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Geoscience students, faculty member study water resources in Bahamas

White beaches, blue waters, coral reefs and conch fritters. These were just some of the perks available to WKU Environmental Geoscience faculty member Dr. Lee J. Florea, Geoscience graduate student Scot Russell of Uniontown, Pa., and Geography and Geology major Chasity Stinson of Goodlettsville, Tenn., on a recent research trip (May 27-June 2) to San Salvador, a small island in the eastern portion of the Bahamian Archipelago.

WKU Geography and Geology faculty member Dr. Lee J. Florea (right) collects a GPS location of the coastline of San Salvador Island, Bahamas, while WKU Geoscience graduate student Scot Russell (left) records data. (Photo by Chasity Stinson)

WKU Geography and Geology faculty member Dr. Lee J. Florea (right) collects a GPS location of the coastline of San Salvador Island, Bahamas, while WKU Geoscience graduate student Scot Russell (left) records data. (Photo by Chasity Stinson)

Of course, there was also the oppressive heat and humidity, and the mosquitoes…lots of mosquitoes. Perhaps the greatest single experience, however, came from hauling heavy scientific equipment on eight flights in two countries and through U.S and Bahamian Customs.

The primary purpose of the trip, permitted by the Bahamian Government and supported by a combination of resources and funds from the Gerace Research Center (College of the Bahamas), Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, the Cave Research Foundation and WKU’s Geography and Geology Department, was to investigate the available freshwater in an abandoned well field on the north end of the island. The well field was abandoned in the 1990s because over pumping from population growth and increased tourism siphoned saltwater from the ocean, rendering the well water unpotable.

This particular study, part of Russell’s master’s thesis, used a geophysical technique called electrical resistivity to map features of the subsurface, such as the sand-bedrock boundary and the interface between freshwater and saltwater. Electrical resistivity maps the ability of earth materials to conduct an electrical current. In this technique, a current is applied to the ground with metal spikes and the voltage is measured at a variety of distances using another set of metal spikes. A series of these measurements creates an electrical “picture” of the subsurface; salt water shows up as very conductive and dry rock has a high resistivity.

Results of this study will be presented this October at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Ore.

“Water resource challenges are emerging as one of the major environmental issues for the 21st century,” noted Department of Geography and Geology Head David Keeling, “and Dr. Florea’s expertise is helping to enhance the department’s growing international reputation in addressing these issues. Student engagement is a critical part of the department’s strategy to built competency in this area.”

Contact: Lee Florea (lee.florea@wku.edu) at (270) 745-5982

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