Aquatic Natural Sciences Projects

Watershed Ecology and Conservation: Dr. Alan Christian

Dr. Alan Christian’s (PI) research lab investigates fundamental, restoration, and conservation questions regarding the ecology of watersheds ranging from population genetics, to population, community, and ecosystem ecology, to watershed-scale characteristics. Since 2009, his research has focused on linked coastal watersheds and restoration ecology. Students working in his lab receive training in field and laboratory techniques associated with watershed ecology. Research projects range from 1) molecular ecology using DNA analysis of freshwater organisms related to restoration activities; 2) assemblage and community compositional, structural, and functional diversity of natural and restored ecosystems, 3) food web and trophic analysis of aquatic organisms; 4) ecological stoichiometry and nutrient recycling in aquatic organisms; and 5) reach, buffer, and sub-watershed habitat and land use land cover characteristics influence aquatic communities and ecosystem processes.

Evaluation of the toxicity of halomethoxyphenols (MeOPs) in Daphnia magna: Dr. Beatrice Hernout

This summer, Dr. Beatrice Hernot’s lab will evaluate the toxicity of halomethoxyphenols (MeOPs) in Daphnia magna. Halogenated compound concentrations were recently determined in top predator fish by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Fish Monitoring and Surveillance Program (GLFMSP)(Fernando et al, 2019). The levels of MeOPs were measured in fish samples from all five Great Lakes. Halomethoxyphenols (MeOPs) compounds were accounting for more than 60% of the total concentration of halogenated compounds. However, the potential toxicity of these compounds on aquatic species is unknown and therefore, the high levels previously determined in fish raise a need for further research. In this project, the student will use Daphna magna, a widely used test species in aquatic toxicity to determine the potential toxicity of MeOPs. Through this training, the student will be familiar with basic laboratory techniques, lethal dose 50 (LC50) concentration protocols and data analyses.

Emerging Contaminants in the Great Lakes: Dr. Thomas Holsen

Dr. Thomas Holsen’s lab studies the fate and transport of emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes. Past human activities have resulted in the emissions of numerous chemicals into the environment. Today there are >30,000 chemical substances in wide commercial use that could potentially cause similar problems as legacy chemicals; however, for the most part they have not been looked for in environmental media. In this project the concentrations of selected commercial chemicals in the Great Lakes, which are not being monitored in current measurement programs, will be determined. REU students will work Tom and his lab group to use novel techniques to measure these contaminants in lake water, biota, and sediments. Results obtained will: 1) provide information about these new chemicals in the Great Lakes, 2) elucidate the processes responsible for pollutant cycling, and 3) provide information for regulators who may need to control the use of these chemicals.

Biocontrol of Invasive Species: Dr. Susan Bailey

Dr. Susan Bailey’s project explores the use of biocontrol approaches to combat invasive species. Human activity has contributed to an ever-growing number of invasive species worldwide. In aquatic ecosystems, such as those within our nearby Adirondack Park, numerous invasive plant, animal, and microbial species have spread and established, with potential detrimental impacts on the environment and economy. A range of management approaches have been applied, attempting to control invasive species with varying levels of success. In this project, we will experimentally test one particular management approach – biocontrol. This approach uses predator species that eat the invasive pest species to manage or even eliminate the invasive pest species completely. When effective, this is a non-toxic, sustainable alternative to chemical pesticides. A common problem with the biocontrol approach is that the predators are often slow or ineffective at eating the pest species. A proposed solution to this problem is to give the predators a “boost” by providing them with a supplemental food source, helping to increase the predator population and allowing them to better eradicate the pests. Using an experimental lab system consisting of bacteria (the pest) and protozoa (the biocontrol predator), we will test the efficacy of this proposed bio-control approach with supplemental food, and characterize the most effective way to implement it. These experiments will be a step towards understanding the conditions under which we expect biocontrol management approaches to be effective in aquatic field systems.

