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By the time classes begin this fall, the geology department’s shallow-bed recirculating flume will be ready to incorporate sediment, opening up more laboratory and research opportunities for students and faculty.

Purchased with a $300,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, the flume was installed in Van Wickle Hall in early February. The massive device can create dynamic scale models of rivers for the study of erosion and other geological principles. So far, it has been transporting water, according to Dru Germanoski,, professor and head of geology and environmental geosciences, who estimates it can hold 3,500 gallons.

The flume will be used this fall in the Modern and Ancient Depositional Environments course taught by Kathryn Schubel, assistant professor of geology and environmental geosciences, to study the relationships between flow regime, bed forms (ripples, dunes, etc.), and the sedimentary structures produced. It will also be used in the class to study other fluvial depositional environments such as deltas and meandering rivers.

“In the spring, it will be used in my Earth Surface Processes course to study relationships between sediment fluid shear stress and sediment transport, as well as to study the relationships between sediment load and channel pattern (meandering versus braided),” says Germanoski.

The flume will demonstrate basic river behavior in Fire & Ice: Introduction to Geology, taught by Guy Hovis, professor of geology, and the Geological Disasters class taught by Professor Larry Malinconico, both in the fall. It will simulate basic sediment deposition and stratigraphy in Schubel’s Origins, Evolutions, and Extinctions course in the spring. It will be used in Germanoski’s Environmental Geology course, also in the spring, to demonstrate flood hazards and how groundwater contamination can work its way into river systems.

The flume’s research capabilities primarily will be utilized by Germanoski.

“My most immediate project will be to use it to determine the effects of algae on fine grained sediment entrainment, transport, and deposition in order to better understand sediment transport in the Bushkill Creek,” he says. “This will likely be done with student Brian Schubert ’04. Another project will focus on the effect of grain size on migration rates and distances of large-scale bed forms (bars) in braided rivers.”

Measuring 37 feet long, 6.5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep, the flume is distinctive in two ways, Germanoski says. “First of all, to the best of our knowledge, no other liberal arts college has a flume of this size. Also, our flume is designed to allow its working width to be reduced by inserting a false wall. This capability is exceedingly rare, even in flumes at large research universities, and because of it the flume will provide an unusually broad range of new research opportunities for students and faculty.”

“Right now, students interested in environmental research must go into the field, and weather conditions and lack of transportation can impose limits on field research. Also, certain situations that arise in nature can be observed only under very specific conditions at certain times of the year. With the flume, students can simulate these situations and do research and data collection throughout the year,” Germanoski continues.

“It’s this kind of interactive, hands-on experience that brings science to life for students. They will be active participants, not passive learners, in discovery-oriented exercises. The flume will help them learn vital lessons about their natural environment that will stay with them and entice them to become more involved in being the earth’s stewards,” he says.

Categorized in: Academic News