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Modern Bathymetric Methods and Experiential Learning

A unique example of experiential learning is underway in a research project being conducted by Brigham Young University Professors Rollin Hotchkiss and Gus Williams.

A unique example of experiential learning is underway in a research project being conducted by Professors Rollin Hotchkiss and Gus Williams. Sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey, the project combines sonar data from reservoir bathymetric (underwater) surveys with shoreline elevation data gathered using drones. The drones capture shoreline that is unsubmerged and therefore cannot be measured by the sonar. Combining these data sources provides a bathymetric map of the reservoir up to its full capacity.

The combination of dissimilar data types to develop a more complete bathymetric map is a new method. This means that sonar surveys do not have to be completed during high-pool conditions, though performing sonar surveys at high-pool and drone surveys at lower pool is preferable. Even at high-pool, maps are not complete as reservoirs are rarely at spill condition. The ability to relax the restrictions on when field data can be collected, and more importantly to create a more complete bathymetric map to include portions of a reservoir rarely submerged with water has generated interest, resulting in project co-sponsors from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, and the Utah Department of Water Resources.

This project highlights experiential learning, as all ten students involved are undergraduates and all but two are women. Five of the women are freshman or sophomore scholars sponsored by the College of Engineering and Technology under the Freshmen Women Mentoring program: Amber Kunz, Allison Kunz, Rebecca Stevens, Alicia Nelson, and Julianna Stock. The three other women are undergraduate scholars being sponsored by the College Experiential Learning program: Jenessa Price, Elodie Ence, and Alyssa Asplund. The two men involved in this project, upper classmen Larsen Blake and Izaak Cooper, are also sponsored under the College Experiential Learning program. This team has been assisted by two other undergraduates working for Dr. Kevin Franke; Nicole Hastings and Bryce Barrett, who have helped train the team members on drone use and image processing.

The team completed the initial field survey at Starvation Reservoir, which is an important water supply reservoir for all of Utah. Recent fires in the contributing watershed have likely increased soil loss and transport to the reservoir, where deposition robs valuable storage space created for water collection. By collecting bathymetric data, the project has developed base line information for use to quantify and analyze future sediment loads. The team deployed on the department boat as a mobile “aircraft carrier” from which to operate the drones. For the final day the weather was very cold, about 20 degrees, but the female engineers bundled up and completed the survey.

The group will tackle several more reservoirs this Fall and next Spring/Summer to develop and refine methods for performing these surveys. The students and professors are working closely with the sponsoring agencies to transfer this technology so that they can assume responsibility for similar work. In future research efforts, Professors Williams and Hotchkiss will measure the sedimentation processes in the reservoirs to develop better computer models of soil loss and reservoir sedimentation.