November 8, 2006
Posted online November 16, 2006
Boat, facilities aid SIUC research on rivers
By Tim Crosby
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are
increasing their ability to study the rivers surrounding Southern Illinois.
Scientists are using a research center on public land near East Cape Girardeau
that affords them ideal conditions to study floodplain wetland habitat and related
factors. At the same time, the University this spring expects to take delivery of a
new 25-foot, state-of-the-art research boat, which will greatly increase researchers'
range, safety and comfort as they conduct surveys and experiments on the Mississippi
Taken together, the developments underscore the University's commitment to
leading research on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, two cultural and economic
treasures of Southern Illinois, said John A. Koropchak, vice chancellor for
research and dean of the graduate school at SIUC.
"We have two of the biggest rivers in the United States on either side of us
here," Koropchak said.
"They are part of our heritage and our responsibility, and this will allow us
to continue our leading research. If we're not in a position to do this research,
no one should be."
A matching funds grant from the University, in conjunction with funding from the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is paying for the $175,000 boat, which researchers in
the Fisheries & Illinois Aquaculture Center will use to navigate the Mississippi and
Ohio rivers, and perhaps beyond.
Currently, researchers use large, open johnboats to traverse the river's
unforgiving waters. James E. Garvey, an associate professor in the Fisheries &
Illinois Aquaculture Center, said the new boat is a huge improvement.
"The main thing is safety," Garvey said. "This boat will provide a much safer
working environment for us. It will also allow us to keep our electronic equipment
inside instead of exposed in an open boat."
Garvey said the new boat's range makes it possible to conduct research as far
south as New Orleans, if necessary. The boat, which is being built in Washington
and includes a heated cabin and foam safety collar around the hull to prevent
sinking, also will make SIUC more competitive in pursuing research dollars.
"It will help us get further grants," said Garvey, who was instrumental in
obtaining the grant for the boat. "It puts us in a position where we're pretty
marketable as a research organization."
The University will store the boat in a large metal building at the Middle
Mississippi River Wetlands Field Station, a facility near East Cape Girardeau
that the University manages under an agreement with the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources. The 1,400-acre site, which includes shoreline, consists mostly
of restored floodplain that previously had been drained and used for agriculture use.
Matt R. Whiles, associate professor of zoology at SIUC, said students and
researchers from several fields are using the site for research.
"We are managing it as a research, education and demonstration facility for
wetland restoration and sustainable floodplain use," Whiles said.
The pole barn structure currently on site provides storage, some laboratory
facilities and modest overnight accommodations for researchers. Whiles said the
facility holds great potential.
"Eventually, we'd like to do some renovations and build a few more buildings,
dorms and classroom space," he said. "It can be a focal point for large river and
floodplain research. Having facilities like this makes us very attractive to
students and visiting faculty looking to work in this field."
Koropchak said one source of revenue for those future upgrades might be the fees
the University collects from barge owners who tie up along the property. He said the
facility lends itself heavily to interdisciplinary research, which granting
organizations look at closely.
"The Middle Mississippi River is unique, and there has been less research
done on that area,' Koropchak said. "This gives us a unique opportunity to explore
this part of our Southern Illinois heritage."
Identifying, pursuing and obtaining new sources of external grant and contract
funding and enhancing and developing new centers of research, scholarship and
creative activity excellence are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building
Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it
approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.