Inexpensive, Easy-to-Use Sensors for Monitoring Nutrient Pollution in Eutrophic Waters: Dr. Silvana Andreescu

Increased industrial and agricultural activity has affected the water circuit, with implications on the normal functioning of natural ecosystems and the availability of clean water sources for human consumption. Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) export from agroecosystems has become a major issue with the increased rates and intensity of harmful algae blooms (HABs) and eutrophication acceleration, which kill fish, pollute drinking water, and alter tourism. The challenge of managing and preventing eutrophication is therefore two-fold: (1) the lack of effectively field monitoring tools that can identify areas of high P and N pollution and (2) the lack of engineering tools and methods to decrease environmental impact. Current technologies for P and N detection lack selectivity and cannot be deployed limiting the number of sites that can be tested. Developing inexpensive easy to use methods that can effectively track P and N in eutrophic waters will significantly improve our ability to effectively manage and monitor eutrophic waters.  The overall goal of this project is to develop an easy-to-use inexpensive sensor that can selectively measure P in eutrophic waters. To achieve this goal, REU students will engineer materials possessing P-binding sites and graft them on high surface area sorbents with built in recognition and transduction capabilities. Students will test the hypothesis that these materials will respond and sense P by changing their properties upon binding, and that this mechanism can be used to create inexpensive sensors for monitoring essential nutrients in aquatic environments. Outcomes of this research will be a new technology solution to measure nutrients in contaminated nutrient-rich water sources with increased portability, low cost and the potential for large-scale deployment. This experience will provide REU students with the opportunity to acquire knowledge in materials synthesis and characterization as well as analytical skills and develop critical problem solving abilities, while developing novel technological solutions to current and emerging challenges in the environmental monitoring field.

Quaternary and Applied Geology: Dr. Allen Gontz

Dr. Gontz’ lab uses geophysical systems to investigate how and why landscapes have changed over time. Dr Gontz and his students have applied these techniques all over the world and are currently working in Australia, New Zealand and Spain to understand the climate-society, landscape-society and climate-landscape interactions. These investigations often take the form of mapping landscapes with ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity and seismic reflection coupled with high resolution topography and aerial photography. Students will be exposed to preparing for field research projects, conducting field research, processing and interpretation of data, integration of data sources and synthesizing results using industry standard and state-of-the-art geophysical, computer and software systems. Examples of current projects include: 1) Understanding river sedimentation changes in an anthropogenically controlled river systems; 2) Using lake level changes to provide a context to climate changes over the past ~12,000 yrs in the Adirondacks and St Lawrence Lowlands; 3) Mapping former lake and wetland environments to unravel the flooding history of the St Lawrence Lowlands and the proglacial lake system that existed as ice retreated from the area during the last ice age; and 4) Understanding storm dynamics through changes in lagoon stratigraphy in large lakes.

Freshwater Mussel Propagation: Ms. Jessica L. Jock

Jessica L. Jock is the Remediation and Restoration (R&R) Program Manager for the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s (SRMT or the ‘Tribe’) Environment Division. The Tribe has sovereign jurisdiction over Mohawk land and waters in the U.S. domestic portion of the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne, and its Environment Division works in partnership with State, Federal, and Provincial natural resource agencies. The R&R Program encompasses multiple projects related to Superfund Sites, Brownfield Sites, and natural resource management and restoration in/near the waters of the St. Lawrence River Area of Concern (AOC).  The Tribe works in partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) on restoring unionids (freshwater mussel fauna) in the lower Grasse River due to in-river Superfund Site dredging and capping habitat alterations. Propagation of mussel species is one of many management tools applied for species recovery in this system. Student(s) working on this project will experience training in procedure design, field and laboratory techniques, and collaborative Agency management of freshwater mussel fauna.  Research projects range from 1) aquaculture laboratory techniques; 2) optimal growth studies; 3) molecular ecology using DNA for freshwater mussel restoration; 4) water quality trend monitoring of laboratory, ponds, and rivers; 5) mussel community structure, aging, and juvenile recruitment sampling techniques; and 6) fish host studies. Some travel may be required for field and laboratory access at SRMT but the base of the student’s work will be at  Clarkson University’s Potsdam campus.

