Last week, 10 students from throughout the United States arrived at the CAA to begin a summer long research program. This program, funded by the National Science Foundation as a Research Experience for Undergraduates Site, supports students as they investigate deep-time, dynamic changes within our river systems with a keen eye towards understanding the relationship between these rivers and the temporal trajectory of human activity in the area. Despite the first week of rain and flooded Mississippi and Illinois rivers (check out our recent blog post on the flooding in Kampsville), the program kicked off to a great start and the REU participants are conducting some pretty amazing research!
During the first week of the program, our REU students received an orientation to the area. They learned about several archeological sites in the lower Illinois River Valley, as well as the ecology of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. After several days of safety and first aid training, the REU students started with field research. This week, students learned a number of fish sampling techniques, fish identifications, and the methods of recording total lengths for selected species. Those students not on the rivers began learning more about procedures towards excavating and managing archeological sites.
Not only are students busy during the day conducting field research, in the evenings, REU students have sessions where they learn and discussion current and relevant methods, theories, and data towards investigating long-term human-environmental interactions across millennia. This week Dr. Andrea Fritts of the Illinois Natural History Survey discussed the importance of mussels within river systems. She also reviewed ways in which mussels can provide proxy data to infer long-term changes in the health of our rivers. As the weeks go on, the REU students will continue to develop research questions related to anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic changes to our river systems and learn to collect data towards addressing such questions. We will keep you updated as the summer and the research progresses!