Farm. The watershed is located within glacial till plains and surrounded by agricultural lands about an hour northeast of River Falls.

"I thought it would be a unique experience to look at the Hay River, because no one really has studied it before," Erdman said.

Erdman studied nitrate and phosphate concentrations, which are serious pollutants to drinking water taken from rivers in Wisconsin.

Her analysis found that there was not enough phosphate or nitrate in the river for the general public to be concerned with.

Erdman admits the hardest part of her experiment was preparing for her scholarly presentation in Indianapolis.

"It was a nerve-wrecking experience to present my findings at the conference," Erdman said. "Also getting all the data readable and put into graphs for the poster I presented was also a challenge."

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