Geo-Service Project

The Earth and Environmental Science Department geomorphology class has been working on a geo-service project led by Dr. Chad Heinzel. Beginning in the Fall of 2016, the project has continued to be worked on this semester. 

Heinzel explained that the project is centered on a rural to urban dry watershed in which UNI resides in. “We are characterizing the geomorphic and environmental aspects of our watershed in an effort to promote the understanding of fluvial processes (e.g. sedimentation, contamination, and flooding) and landscape development,” he said. To collect data, the geomorphology students are building a geographic information system (GIS), with site-specific field descriptions of landforms, soil, and bank properties. The students also did laboratory research such as chemical, XRF, XRD, ICM-MS, and physical and particle sizes and colors. The laboratory research will help the students with their understanding, according to Heinzel. “[ The laboratory research] will be used to facilitate a greater understanding of the ‘health’ of Dry Run Creek.” 

Heinzel also mentioned that communicating the scientific findings of the project will encourage conservative measures through community engagement. “These data will provide valuable information as the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District and to the Dry Run Creek Watershed Coordinator, Joshua Balk, moving forward in attempts to improve the geologic and environmental health of our local drainage network,” he said.

The entire class consisting of 21 undergraduate students and one graduate student who all began working on the project during the Fall of 2016. The class was divided into four different groups, each responsible for different parts of the project. “Each of the research groups took ‘ownership’ of different sections/branches of Dry Run Creek. We took time out of our geomorphology class each week to gauges each group’s progress and go over any problems or best practices,” Heinzel explained.

While working on the project, the students faced obstacles that are common within a group, such as: scheduling, different perspectives on the research, equipment failure, storms and floods, temperature changes etc., and keeping up with other course work. Heinzel also said that working with landowners to be able to access the stream in and out of Cedar Falls was often a challenge. 

To help fund the research project, Heinzel was awarded a grant through UNI’s Conservation Corps, funded by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. He explained that the grant helped pay the four students selected to continue working on the project and supported research for the spring, as well as presenting the results. 

Heinzel says that the report of results will be presented at two different events. “We have two presentation at the upcoming Iowa Academy of Science meeting … [and] We will be presenting our final report to the Dry Run Creek Advisory Board this Spring.” The group is also planning on participating in UNI’s Earth Day Celebration in April. Heinzel added that the group is presenting the results of the project later this year in October, at the Geological Society of America meeting in Seattle Washington.

As for the outcome of the project, Heinzel has three main hopes for the results. The first is to provide a meaningful learning experience to students through the applied project.  He also hopes has to make collaborations easier between UNI, the Dry Run Creek Advisory Board, the Iowa Geological Survey, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Cedar Falls to understand and improve the quality of the watershed. The project should provide accurate geological data to the local watershed advisory board to help increase more knowledge of the stream, mitigating the negative effects of urbanizations, and working towards creating a healthy stream and community. Finally, Heinzel hopes the project’s efforts will remove the Dry Run Creek from Iowa’s list of impaired streams. He added that he would like to do more work like this. “I would like to do similar geomorphologic characterizations of our other local streams (Miller and Black Hawk Creeks) and elsewhere in Iowa,” he concluded.