Missouri Water Center helps secure three USGS National Competitive Grants

January 23, 2024

Missouri Water Center researchers are studying invasive carp, pictured
Two of the USGS National Competitive 104G Grants will support ongoing research around invasive carp, which pose threats to Missouri waterways and native aquatic wildlife.

With support from the Missouri Water Center, three Mizzou researchers have been awarded highly competitive grants through the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Water Resources Research Act Program.

The National Competitive (104G) Grants aim to promote collaboration between USGS and university researchers on significant national and regional water issues.

“The Missouri Water Center was established to bring together engineers and scientists working on various aspects of water resource management, so this program ties in perfectly with our mission and goals,” said Baolin Deng, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-director of the center. “The water center is fortunate to have many excellent faculty members with their core research on water and ecosystem. We’re pleased to be able to partner with USGS to solve issues we’ve identified as critical to our state and nation’s waterways.”

The Principal Investigators and projects funded are:

Feng “Frank” Xiao, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, received funding to study per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS are harmful chemicals found in household and industrial products that have ended up in our water systems.

Xiao researches the treatment of these chemicals in drinking water supplies.  In this project, however, he and co-PI Baolin Deng will study how PFAS move through wetlands, gaining a better understanding of the fate and impacts of the chemicals in the environment.

“Some PFAS have precursors, so we want to see how these precursors are converted into PFAS,” Xiao said. “We also want to see how these chemicals accumulate in wetlands and affect fish populations.”

Binbin Wang, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, received funding along with Co-PIs Robert Jacobson and Duane Chapman at the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center, to expand on their work monitoring and modeling the transport of invasive carp eggs in rivers. He’s received USGS funding in the past for the work, which ultimately aims to find the best way to eliminate carp populations. Invasive carp harm Missouri’s river ecosystem, including native aquatic wildlife.

Now, Wang and his team will expand on their previous work to include tracking carp larvae, juvenile carp that can’t yet swim but are able to adjust their buoyancy to sink or float. Wang is developing models to study how water turbulence moves eggs and larvae in rivers and whether certain conditions and structures, such as dikes, are more or less favorable to their survival.

“The goal of this research is to understand how water flow influences fish behavior,” he said. “If we can understand the biology and how these fish interact with natural flow, we can develop management tools that can help us guide them to a particular place where we can eliminate them.”

Allison Pease, an assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, also received USGS funding to study invasive carp.

She’s looking specifically at silver carp along with co-PI Matthew Acre with the Columbia Environmental Research Center. The team is improving upon methods to best count silver carp populations.

“There’s a great need to standardize the way we count these fish, as different agencies and managers are using different measures to estimate populations,” she said. “There’s so much money and effort going into controlling these fish, we need a better way to measure the numbers—which are intimidatingly large.”

Pease will help identify silver carp, which can look similar to native fish species, in data that will be used to train a model to recognize and count them automatically.

Researchers praised the Missouri Water Center for the support in securing the funding and bringing together interdisciplinary faculty working on similar problems.

“We have faculty members with various research background, and the center promotes closer collaborations,” Wang said. “The center brings different areas of expertise together to help us grow and build larger projects.”

Xiao agreed, adding that the center was critical to the success of his proposal.

“The Missouri Water Center has provided great support of this project,” he said. “I’m excited to get started.”

Learn more about the Missouri Water Center here.