UK Researchers Awarded NSF Grant to Upgrade Stream Monitoring Network in Robinson Forest

photo of Kenton Sena with students in Robinson Forest

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 26, 2018)The University of Kentucky’s Christopher Barton (principal investigator) and Kenton Sena (co-principal investigator) recently were  awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to modernize the stream monitoring network at UK’s Robinson Forest in southeastern Kentucky. This project will upgrade the existing network to enhance both data quality and data accessibility. Currently, the monitoring equipment is old and technologically obsolete, and requires a significant amount of upkeep time for data collection and processing.

Sena, who earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources within UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and is now a lecturer in UK’s Lewis Honors College said, “This award will enable us to greatly improve the stream monitoring network in Robinson Forest. This network collects valuable data about streamflow and water quality that allows us to better understand how high-quality streams in the region behave. One of the critical upgrades that we’re excited about is the addition of real-time remote data access capability—we will now be able to access streamflow and water quality data from our Lexington offices in real time.”

The stream monitoring network at Robinson Forest is a valuable aquatic research resource in the Appalachian region that provides critical information for understanding impacts of surface mining and forest management on freshwater resources. Because the monitoring has been on-going since the early 1970s, the data set is also a valuable resource for examining the effects of climate change and environmental protection policy, such as the Clean Air Act, on water resources.

Barton, a longtime professor of forestry hydrology and watershed management in Forestry and Natural Resources said, “This project will allow collection of stream flow, conductivity and temperature data at 15-minute intervals, and will facilitate live-streaming of these data online. These upgrades will improve the quality and accessibility of these data, improving utilization by both principal investigators at UK and visiting and collaborating scholars and scientists from other institutions and agencies.” In addition, Barton indicated that the data can be utilized in the classroom and will be available for graduate students studying environmental issues in eastern Kentucky.

This NSF-funded project will also upgrade the existing Robinson Forest weather station and add another weather station, which will enhance the weather data collected from

this important facility. Better data quality will allow researchers to perform more sensitive and powerful analysis regarding manmade (mining, logging) and natural (insects, fire) impacts on freshwater resources. Understanding these and other water quality issues is essential for the protection and improvement of stream health, especially in Appalachia.

Over time, this project is expected to help reduce stream degradation and lead to the continued development of improved watershed management guidelines, improving stream health in Appalachia and beyond.