Population Ecology of a Threatened Fish, Mooneye: Dr. Tom Langen

Mooneye (Hiodon tergisus) is a threatened fish in New York.  Mooneye inhabit rivers and large lakes with clear water, and they congregate at dams and waterfalls for feeding and spawning.  Published studies on this species are unexpectedly sparse, even though there are many internet webpages about Mooneye angling. The best known population of Mooneye in New York is in the Oswegatchie River, not far from Clarkson University. The objectives of my research project is to delineate the population distribution, characterize habitat use, estimate population size, and reproductive phenology of Mooneye in the Oswegatchie River watershed; this information will be used in a state conservation plan for the species. An REU student on this project will work with a graduate student and myself to capture (gill-netting, electro-shock, and angling), measure, and mark Mooneye. The student will collect data on river ecological conditions where Mooneye are encountered (e.g. water temperature, depth, flow rate, water clarity). The REU student will also help design and distribute informational media on Mooneye to elicit ‘citizen science’ reports from fisherman and other on Mooneye encounters. The student will learn basic techniques and concepts in fisheries biology and conservation science, working with the PI and a graduate student. The REU student must be willing to work under sometimes chilly and buggy conditions in the evening, must be willing to handle fish, get a little wet, and must be willing to work on a boat safely. It will be challenging work but fun!

Aquatic Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Projects

Shoreline Communities: Courtney Johnson-Woods

Courtney Johnson-Woods’ research interests are in water quality protection through sustainable forestry and collaborates with foresters, loggers and landowners all committed to best management practices (BMPs), training initiatives, and public participation. Her current work is along the St. Lawrence River, in which she uses mixed-social science methods including life narrative to discover not only people's connections and attachment values to the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes Basin shoreline communities, but also their potential contributions to local ecological knowledge as well as citizen capacity building for decision-making. This includes considering post-2017 and 2019 flooding issues by exploring the possibility of decisions of community shoreline retreat in the basin. Her emphasis is on the intersection of people, place theory, and natural resources, particularly water, and an exploration of the communication/participation approaches that seek ordinary voices alongside experts and forms of higher-laddered forms of citizen engagement, involvement, and river advocacy. Courtney also is interested in public scholarship such as ArcGIS StoryMap to make research findings accessible to the general public.

Aquatic Resource Engineering Projects

Ecohydraulics for Healthy Waters: Dr. Abul Baki

Dr. Abul Baki’s ecohydraulics flume research lab was built to enhance our understanding of the ecohydraulics for healthy water solutions. Rivers and streams in the coastal watershed are highly threatened by habitat fragmentation, expressed by the number of barriers (e.g., dams, culverts, road crossing), which is a major impediment to restoring many aquatic populations and species. Because of these barriers, thousands of waterways in the coastal watershed are impassable to fish and other aquatic species; native fish species are unable to reach historic spawning grounds or food sources and thus their populations have rapidly declined. With habitat fragmentation progressing worldwide, ecohydraulics research put much effort into conservation measures for maintaining and restoring the ecological connectivity of coastal riverine habitats. Abul’s research project centers on an ecohydraulics focus on nature-like fish passage to restore aquatic connectivity, stream restoration and enhancement, habitat suitability and instream flow requirements.

Electrochemistry of Wastewater: Dr. Elizabeth (Lisa) J. Podlaha-Murphy

Dr. Elizabeth (Lisa) J. Podlaha-Murphy has two REU projects available for the summer of 2022. 

