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Research assistantship available on stream restoration, nitrogen dynamics, urban streams

An opportunity to do graduate work at UNC Charlotte with excellent and enthusiastic aquatic biogeochemist Sara McMillan:

We are seeking qualified applicants for a graduate assistantship at the MS or Ph.D. level, starting in the summer or fall of 2010 (summer preferred) in Dr. Sara McMillan’s laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Our work broadly addresses the interactions between ecology and biogeochemistry in aquatic ecosystems. This position is funded through a collaborative project with Dr. McMillan and Dr. Greg Jennings at North Carolina State University investigating the impacts of stream restoration on nitrogen dynamics in urban streams. Field and laboratory experiments will focus on reach-scale nutrient retention, microbial biogeochemistry (i.e. denitrification and nitrification) and microbial diversity. Opportunities exist to develop research aims that align with the project for the individual research. Preferred qualifications include a strong background in biology and hydrology, experience with field and laboratory research, and good teamwork and communication skills. The position is funded for 1 year at $18,000 with possibilities for future funding.

If interested contact: Dr. Sara McMillan ( for more information.

Chris Rowan speaking today in the department

I’m delighted to be hosting Dr. Chris Rowan of the University of Edinburgh. Chris’s specialty is paleomagnetic applied to both neotectonic and paleoclimatic problems, and he’s worked in some fabulously exotic locations. Chris is also the lead blogger at Highly Allochthonous, where I occasionally contribute posts as well.

Dr. Rowan will be giving a 2 pm seminar in McEniry 401 with the title: “In search of good palaeomagnetic data: a romp through New Zealand, South Africa and Oman” This talk is aimed firmly at the non-expert.

Dr. Rowan and I will also be convening an informal discussion called “Beyond LOLcats: Earth Science in the Internet Age” at 11 am in McEniry 401. We’ll be discussing how tools like RSS feeds, Google Wave/Docs and Twitter can enhance facilitate collaboration and enhance research productivity.

If you can, please join us for one or both of these interesting seminars.

Snowfall map from 1-2 March 2009

The National Weather Service has produced a pretty map of snowfall totals from the storm a few weeks ago.  Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) got around 4″, which is a hair more than I measured at home on Monday morning (~3.5″ plus an ice layer). At our field site in Gaston County, the land owner told me he got ~5″ of snow, and that’s what the map shows as well.

Flooding from Tropical Cyclone Fay

While all eyes are already on Gustav (and for good reason), here in Charlotte we’re still drying out from heavy rains on August 26-27. Tropical Cyclone Fay made landfall in Florida a record four times and then wandered up towards the Carolinas from the Gulf Coast. In Mecklenburg Count (where Charlotte is located) and in Cabarrus County to our northeast, rainfall totals ranged from 5 inches to more than a food. According a USGS news release:

On August 26-27, twenty-four hour rainfall totals at 33 of 74 rain gauges operated by the USGS in Mecklenberg County exceeded the 100-year rainfall—50 of those gauges exceeded the 25-year rainfall.

While the rainfall totals were not recordbreaking, some of the flooding that resulted did set new records. Particularly affected were urban creeks in Charlotte, including Mallard Creek which flows along one edge of the UNCC campus and which has been the site of field trips for my Fluvial Processes class.

Here’s Mallard Creek at 2:30 pm local time on August 27th. This is about 4 hours after peak flow. Discharge at the gaging station downstream was 2900 cfs, down from a peakflow of over 6000 cfs. The peak stage at exceeded the previous maximum, set during a tropical storm, in 1995 by 2.1 feet.

Here’s a view of Mallard Creek a hundred meters from the last picture. I’m looking at a culvert outflow from the left bank. I’m standing on a bikepath which is serving as a levee and backing up floodplain water.

Here’s the same location on February 21, 2008 when I was teaching my fluvial processes students how to take discharge measurements. There was barely enough water to get a proper cross-section (Q<7.7 cfs). Obviously the angle is slightly different, but the rip-rap on the left bank is the location of the (then dry) culvert outflow).

Here’s a floodplain photo which I confess I did not take. However, my colleague Scott Hippensteel did manage to get some photos at around the time of peak flow. (I haven’t yet gotten a digital copy of the photo where he shows how the flood waters were within a few feet of the bottom of the bridge pictured above.) But do note that in the picture below one of the submerged signs warns that the trail is subject to flooding. That sign is probably 10 feet above the level of the submerged soccer fields. (You can’t even see the nets, some of which ended up at the downstream end of the field in a pile).

Finally, my sympathy to all those whose homes were damaged by the flooding. Something like 62 homes in Cabarrus County were damaged or destroyed and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police had 39 calls for rescue or evacuation. One of the evacuees was a Watershed Hydrogeology lab graduate student Brock Freyer, who woke at 4 am to find six inches of water running through his rental house near Briar Creek. According to the USGS:

A flood peak of 16.09 feet was reported at Briar Creek above Colony Road (USGS Station Number 0214645022) at 10:00 yesterday, which exceeded the 1995 (15.6 feet) and 1997 (15.4 feet) peaks by about 0.5 feet.

However, I suspect that’s cold consolation.

All in all, it’s been an exciting week and we’ve learned some lessons about the immense amount of water than can be released by even stale tropical depressions, the effects of urbanization on flood peaks, and why you don’t buy or rent property in a floodplain.