August 12, 2014, BY Paula Cogan Myers

Erin Cox '15 and Professor Jessica Newlin collecting Susquehanna River temperature readings.

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A hush falls over Bucknell University as the students depart at the end of each spring semester. You might wonder if anything happens on campus during the summer. The students and faculty doing summer research can assure you that it does. From exploring how music links with literature in the poetry of Emily Dickinson to installing a network of sensors to measure temperature variability in the Susquehanna River, they're busy pursuing their scholarly interests.

Sample a taste of the work being done on campus this summer in English, economics, psychology, and civil engineering.

Tucker Cottrell '16, civil engineering and Erin Cox '15, civil engineering

Mentored by: Professor Jessica Newlin, civil engineering   

Sponsored by Bucknell Undergraduate Research grants (PUR) and supported by the Bucknell Environmental Center.  

How do you mount a scanner at the correct depth on a moving boat to get undisturbed images of the Susquehanna River bed? Figuring that out is part of river research, as Tucker Cottrell '16 has discovered this summer.  

Cottrell has been working with Professor Jessica Newlin, civil engineering, to use a high-tech fish finder to take images of the riverbed. Newlin's research helps identify different types of aquatic habitats, understand the river's history and inform resource management.  

Susquehanna River

Finding the right set-up for the scanner, the best boat for the job and the adjustment needed for changing water levels has taken persistence, said Cottrell. The side scanner relays sonar at an angle and provides an image of the riverbed form at a range of about 25 feet on each side. The down scanner shows them the riverbed depth.  

A log of the images is then linked with mapping software. "The goal is to process the data we've taken and display the different characteristics of the bed of the river," Cottrell said.  

Cottrell and Newlin will analyze the data they have collected in conjunction with previous research, which includes underwater depth data and profiles of the riverbed. The profiles give them an idea of areas where there might be smaller or larger sediment, which helps them identify how distinct riverbed features were created by both glacial and modern flooding. Next, they plan to take detailed photographs of the riverbed to come up with a size distribution.  

Erin Cox '15 is looking at the influences of groundwater and tributaries on the temperature of the Susquehanna. She and Professor Newlin are placing sensors in the river to collect temperature data over the long-term. This will allow them to see how it changes over time, by location and at different depths.  

"Water temperature is commonly used to assess water quality," Newlin said. "For instance, higher water temperatures decrease dissolved oxygen levels and can lead to stress and disease outbreaks in some species of fish. So, we're trying to get a handle on what the temperature is like in the river."  

Erin Cox '15 on the Susquehanna River retrieving temperature data loggers.

Both projects rely on the resources provided by the Bucknell Environmental Center (BUEC) and the expertise of their staff. Ben Hayes, Director of the Watershed Sciences & Engineering Program (formerly the Susquehanna River Initiative), helped them identify achievable goals, rig up a fish finder mount and even drive the boat. Aquatic biologist Sean Reese shared his diving skills as well as his perspective on their research and how their data might be used in other fields.  He's often out on the river with Cottrell while Hayes is out with Newlin and Cox.  

The BUEC helped support over 30 undergraduate students from 17 different majors who were doing research related to the environment and sustainability this summer, enabling their projects to go forward. "It's important for me to get field data," Newlin said. "It's great for me to have student help in the summer and both students plan to present their research at national conferences this year."