The first REU project is Electrochemical Nitrate REU project seeking to remove nitrates from wastewater using innovative electrolysis processes, which are particularly advantageous due to their relatively high efficiency, no sludge production, and low investment costs. However, a barrier to the wide adoption of electrolysis is the high energy needs for electrochemical reduction; hence better electrocatalysts are needed, with long lasting stability. This project’s goal is to better understand nitrate reduction onto transition metal catalysts targeting a wide pH range covering a region where transition metals readily form oxides and where they do not, to probe the influence of the surface conditions to enhance activity and selectivity of nitrate reduction to nitrogen. REU students will electrodeposit copper alloy electrocatalysts, including copper-palladium, copper-iron and copper-silver, and test them in a simulated nitrate wastewater and industrial waste effluent with a three electrode electrochemical cell. Nitrate and other possible side products, such as nitrite and ammonia, will be measured and surface state information of the electrocatalysts will be analyzed via x-ray absorption (e.g., XANES) at the LSU synchroton in Baton Rouge, LA.  

The second REU project is the “Electrochemical destruction of alternative additives used in a microelectronics waste stream.”  A goal of metal chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) is to uniformly polish the interconnection metals and the liner/barrier materials with the desired removal rates and selectivity while minimizing CMP-related defects such as pitting, dissolution, and galvanic corrosion. To this end, a variety of azoles are used as corrosion inhibitors, such as benzotriazole (BTA), which are poorly biodegradable during wastewater treatment and highly toxic to the nitrification process, which requires very expensive wastewater treatment challenges. An alternative approach is to use amino acids as corrosion inhibitors, to replace BTA. This project is to assess the electrochemical oxidation of a representative amino acid, cysteine, a known copper corrosion inhibitor, in a typical CMP waste slurry, to determine how readily it can be degraded.

Enhancing Water Security: Dr. Yang Yang

Dr. Yang Yang’s group integrates chemical engineering, environmental chemistry, and material science principles to address critical challenges in renewable energy production, water treatment, and water reclamation. Ongoing projects in his group to enhance water security include: the development of 1) an electrochemical oxidation process for the treatment of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in landfill leachate; 2) a fast electrochemical disinfection process for the inactivation of pathogens and the control of antibiotic-resistant gene; 3) an electrochemical method for the control of harmful algae bloom in aquatic systems. REU students will learn the principles of redox chemistry, electrochemistry, and advanced oxidation/reduction processes. Students also will receive immersive experience on 1) the design and operation of the electrochemical reactor and 2) the analysis of the transformation of target pollutants during electrochemical treatment. In addition to lab-based studies, students will have hands-on experience in operating the full-scale (500 m3/d) boat-mount electrochemical algae treatment prototype in Great Lakes-St. Lawrence watersheds.
Also, we are expecting to have a field test in the summer of 2021 to evaluate the performance of a full-size HAB terminator product in a New York State lake. This pending project will be supported by NYSDEC. The REU project could be integrated into this research task. The test could span a week. The students can choose one day to participate in the operation of the reactor, water sampling, sample shipping, and onsite water analyses.

Electrochemically Driven Nutrient Recovery from Wastewater: Dr. Taeyoung Kim

Dr. Kim’s lab develops innovative electrochemical technologies to remove and recover nutrients from wastewater, which will not only address their harmful effect on aquatic systems but also conserve the value when properly recovered for fertilizer. Electrochemical methods allow for separating charged nutrients, such as ammonium (N) and phosphate (P), of which concentration varies significantly depending on the source, requiring different strategies for nutrient recovery.

Students will study the overall landscape of wastewater generation and treatment processes, and have opportunities to operate several electrochemical systems applicable to several different sources including sewage, landfill leachate, and anaerobic digestion dewatering sidestream. Selective membrane or electrode are required to remove low concentrations of ammonium-N in sewage. To handle high ammonium-N concentrations in landfill leachate and sidestream, the solution pH is elevated to drive ammonium-N towards ammonia-N by electrochemical reactions. Volatile ammonia-N will be recovered by membrane stripping. Struvite precipitation is used to recover both N and P in wastewater but its solution chemistry must be met for effective crystallization. Energy consumption will be quantified to assess technical and environmental benefits together with resource recovery efficiency.

Collectively, Dr. Kim’s lab will provide undergraduate students with research experience in the field of energy, environment, and electrochemistry, which is highly interdisciplinary in nature.