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Source: Katie Costigan, costigan@k-state.edu
Photo available: http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/jul11/721ysi.jpg
News release prepared by: Jennifer Tidball, 785-532-0847, jtorline@k-state.edu

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WHERE TWO RIVERS MEET: DOCTORAL STUDENT EARNS NATIONAL RECOGNITION FOR RIVER RESEARCH

MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University doctoral student has earned national recognition for her research focusing on river environments and ways to improve stream restoration.

Katie Costigan, doctoral student in geography, Glocester, R.I., has received the first YSI Graduate Student Scholarship and Equipment Loan, which includes a $10,000 scholarship, a $1,000 travel stipend and a loan of river monitoring equipment to use for her research. The award is the first of its kind from YSI Inc., an international Ohio-based company that develops water-monitoring equipment.

Costigan received the award for her doctoral research project, "Critical Gateways in the Fluvial Ecosystem Landscape: Hydraulic, Geomorphologic and Thermal Habitat Dynamics at Confluences." The award provides her with three pieces of river monitoring equipment, including two acoustic Doppler profilers.

"It is top-of-the-line equipment," Costigan said. "I'm hoping to answer some of the questions about river confluences and to use this equipment to clear some of the controversy surrounding conflicting results in the literature."

River confluences are points where two rivers meet. Little research is available about these confluences and Costigan wants to better understand the organisms and complex environments that occur in these areas of the river. She is measuring several aspects of river confluences, including sediment load from tributary rivers, the curvature and meandering of the rivers, size of the junction where the rivers meet, thermal patterns in the rivers and river speed.

The new profiling equipment will help her measure river speed using the Doppler shift principle. By sending a signal to the river bottom and then measuring the return signal, Costigan can determine the speed of the river at different depths. One of the profilers can measure river depths as low as three inches -- a strong improvement from other current equipment, which can only obtain measurements as low as a foot in depth.

Costigan is using this equipment and other monitoring devices to study six sites where rivers merge with the Kansas River: Manhattan, Ogden, St. George, Topeka, Lawrence and Eudora.

"Understanding river confluences is very important for river restoration," Costigan said. "Because there are so many unanswered questions about river confluences, they are often overlooked in river restoration projects."

But this could change with a better understanding of environments at river confluences. Costigan hopes to use her results to develop improved models to measure river flow, sedimentation patterns and thermal patterns. That way, scientists can better predict habitat conditions.

For her research, Costigan is working under the direction of Melinda Daniels, associate professor of geography, and Richard Marston, university distinguished professor and head of the department of geography.

"As Katie's doctoral supervisor, it has been a pleasure to work with her," Daniels said. “She is doing all the right things as a Ph.D. student -- publishing, applying for external funding and extending herself to maximize her Ph.D. experience. This award is the product of her superior work ethic and the high quality of her research proposal."

The YSI award was open to graduate students all over the world. For the application, Costigan had to write a research proposal for a project that related to oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes or laboratory settings.

"It's always nice to be recognized for your work, and the financial and equipment assistance from the award is a weight off my shoulders," she said. "I'm really excited to begin this next phase of my research."