Meet the Researcher - D. Melanie Kistnasamy

Breakout Room: 13

Dhareni_Melanie_Kistnasamy_HeadshotResearcher Name: D. Melanie Kistnasamy
Co-Presenter: Kai Welsh, Cameron Gaspord
Title of Research:  Seven Mile Creek Watershed: Monitoring Water Quality and Ravine Erosion for a Sustainable Agriculture
Division Representing: Geosciences
Institution: Gustavus Adolphus College
Institution Location: Minnesota
Home State: Minnesota
District Number: 1
Advisor/Mentor: Laura Triplett
Funding Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Gustavus Adolphus College Environmental Studies Program; Environmental Protection Agency, administered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 

Research Experience:  
My name is Melanie and I am currently in my third year at Gustavus Adolphus College, majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in GIS. My student involvements at college range from language, social to environmental organizations and include the Diversity Leadership Council, Environmental Action Coalition, Oxfam and French Club. I currently work as a digital game designer and language translator for Culpeper Language Center at Gustavus Adolphus College. This opportunity allows me to be around people fluent in different languages and rich in culture and diversity. In summer 2019 and 2020, I conducted research in water quality monitoring with Dr. Laura Triplett. I have developed critical skills working both independently and collaboratively. I have been a student fundraiser for my college, connecting with alumni and making great connections with gusties around the world. After high school, I volunteered for an NGO in Mauritius called Eli Africa where I got the ‘aha' moment in regards to my passion and interest for the environment. I have completed an independent study on the geology of Mauritius, having written three pieces on caves, coastal geology, and the septic system and groundwater contamination. I was able to design this independent study myself, learn about my country and specific interests, and put my analytic and presentation skills to work. For now, I look forward to interning with a sustainability consultancy firm in Mauritius during Spring 2021. 

Presentation Experience: 
Along with two other research students on the team, I orally presented to an academic audience of students and faculty from multiple disciplines at my college at the start of the project in summer 2020. It included our basic understanding of the project, our goals and objectives going forward. In addition, I presented to a non-academic audience at my college's Career Expo during Fall 2020. The goal was to reflect on the accomplishments of the research, share the experiences and skills development along the way and encourage other students to apply for summer research opportunities. Lastly, I made a poster and presented it to an academic audience for the 2020 Fall Research Symposium at Gustavus Adolphus College.  

Significance of Research:       
Southern Minnesota has undergone considerable land-use change during the past 200 years from being wetlands, prairie and woods to mostly intensive row-crop agriculture. There have been several unintended consequences from this conversion. For one, farmers have installed dense systems of drain tile to create drier soil, but a downside of drain tiling is the rapid movement of water and pollutants like nitrate from fields into streams. The excess water makes streams more erosive, causing excess total suspended sediment (TSS). Because Minnesota and the Upper Midwest are forecasted to receive increased large storm events in response to climate change, the region could be facing further increased erosion and sediment pollution.  Some farmers are taking action to mitigate these problems. Our project monitors several pollutants and visual indicators of erosion, to examine the effectiveness of Best Management Practices (BMPs) newly-adopted by farmers in the watershed. Here, we report multiple years of TSS data from tributaries to Seven Mile Creek, and show time-lapse images that illuminate the processes by which erosion occurs.  We found that most of a season's sediment is delivered during the largest storm events, and that ravine erosion can produce sediment that is available for transport over the next months and years. In 2020, southern Minnesota experienced three megastorms”; we found that in the days following a major storm event, TSS decreased more quickly than did nitrate. We deduced that nitrate and TSS undergo different processes, so need different solutions in order to reduce pollution in our surface waters.  

Uniqueness of Research: 
Science shows the increase of contaminants in our surface waters over time from fertilizers and eroded land. This research aims to help the community sustain profitable agriculture while solving environmental problems.


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