New Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant research targets natural resources priorities and solutions - U of I Extension

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New Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant research targets natural resources priorities and solutions

New Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant research targets natural resources priorities and solutions


January 22, 2018

By Irene Miles

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) is awarding $675,000 to four new research projects that will help inform decision makers as they address some of the region’s pressing environmental issues including restoring stream habitats, managing stormwater, and protecting beachfronts. The research will take place in 2018-2019.

At the University of Illinois, hydrogeologist Piotr Cienciala in the Department of Geography and Information Science and ecological physiologist Cory Suski in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences will lead a multi-disciplinary project to study the effect of turbulence on fish swimming behavior. By studying how the physiology of various fish species is affected by water movement, the researchers can help inform the placement of fish passage structures as part of stream restoration projects.

“There is a great deal of work performed every year related to stream restoration,” says Suski. “This work is important because it will allow practitioners to optimize future restoration activities to ensure minimal energetic costs for fish. In this way, we can hopefully improve restoration activities to ensure minimal energetic impacts for fish.”

The findings will likely be transferable to stream projects beyond the Great Lakes region and may help inform simulations to explore restoration outcomes under various projected climate or land use change scenarios that alter water movement and fish habitat.

Two other projects will focus on green infrastructure as part of stormwater management, but using different approaches. U of I landscape architect Mary Pat McGuire will lead a diverse team that includes David Grimley with the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) to create a soils database for the Calumet region southeast of Chicago to assess soil health and appropriateness for effective green infrastructure. The researchers will evaluate green infrastructure planning in the region and work with municipalities in pilot projects to help integrate their findings into site selection and design strategy decisions.

Bernie Engel and colleagues in the Purdue University Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering will enhance their simulation software to include the long-term effects of green infrastructure on reducing and preventing flooding. Their model is part of the Tipping Point Planner online toolbox, which helps local decision makers plan for future development in their communities.

Washington Park, Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of IISG

This new project will be closely tied to a south side Chicago neighborhood—Washington Park. There, using their updated model, the research team hopes to demonstrate the impact of optimally-places green infrastructure on flooding. Akilah Martin, in DePaul University’s School for New Learning, will help share these results with students and local residents.

U of I researchers will also use historical documents of the geology of the Illinois shoreline to help beach managers predict and address future conditions. Through old photos and reports, ISGS’s Ethan Theuerkauf will lead an effort to tell the story of land changes and environmental conditions over the last century at Illinois Beach State Park. Experts from the Prairie Research Institute, Midwest Regional Climate Center, and Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center are also taking part in this research. Working closely with beach managers, the researchers will develop future coastal change scenarios to help inform the decision-making process.

“Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is excited to support these new research efforts,” says Tomas Hook, IISG associate director for research.

“They are targeting issues that have been identified as priorities for the Lake Michigan region of Illinois and Indiana and they have great potential to yield solution-based results for our region. Collectively, these projects should also contribute to informing infrastructure and environmental management in coastal regions throughout the United States.”

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Top photo: Illinois Beach State Park. Courtesy of IISG

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