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Geoscience graduate student wins national research scholarship

The Karst Waters Institute has selected WKU Geoscience graduate student Connor Salley of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, as the 2015 recipient of the Institute’s William L. Wilson Scholarship in Karst Science.

WKU graduate student Connor Salley, who works as a research assistant in the Crawford Hydrology Laboratory, is the 2015 recipient of the Karst Waters Institute's William L. Wilson Scholarship in Karst Science.

WKU graduate student Connor Salley, who works as a research assistant in the Crawford Hydrology Laboratory, is the 2015 recipient of the Karst Waters Institute’s William L. Wilson Scholarship in Karst Science.

Salley won the national award for his research proposal “Advancing Methods to Measure the Atmospheric Sink from Carbonate Rock Weathering.” The award, given to one graduate student in the United States or abroad each year, was established in 2002 to recognize the contributions of prolific and innovative scientist Bill Wilson in a way that stimulates “the development of new, energetic, motivated, and creative karst scientists.” The award will fund equipment used in the research effort.

In his first year at WKU, Salley was also a recipient of the Sides Environmental Fellowship, which provided funding toward his Graduate Research Assistantship. That Fellowship is made possible through a generous donation by Dr. Stan and Kay Sides of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Dr. and Mrs. Sides have been key players for more than 40 years in the exploration, study and protection of the nearby Mammoth Cave System.

Salley’s research represents an innovative collaboration between WKU and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities (BGMU) to combine water chemistry data from the city’s drinking water intake on the Barren River with other river data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. These will be used to measure the levels of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere during the dissolving of the region’s limestone bedrock. The research is designed to be a key step in increasing the ability to make accurate measurements of this carbon flux over large areas of the landscape. BGMU has been very helpful in providing the data set to be used.

“Geochemical interactions between the atmosphere and landscape in limestone areas like ours are having an impact on CO2 concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere,” said WKU University Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology Chris Groves, who directs the work as Salley’s graduate advisor. “With the connection between rising CO2 levels and climate change, methods that can give more precise measurements of processes that impact atmospheric carbon are increasingly important.

“Connor hit the ground running upon his arrival here, and brought really good experience with the various skills that will be required to pull this work off,” Dr. Groves said.

Dr. Leslie North, who teaches the department’s graduate research methods course, also contributed to the development of Salley’s proposal. “His research ideas were consistently sound, deeply rooted in existing literature in his discipline and well presented,” Dr. North said. “He is clearly a critical thinker, which will make the execution of his proposed research project a certainty.”

Salley came to WKU after graduating cum laude with a degree in Geoscience from the Tennessee Technological University, where he completed research projects at a level beyond that of many undergraduate science students. His senior research thesis investigated suspended sediment and floodplain deposits in a strip-mined watershed. At WKU he works as a Research Assistant in the Crawford Hydrology Laboratory.

The Karst Waters Institute (KWI) was established in 1991 to improve the fundamental understanding of karst water systems through sound scientific research and the education of professionals and the public. It is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of nationally leading scientists that represent a collection of disciplines. By encouraging young scholars through programs like the Wilson Scholarship, KWI is “working to stimulate cooperative graduate education with degree-granting institutions to ensure an adequate supply of karst scientists for the future.”

Contact: Chris Groves, (270) 745-5974

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