Millsboro student Amanda Williams investigates watershed water quality

September 25, 2017

Building on water-quality research of three Eastern Mennonite University professors, Amanda Williams of Millsboro was among three students who spent the summer collecting date in the Bergton, Va.-area watershed. With funding from the first EMU Summer Research Grant, the partners are investigating the relationship between canopy cover and stream water temperature in two headwater streams.

"One goal of the Daniel B. Suter Endowment Fund is to encourage student research," said Stephen Cessna, a biochemistry professor who holds the Daniel B. Suter Endowed Chair at EMU. "This annual competitive summer research fellowship helps our biology and chemistry students build the key skills of scientific inquiry, from writing the proposal to presenting and potentially publishing their findings."

The research project meant long days in hip waders, carrying measuring tapes and other instruments through the rock-strewn bottoms of Crab Run and the German River.

A graduate of Delmarva Christian High School in Georgetown, Williams said, "The field work was exciting and exhausting. I love being in nature, so it is kind of like a dream come true for me to be out in the field doing research that is both helping our understanding of how percent canopy coverage affects water temperature while also adding to the larger ongoing project that has been collecting stream restoration data for many years."

Having worked in the prestigious Research Experience for Undergraduates program, Williams is a veteran researcher. She also interned for a semester at the National Museum of Natural History Botany Department. Williams was most interested in how upstream canopy cover on Crab Run and the German River may influence temperature fluctuations downstream. While data analysis has not concluded, she suspects that farmed areas, which are cleared of creek- and river-side foliage, would have higher temperatures because of the high level of sunlight exposure. The water under and downstream of wooded areas, conversely, would have cooler temperatures.

"Water temperature has great implications for the biota that live within the stream," said Williams, who did a similar study in Bethany Beach canals for her 2016 summer REU project. She says certain species of macroinvertebrates and fish can only survive in certain temperatures, and if the water gets too warm, some fish cannot even live in it, because there will be little to no dissolved oxygen to breathe.

The partners plan to share their conclusions at an upcoming conference and with the EMU community. After graduating in spring 2018, Williams plans to go to graduate school. Recently, the field of astrobiology has caught her attention, and she has ideas for future research projects.