Field station provides river education, research

By on January 10, 2012

By Dr. Chris Lorentz

This past summer, Thomas More College announced that it has raised more than $1.6 million for its Biology Field Station and related environmental sciences program, surpassing the $1.5 million goal originally set two years ago. With the money raised through these efforts, Thomas More College will be able to significantly improve and expand the facilities and research capabilities for our students, and be able to provide the community with a variety of science outreach programs including field trips, seminars, camps and workshops. A particular focus will be on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education throughout the region.

The money raised will be used to upgrade lab facilities both on the main campus and at the field station.  Specifically at the station, the funds are being used to:

  • Build a new LEED-certified education conference center and residential facility,

  • Construct a new analytical chemistry and molecular biology laboratory,

  • Purchase new environmental monitoring and other laboratory equipment and supplies and

  • Expand the STEM outreach programs for K-12 students.

The Thomas More College Biology Field Station is a 20-acre teaching and research facility located on the banks of the Ohio River in California, KY, just upstream of Cincinnati, OH. The station was the previous site of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dam 35, built in 1919, and one of 51 wicket dams along the Ohio River.  Since acquiring the property in 1967, the Biology Department has transformed the facility into a state-of-the art science and technology center and established the Center for Ohio River Research & Education in 1998. The faculty and staff at the center offer visitors opportunities to enhance their knowledge of the natural world through field courses, research projects and outreach programs that focus on the ecology of the Ohio River.  The center is open to students from grade school to graduate school and the general public.

Research is at the heart of the Biology Field Station.  Beginning in 1971, the faculty there established a long-term ecological monitoring program on the Ohio River.   For over 40 years, this research has examined the water quality, habitat and fish populations around two coal-burning power plants currently operated by Duke Energy. The primary objectives of these studies are to assess the aquatic ecosystem around the plants by examining the current composition of the fish community, the spatial variation between the fish populations upstream and downstream of the plant, and the hydrological, chemical, and physical characteristics of the Ohio River near the plant.

For the past several years, the field station has collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) on the deployment of a stand-alone, stream side water quality monitoring station (WQMS) incorporating chemical, physical, and biological water quality monitoring technologies with data telemetry, data analysis, and water sampling capabilities on the Ohio River. The first pilot WQMS is located at the Biology Field Station. This station provides monitoring criteria and design information for streamside WQMSs that could potentially be incorporated into early warning systems (EWS). These systems could be strategically placed throughout the Ohio River watershed as a part of a future source water protection network.

In 2006, the field station partnered with the Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) and established the Environmental Academy. SD1 is responsible for the collection and treatment of Northern Kentucky’s wastewater, as well as regional stormwater management. Through the Academy, Thomas More students assist SD1 biologists with their Illicit Discharge Detection Program and Watershed Management Program. Students work alongside SD1 scientists in the field to inventory outfalls, assess habitats and conduct water quality assessments. The Station has also recently partnered with The Ohio State University and the Freshwater Mussel and Conservation Research Center, operated by OSU and the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, to understand the basic biology of imperiled mussels and assist in the recovery efforts of threatened/endangered mussel species. Freshwater mollusks are arguably North America’s most threatened and endangered group of animals. For this research, biologists from the Newport Aquarium built a 720-gallon tank which serves as a holding facility for various fish species that are examined as potential hosts for the larval stages (glochidia) of native mussels. As viable fish hosts are identified, management plans can be established to restore mussel populations back to the Ohio River and nearby tributaries.  In 2010 Micropterus punctualatus, spotted bass, was positively identified for the first time as a host for Lampsilis fasciola, the wavy-rayed lampmussel, a species of special interest in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan and listed as endangered in Illinois.

Most recently, the Station began working with Dr. Jim Lazorchak and others at the USEPA to establish a new aquatic culture and testing facility at the Field Station. The development included designing and installing a system to treat and deliver well water to various culture tanks for the propagation of aquatic organisms commonly used in toxicity testing.  Pimephales promelas, fathead minnow, is the primary species cultured in this system. Adult fish are bred and used to supply eggs, which are then hatched and reared out for use in toxicity testing and to supply additional spawners for the system.  As the system develops, the freshwater invertebrates Daphnia magna, Ceriodaphnia dubia, Hyalella azteca, Chironomus tentans and Lumbriculus variegates will be cultured as well. Meghann King the laboratory manager, oversees the aquaculture program and supervises the mussel research and the summer undergraduate interns.

In addition to the research programs, the Field Station offers a wide array of field courses for college students and outreach programs for K-12 schools.  Throughout the fall, spring, and summer months, Olivia Lantry, the field station outreach coordinator, and Thomas More students develop science activities for grade school field trips, high school summer camps and teacher workshops.  Through hands-on, inquiry-based teaching methods, Olivia and her staff  educate and engage students about the Ohio River ecosystem and surrounding watershed, teach the value of the watershed to those who live within it, and empower students to make a positive impact on the River and surrounding environment. This past year, the Station hosted over 2,500 students and teachers from throughout the tri-state area.

Dr. Chris Lorentz is the Director of the Center for Ohio River Research and Education at Thomas More College. Further information can be found at www.thomasmore.edu/fieldstation.

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