The observatory also allows UC researchers to identify and track toxins in the water. There is particular concern for pollutants known as PFAS that are becoming more ubiquitous. Wallace said the observatory can detect whether contaminants get trapped in groundwater sediments in receding flood waters only to be released back into the river months or years later during subsequent floods. And the observatory will give them a better picture of how contaminants flow back and forth between rivers and groundwater.
“We’re excited about the project. It’s a real asset for understanding the groundwater resources that provide our drinking water,” said Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis for the Miami Conservancy District.
“There’s a lot we don’t understand about interactions in the water,” he said. “Our interest at the Miami Conservancy District is mainly in promoting good water stewardship. Scientific research has an important role to play to help us understand water resources and the threats to it.”
The steel pylon also features cameras that record foliage type and density. If plant growth goes into overdrive, UC can investigate whether excess nutrients in the groundwater such as nitrogen are to blame.
UC leases the property from the Great Parks of Hamilton County in a partnership similar to the one UC has at its Center for Field Studies next to Miami Whitewater Forest west of Cincinnati. UC conducts classes on everything from biology and botany to geology and anthropology at the sprawling and wooded field center.
UC biologist Kenneth Petren, director of the center, said it’s important to give students opportunities to put what they learn into practice.
“The groundwater observatory is an excellent example of how UC works with the local community to better understand our local environment,” Petren said. “The observatory is the beginning of what I hope will be several new projects related to water and the environment that will engage more students working with partners including the Environmental Protection Agency, our local parks and various organizations dedicated to environmental stewardship.”
Master’s student McGarr spent much of the summer at the observatory installing, configuring and refining the new equipment.
“All summer I was out here doing work and having an appreciation for things we read about,” he said. “I think it’s awesome that I get to do hands-on stuff instead of just learning about it in a classroom.”