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RUI/MRI: Acquisition of Equipment to Support Research and Undergraduate Training in Aquatic Science

A grant has been awarded to the River Studies Center (Center) at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for the acquisition of equipment to support research and undergraduate student training in aquatic science. Drs. Saros, Haro, Rolfhus, and Sandheinrich will oversee the research. The Center was established in 1972 to facilitate the University's scientific involvement with environmental and resource-management issues pertinent to the Upper Mississippi River. Subsequently, it has expanded its research activities to other aquatic resources in Wisconsin, the Upper Midwest and the nation, providing research opportunities to nearly 100 graduate students and more than 250 undergraduates. The Center has become nationally recognized for its investigations of non-point source pollutants in rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. Ongoing studies in the Center are focusing on two pollutants, nitrogen (as essential element) and mercury (a highly toxic metal), which have caused widespread degradation of aquatic resources. Members of the Center are currently exploring the extent to which atmospheric N deposition may be altering alpine lake communities in the western U.S. and are investigating how groundwater/surface water interactions affect N dynamics and export in watersheds under multiple land management practices in the Upper Midwest. The Center's mercury investigations are assessing landscape factors controlling methylmercury contamination in food webs of lakes of Voyageurs National Park, the production and accumulation of methylmercury in nearshore environments of southern Lake Superior, and the linkages between methylmercury exposure and endocrine disruptors in wild fish. Collectively, the Center's investigations of non-point source pollutants provide a broad array of research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students of aquatic science. The grant will support the purchase of equipment to further enhance the Center's capabilities in investigations of non-point source pollution and education of students in aquatic sciences.<br/><br/>Analyses of water chemistry and aquatic food webs are critical to understanding the source and effects of non-point source pollution in lakes and streams. Nitrogen enrichment can alter the composition and dynamics of food webs, whereas the exposure of humans and wildlife to methylmecury occurs via the aquatic food web. The equipment purchased through this grant includes an elemental analyzer to measure ratios of various nutrients in aquatic organisms, and a total organic carbon analyzer to quantify dissolved organic carbon, an important factor influencing the transport and availability of inorganic mercury and methlmercury to aquatic organisms. Two microscopes will enhance the Center's imaging capabilities An automated mercury analyzer and temperature-controlled bath will enhance the Center's ability to determine mercury in water, sediment, and aquatic organisms. <br/><br/>The variety and extensive nature of theses activities will promote the understanding of several issues related to non-point source pollution by nitrogen and mercury. Nitrogen enrichment and mercury contamination of aquatic ecosystems are problems of pressing regional and national concern, both from an ecological and human health perspective. The acquisition of this equipment will foster the synthesis of results among aquatic ecosystems that span an array of ecological, geological, and chemical characteristics; this information will aid managers and scientists in making more informed decisions. Moreover, the equipment will enhance the research of Center faculty, whose scientific credentials and motivation ensure competitiveness in obtaining financial support for research in aquatic science. In addition, the equipment will further enhance the training and research of the many undergraduate and graduate (M.S.) students who will benefit from ready access to well-equipped, scientific facilities.

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