Posts Tagged ‘SUNY Ulster’

Stream Research: Learning the science of streams

Posted on: June 4th, 2015 by Leslie_Zucker

I spent the last two days standing in a stream. Was it cold? Yes. Was I fishing? Nope.  Instead of wading into the cold mountain waters (in waders, don’t worry!) of a pristine Catskill stream to fish, I was learning stream science and collecting data. Scientists from NYC DEP are beginning their field research season, and with the help of interns from a SUNY Ulster internship program, they are conducting hands-on field research to measure, monitor, and protect streams in the Catskills. With a clipboard in hand for recording data, I observed my coworkers teaching, orchestrating field equipment, and demonstrating hands-on survey procedures of stream assessment. We were learning how to measure the features of the stream to determine its erosion potential and impacts to water quality, which involves collecting a substantial amount of data. We carefully arranged field equipment along the length and width of the stream, and measured details about the stream channel’s dimensions and structure, including riffles and pools, slope, channel depth, floodplain, and looked for evidence of how the stream changes over time, and why.


West Branch Neversink River

West Branch Neversink River

Most people don’t realize how much is actually happening in a stream ecosystem. Streams are absolutely buzzing with the life of flora and fauna, and they are also in constant motion, trying to reach energy equilibrium. The old adage that “You never step in the same river twice”, rings true as streams are constantly changing and adjusting their sediment materials, plant materials, water flow and channel path.

Caddisfly Larvae Casings on a Rock in the Neversink River

Caddisfly Larvae Casings on a Rock in the Neversink River

As an educator, I tend to look at stream ecosystems as a whole system of many parts, much like a puzzle that makes up a whole picture. I want to explore how the ecosystem works and why we conduct research to help others understand the use and importance of this work. The research and training we conduct helps managers better understand stream channel structures, stability and potential for erosion that may impact human infrastructure, and water quality down river. Stream research also helps scientists and engineers to recognize how healthy and stable streams work so that they can utilize that information and data to stabilize and restore streams with structure and erosion problems in other places.

Neversink River - Cross Section Survey

Neversink River – Cross Section Survey

Everything we do in and around streams has an impact on them. For this reason, we strive to understand how they work and change so that we can reduce negative impacts when our lives and work, and their movement converge. Wading across the rocks of a rushing stream while trying to take measurements for stream data can teach a person a lot of respect for the power of moving water.  Trees that fall into the stream also impact its structure, flow, stability, and provide critically important habitat for aquatic life such as fish and insects. The stream I was standing in wasn’t very wide, but its geomorphic structure was incredible with a wall of bedrock on one side of the stream, and a mound of small rocks on the other side. It was a stunning place to spend a couple days learning and collecting data that will be useful for research and restoration projects in the future.

Neversink River - Bedrock wall

Neversink River – Bedrock wall