South Dakota Mines Constructs Living Laboratory on Campus

Andrew Ferris, Mines civil and environmental engineering graduate student, unrolls hay cover being placed on one of the test plots in the living laboratory during construction in the Spring of 2021.

South Dakota Mines is home to a new living laboratory that is located on a hill above the main campus. This long-term study will help students and the community understand how vegetation and ground cover impacts soil erosion, water quality, ecosystems and our shared natural resources.

The study area is a steep exposure of the Belle Fourche Shale rock formation that had been a problem area for erosion and contained little-to-no vegetation. The living laboratory includes over 20 small plots in a grid that have different erosion control treatments, ranging from engineered products to low-tech solutions such as hay cover or mulch. Each treatment option was designed and built by undergraduate student researchers with the assistance of faculty and instructors. The study is funded by the West Dakota Water Development District (WDWDD). The elected board is one of seven water development districts in the state, organized for the purpose of promoting conservation, development and management of resources.

Each year, students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will collect data on the treatments laid out in the living laboratory. Over the coming years, the data collected by students will help determine how each ground erosion control method impacts the landscape. Students will have the opportunity to actively participate in this on-going research effort.

The results can help scientists like Heidi Sieverding understand more about possible mitigation efforts that can be effective in reducing erosion and improving soil health in both wet and dry years. Sieverding is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department at Mines. “Cost-effective methods to improve water quality and support soil retention and development are critical to ensuring the continued health of our ecosystems and communities,” she says.

The living laboratory gives students hands-on experience in collecting environmental science data, from soil and vegetation health to erosion. Dr. Bret Lingwall, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at South Dakota Mines, is leading the project.

“One of the keys to helping engineering students understand the complexities of the real world is to have places available for them to see the short and long-term performance of different engineered interventions. In this project, our sponsors at WDWDD worked closely with us to develop a place on campus where beneficial research can occur but, more importantly, provide a space for engineering students to observe how nature may or may not respond to our interventions. This project will benefit our students for decades to come,” says Lingwall.

 

Last edited 7/21/2021 2:00:48 PM

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