Elliot crouches by the Yellow River to collect a water sample

Peaking Your Interest

Elliot crouched by a round machine holding empty collection bottles at the side of a stream

Anderson crouches down to set up the ISCO sampler in the Yellow River in Northeast Iowa.

Elliot Anderson works between rainstorms, gathering data from collection bottles left in the water. Each storm is an opportunity to learn more about the peak flow conditions and nutrient concentrations of rivers across Iowa.

Anderson is a PhD student at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, and was born in Geneva, Ill., a town just outside Chicago. When he was deciding on colleges, he knew he wanted to stay in the Midwest and eventually settled on Purdue University. There, he received an undergraduate degree before attending the University of Illinois at Chicago for a master’s degree, both in civil engineering. After that, Anderson worked as a consultant for five years at Civiltech Engineering in Chicago before returning to Iowa.

“After I did my undergrad and was kind of over doing consulting work, [I] wanted to try my hand at research. So I was looking for a PhD, looking to stay in the Midwest, and looking to do something water-related,” Anderson says. “Iowa was a pretty natural choice for those three things.”

Today, he is a member of Larry Weber’s Iowa Watershed Approach research team, studying phosphorus contamination of streams and rivers during peak flow conditions. Though there is an abundance of research for the waterways at base flow, increased flow conditions are infrequent and tough to predict, and thus can be difficult to measure.

Anderson says the data collected thus far matches the expected results for peak flow conditions based on their previous base flow data.

“If it was something different, or things do turn out to be different, that’s still really informative and there’s still an interesting story to tell about how you describe phosphorous at the higher flows apart from the lower ones,” Anderson says.

Anderson crouches far from the camera near the edge of a river that takes up most of the frame

Anderson collects water from the Yellow River.

The team is still in preliminary stages of its research, so while the data currently follow a familiar trend, that may change as they collect more information.

Water content studies help Anderson and his team understand how the phosphorus concentration in the water changes with flow variance. Phosphorus acts as the limiting reactant in fresh water; it provides nutrients to algae, which can cause algal blooms in Iowa waterways. These blooms contribute to a decline in health of lentic environments.

Another aspect of the team’s research is to determine if current mitigation processes are reaching the pre-determined nutrient reduction benchmarks set by the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The goals aim to improve the overall ecosystem health in Iowa and all the way downstream to the Gulf of Mexico.

Anderson says audio books keep him entertained as he crisscrosses Iowa collecting data from bottle-filling stations installed across the state. When he’s home, Anderson says he likes to keep up with Chicago sports teams. He was still in Chicago when the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in over 100 years back in 2016, and since he started at the University of Iowa, he has enjoyed attending Iowa football games.

Summer Interns Reflect on Flood Center Experience

Two undergraduate students from Iowa State University spent the summer at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, participating in internships at the Iowa Flood Center. Although their work was very different, both say it was a valuable experience and one they’d recommend to other students.

Darnell Melvin, Software Engineering, Iowa State University


Darnell Melvin

Darnell Melvin, an Iowa City native, says he never thought he’d be working at Stanley Hydraulics Lab, although he had passed by the red brick building on the river’s edge many times. “I never thought about what actually goes on behind the scenes,” he says.

Melvin, a senior in software engineering at Iowa State University (ISU), spent his summer at the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) working with Assistant Research Engineer Ibrahim Demir on the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS). IFIS is a set of online flood information tools available to all Iowans.

Melvin contacted IFC Director Witold Krajewski, who encouraged him to apply for an internship. The internship included installing IFIS software upgrades, managing queries and data sub-trees, and looking for faster methods of querying databases. Melvin says he enjoyed his time at the IFC. “It’s been fun. I’ve been able to meet the people here, and they’ve been very nice,” he says.

As the summer comes to a close and the internship ends, Melvin will head back to Ames to continue his studies at ISU. Melvin says he would definitely recommend the IFC internship to other students. “It’s a good opportunity. I think all internships are good opportunities, and this is definitely a good one for me.”

Clayton Van Ekeren, Civil Engineering, Iowa State University

Clayton Van Eckren

Clayton Van Eckren

Clayton Van Ekeren is a civil engineering major at Iowa State University (ISU), but this summer he worked at the Iowa Flood Center (IFC), under the supervision of Engineer Dan Ceynar. A senior at ISU, Van Ekeren first heard about IIHR from the professor teaching his fluid mechanics class, who helped him contact IIHR Director Larry Weber and IFC Director Witold Krajewski.

