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New Research Center Where Three Rivers Meet

by Ellen Hardy
25 March 2008, at 12:00am

URBANA - The point at which three rivers - the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri - come together will be the location of a new research field station. The official construction launch will take place on Thursday, 17 April at the National Great Rivers Museum in Alton, Illinois.

The research and education station is made possible through a partnership with the University of Illinois, Lewis and Clark Community College, and the Illinois Natural History Survey.

"Research at this new facility will contribute to the body of scientific knowledge about river systems and will help inform both the public and policy makers about issues that relate to the health and sustainability of our rivers," said Robert Easter, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.

The field station staff will conduct research and education programs to increase understanding of big rivers, their watersheds and flood plains, and the interaction between the rivers and their human, plant, and animal communities.

"This research is crucial for developing sound watershed and river management strategies that can have global implications as we all strive to protect and sustain river systems amid exploding populations and increasing scarcity of fresh water resources," said Gary Rolfe, U of I professor emeritus and director of the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center.

Prof Rolfe said that one feature that will set this facility apart is its sophisticated mesocosms - large concrete channels containing flowing water and plankton pumped directly from the river.

"In these artificial environments, researchers can conduct controlled experiments by changing the water velocity or other environmental conditions. The results of these experiments can be used to predict effects on populations in the river, and to develop fish conservation strategies," said Prof Rolfe.

The field station is scheduled to be completed in 2009. Easter said it will be "a model of 'green construction' with virtually no environmental impact, renewable energy systems and internal recycling systems.

"In many respects this center represents the three words found in the name of our College and which define our domains of interest - Agriculture, Consumers and the Environment. Water and the river transport system are vital to Illinois agriculture, and agriculture can prosper long term only if proper attention is given to sustaining the environment. The beneficiaries are the consumers of Illinois and the world."

Ellen Hardy