OMAHA – Biologists from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) are teaming up with researchers and citizen scientists across eight states for a first-of-its-kind analysis of the Mississippi River Basin on Saturday, June 7.
The Nebraska Watershed Network, a student-community research group based out of UNO’s Department of Biology, has organized a team of 67 citizen scientists, which include representatives of area universities, city zoos and municipal governments, to test for the existence of atrazine within the multiple waterways and tributaries that make up the Mississippi River.
Partners for the project include representatives of the University of New Orleans, Louisiana State University, Southern Illinois University, St. Cloud State University, the St. Louis Zoo and the New Orleans Audubon Zoo, just to name a few.
Throughout the day, volunteer testers along a nearly 1,400-mile stretch of land from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico will utilize test strips that, when placed in water, can indicate the presence of high levels of atrazine, a common herbicide that can seep into ground water or find its way into waterways after rain storms.
“Many people may think that water pollutants just come from factories in the city, but there is also a high level of contamination that can come from pesticides and herbicides used by area farmers and ranchers,” explained Alan Kolok, professor of biology at UNO and head of the UNO Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory.
At high enough levels, atrazine has been shown to adversely affect the reproductive systems of native fish and insects. Additionally, the existence of atrazine is often a significant indicator of other chemicals in that same water source.
After each participant has used their strip and gotten their results, they will send that data and their coordinates to the Nebraska Watershed Network through social media applications such as Twitter and Instragram as well as email or traditional mail.
“What is so unique about this project, other than the scale of the data collection, is that we will be utilizing these new social media avenues to get real-time information without needing to be there in person,” Kolok said. “This not only improves our understanding of how to collect data, but it also engages local communities, letting them have a voice in what happens to their water supply.”
While there have been several examinations of atrazine levels in waterways throughout the United States, “Lil’ Miss Atrazine” is the first to coordinate atrazine testing on such a massive scale.
Student scientists from UNO will also travel to St. Louis and New Orleans to provide on-site leadership for the project.
Once the data is collected from the event, researchers from each location will determine possible courses of action that may need to be taken by businesses and farmers in the area.
The goal of “Lil’ Miss Atrazine” is to expand in 2015, hopefully including more of the Mississippi River’s western tributaries throughout Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado.
UNO’s Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory is dedicated to research on the ecological and human health effects of toxins, pollutants and emerging contaminants in aquatic environments. In 2012 the laboratory built a stand-alone research station along Nebraska’s Elkhorn River and is planning to build more along other Nebraska waterways with the hope to expand into other states soon.
The Nebraska Watershed Network is a student-driven organization that works with local individuals, community organizations, schools and governments to design and implement projects in the Omaha-metro area that marry research and engagement for the common goal of higher quality water for all citizens.
For questions on Lil’ Miss Atrazine, please contact Charley Reed, UNO media relations coordinator, at email@example.com or 402.554.2129.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.