Van Ekeren’s job at the IFC consisted of maintaining the Iowa Flood Center’s rain gauge network in Eastern Iowa. He regularly inspected the sites and leveled the gauges so they accurately gather data. Van Ekeren also had an opportunity to learn first-hand about the IFC’s stream-stage sensors, which are instruments designed to measure river stage and are built in the lab where Van Ekeren worked.

Van Ekeren will return to ISU for the fall. After completing his undergraduate degree, he plans to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa, where he hopes to work and study at IIHR. Van Ekeren says he found the internship at the IFC valuable and would suggest it to any students interested in water resources. “I would definitely recommend that they [students] consider IIHR, because of what it’s taught me and what I’ve gained from doing this internship.”

The Power of Statistics in Flood Prediction—Hydroscience & Engineering,Published on: December 9th, 2013

From the Field: Rain Gauges

The following From the Field was written by IFC student, Kara Prior, and was originally published June 5, 2013 by NASA Earth Observatory as part of the Iowa Flood Studies (IFloodS).

As an undergraduate (from February 2008 to May 2009), I worked for Dan Ceynar, the engineer who coordinates the instrumentation networks for the Iowa Flood Center, and a large part of my job then and since returning to the Iowa Flood Center last October has been taking care of our rain gauges in the field.

For the IFloodS campaign itself, I have also been working with rain gauges. I have been a part of the process of developing these instruments all the way through their construction, deployment, and now maintenance.

April 2013. Kara Prior installs a rain gauge and soil moisture platform in the Turkey River basin in northeast Iowa.

We use what are called, tipping bucket rain gauges that are a couple steps up from what many people have in their yards. The most important part is a central swinging shaft: on the top are two small buckets, and on the bottom is a magnet. Each bucket holds exactly 1/100th of an inch of rain, and when one fills up it makes the shaft swing to the other side. As it swings, the magnet on the bottom passes over two wires and causes them to touch and complete an electrical circuit– and that’s how we record that rain has fallen.

On the outside, a tipping bucket rain gauge looks like a typical plastic container.

On the outside, a tipping bucket rain gauge looks like a typical plastic container.

The inside of the tipping bucket is more complicated. The rain enters through the black pipe on top and fills one of two triangular buckets, here, the one on the right. When it fills to 1/100th of an inch, the bucket tips downward, raising the bucket on the left to collect rain. Below the buckets, is a magnet that swings and completes a circuit that records the data onto the computer.

The inside of the tipping bucket is more complicated. The rain enters through the black pipe on top and fills one of two triangular buckets, here, the one on the right. When it fills to 1/100th of an inch, the bucket tips downward, raising the bucket on the left to collect rain. Below the buckets, is a magnet that swings and completes a circuit that records the data onto the computer.

The engineers I work with designed the electronics that sit under the rain gauges and record their tips. I built the electronics boxes, which sit inside the rain gauge platform and have a cell phone modem, computer, and battery, which the rain gauges use to communicate data back to us every 15 minutes. A network of these gauges like what we have now in the Turkey River Basin can give us very detailed information about where and when rain has fallen.

I also helped build the platforms they sit on — starting by picking up 50-gallon trough/tubs from a farm supply store in Cedar Rapids. All of this is our own design — Jim Niemeier’s and Dan Ceynar’s — and we just order the tipping bucket rain gauges themselves.

When I started with the Iowa Flood Center last year, I also built the latest batch of stream-stage sensors. The ones I built that have been deployed thus far are in the Ames area. So, they are not directly in the IFloodS area of interest, but they are identical to the ones we have around the state. So I still feel connected to them all!

April 2013. Kara Prior and Jim Niemeier set up another rain gauge and soil moisture platform for IFloodS.

The rain gauge and soil moisture sensor installations involve a fair amount of digging — and with the lingering winter, we did some of our digging with a pickaxe because the ground was still frozen solid! We had quite a few cold days, which made the few warm days feel like a gift. It was surprising a couple of times how much faster things went when our fingers weren’t cold and stiff!

I have loved getting to know this side of science research. Seeing all the different people and concerns that are a part of a project like this — getting to meet the landowners who let us install on their property — has been really cool.

Kara Prior is a research assistant at the Iowa Flood Center, where she helps oversee a network of rain gauges. She recently finished three years of study and teaching English in China and South Korea, where she earned a graduate certificate in Chinese studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies. Kara also holds a BA/BS in international studies and environmental science from the University of Iowa. She has a strong interest in hydroscience and water resource management.