Meet the Researcher - Kai Welsh

Breakout Room: 13

Researcher Name: Kai Welsh
Co-Presenter: D. Melanie Kistnasamy, 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 

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. 

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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