SAFL student researchers win national environmental design competition

Four graduate students from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering (CEGE) and Water Resources recently won a series of environmental design competitions at the regional and national level. The four students - Abigail Tomasek, Anne Wilkinson, Maria Garcia-Serrana, and Zeinab Takbiri - are also all Ph.D. students at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL). 

The regional conference where the group originally presented was the Central States Water Environment Association (CSWEA). They were entered into the national design competition after winning the CSWEA competition. They presented their proposal and won first place again at the WEFTEC 2016 New Orleans conference, sponsored by the Water Environment Federation (WEF), this past September. Their winning proposal and abstract are given below. Congratulations, ladies!

Proposal Title: A New Tool for the Retrieval of Harmful Algae Concentrations using Multi-Satellite Observations

Project Abstract: Toxic freshwater harmful algal blooms (HAB) are a global public and ecosystem health concern. Occurrences of HAB on the surface of warm, nutrient-rich freshwater systems are spatially variable and highly transient. The ephemeral and often remote nature of HAB makes timely in situ monitoring difficult and expensive. On the other hand, satellites provide consistent, long-term, global observations that are available freely and publicly. However, the estimation of HAB from satellite observations is not trivial. This project addresses these problems using a framework that combines available multisatellite multi-sensor observations with in situ field measurements. The goal is to retrieve real-time HAB concentrations in lakes with similar characteristics and without previous field monitoring.

Our tool uses a dictionary we created by overlapping Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) observations with field measurements as an a priori database. Incorporating SSMIS observations allows for HAB estimations during cloudy days where visible sensors do not work. This tool can be used to: i) inform physical HAB prediction models through better estimation of real time HAB concentrations ii) identify HAB hot spots through historical observations, and iii) focus sampling efforts to effective monitoring locations with historical HAB problems.


About the Presenters: 


Abby Tomasek: Abby is a civil engineering Ph.D. candidate working with Miki Hondzo. Her research focuses on identifying and quantifying the driving environmental parameters of denitrification hot spots and how denitrification rates correlate to the microbial community. She received bachelor’s degrees in Civil Engineering and Environmental Sciences from the University of Minnesota and her master’s degree in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.





Anne Wilkinson: Anne Wilkinson is a fourth year PhD candidate in Civil Engineering working with Miki Hondzo and Michele Guala at St Anthony Falls Laboratory investigating the effect of abiotic environmental factors on the proliferation and toxicity of harmful algal blooms. She received a bachelor’s in civil engineering from University of Missouri, as well as, a bachelor’s in physics from Truman State University.




Maria Garcia-Serrana: Maria is a Ph.D. candidate in Civil Engineering and she is working as part of the stormwater research group lead by John Gulliver. Her research presents an interdisciplinary connection between transportation projects and stormwater management; she analyzes the infiltration performance of vegetated roadside drainage ditches, or swales, to establish methods by which these ditches can be assigned pollution prevention credit. Maria earned her B.S. and M.Sc. in Civil Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain.



Zeinab Takbiri: Zeinab is a PhD student in Water Resources at University of Minnesota. In high school, she always was a self-motivated student to learn complicated abstract Math and Physics problems. Later, she found more interests in the applied mathematics for real world water and environmental problems that led her to finish her Bachelor and Master in Water and Hydraulic Engineering in the top university in Iran. With that vision, later she joined the research group of Dr. Efi Foufoula-Georgiou at St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. Zeinab’s current research lies on integrating multi-spectral and multi-sensor observations, which reduces the disadvantages associated with each instrument in order to improve the flood detection over deltaic regions. In her spare time you can likely find her out running, swimming, biking, or in winter mostly hiding in her apartment reading a novel.