Casey Hickcox and Aaron DeLonay
May 18, 2020
While large laboratory studies and overnight field work are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists at the Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC) and our partners at Missouri River Relief are still working and communicating science to the public. On May 12th, the most recent installment of the Big Muddy Speaker Series, CERC geologist Carrie Elliott shared her science with the Missouri River community in a presentation titled “River of Sand – The bottom of the Big Muddy”. Her presentation was streamed live over the internet and attended by more than 150 viewers through Zoom and YouTube. It has since been viewed more than 250 additional times on Missouri River Relief’s YouTube page.
In her talk, available here, Carrie showed never-before seen views of the bottom of the Missouri River mapped using high-resolution multibeam sonar during the flood of 2019. While it is impossible to see the bottom of the muddy Missouri River with our own eyes, Carrie and her team of hydrologists and geologists used sonar technology to repeatedly map in fine detail the bottom of the river from before the water began to rise, during the crest of the historic flood, and through the receding flows as flood water drained from levee breeches. The data show that the river bottom is dynamic and ever changing with sand dunes several meters high marching downstream; in some areas the dunes move dozens of meters per day. The team’s persistent efforts to brave the flood waters and collect these critical data have yielded a treasure trove of data to better understand how the river responds to changes in water flow, velocity, and sediment availability. Future publications and data releases will share new understanding with the scientific communities, stakeholders, and citizens of the Missouri River basin.