Geology department conducts research on Boone Creek


The Appalachian Online

Josh Wharton

Recently published salinity and temperature studies conducted by the geology department at Appalachian State University revealed high salinity levels and water quality issues in Boone Creek.

The studies detailed the process, techniques and data of the department’s research on the creek. While many aspects of this research have been conducted for the past 10 years, only recently has this information been compiled and posted to the department’s website.

“Basically, we’ve monitored stream flow, water level and some water quality perimeters,” said Bill Anderson, geology department chair and faculty member. “What really struck us was how dynamic the stream was.”

By relating stream flow to water level, Anderson and the other researchers were able to see how quickly the stream can rise and fall in magnitude.

“The other thing that really popped out from the data was the temperature flashes and, in the winter – and really throughout the year – there are higher salinity levels than you might expect,” Anderson said.

The researchers gather their data from 22 temperature sensors and four electrical conductivity sensors that take measurements in 15-minute increments. The highest temperature change recorded in their study was 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in 15 minutes. Most river-dwelling animals have not adapted to these types of temperature flashes.

“The problem around here is, in developed areas, the lack of vegetation shading streams coupled with this influx of hot water from pavement runoff,” Anderson said.

But the salt problem is more complex than the temperature problem because there are two pathways for salt to enter the stream, Anderson said.

The fastest way occurs during the winter months when rain often turns into snow or ice during the course of a day. The rain initially dilutes the salt already in the stream, causing the salinity level to drop. But as night falls, that rain may turn to ice or snow.

The salt put down in response to the ice and snow then finds its way into the stream through the melting snow and ice. These spikes and drops create an unstable level of salinity in the water.

“Some of the salt is dissolving and going down through the ground and it’s taking the long path through the ground to get to the stream,” Anderson said. “We don’t have that problem with stream temperatures because the groundwater would cool off by the time it got to the stream.”

Senior geology major Kelli Straka recently presented this information in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the Southeastern Geological Society of America conference.

“My responsibility with this project was to collect data from both the temperature and conductivity loggers,” Straka said. “I had to take all the data that I had collected and compile it into a poster and presentation in order to convey our research at the Southeastern GSA conference.”

While the salinity of the creek had been monitored before, Straka said it was not until this past year that they had the conductivity loggers in the stream consistently taking measurements.

“This project confirms the water quality of the stream is not ideal and is worsening over the years,” Straka said.

Appalachian stresses the importance of green living and sustainability. This research on Boone Creek could be threatening to these ideals.

Sophomore sustainable development major Seth Singer said he finds this information surprising.

“I think most of us see Durham Park as a nice place to spend some time at and Boone Creek is part of what makes the park so nice,” Singer said. “But I had never really thought about the water quality of Boone Creek.”

While showing concern for this issue, Singer tries to see it from all angles.

“In some ways, the situation is inevitable that the creek would experience negative repercussions from flowing directly through a developed part of town,” Singer said. “The university has to lay down salt to keep the roads and sidewalks safe.”

Singer believes a line should be drawn between what is necessary and what could be changed.

Story: Josh Wharton, Intern News Reporter