Students Participate in Georgia Water Resources Conference

The Georgia Water Resources Conference (GWRC) provides an open forum where researchers, scientists, and students discuss water policies, management policies, and the results of research and technical studies. The biennial conference is hosted by the University of Georgia's River Basin Center, and earlier this spring, 11 College of Coastal Georgia science students presented at the conference. Seven of which are majoring in environmental science and four in biology with environmental science minors. Senior Katie Williams was one of those students, and she shared her experience from the conference.

Williams was recruited to the College to play softball. Although she is no longer on the team, she stayed to earn her degree in environmental science. Her ideal career involves working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help maintain and protect local wildlife refuges.

"I have always had an interest in the delicate balance required for a healthy ecosystem," she said, "and I would like to be a part of restoring this balance where we (humans) have upset it."

The GWRC was her first conference, and Williams was both excited and nervous about presenting her research topic. Her topic focused on the hydrogeologic function of coastal terraces and beach ridges on the southeast Georgia coastal plain. A coastal terrace is a raised beach or perched coastline that has been raised out of the reach of wave activity, and a beach ridge is an elevated ridge along the beach that consists of sand or other beach material. According to Williams' poster presentation, coastal terraces and beach ridges are geologic features used to map relicts—surviving remnants of natural phenomena. Relicts often contain minerals essential in mining operations. Because the hydrogeologic functions of terrace and ridge sequences are not well-defined, it is difficult to predict the impacts of mining operations.

"I created a conceptual model to highlight the role coastal terraces and beach ridges have in groundwater and surface water flow along the coastal plan," Williams said. "We found that they are most likely really important to freshwater wetland health, which has implications for mining efforts on the ridges."

Presenting at the conference gives students experience in discussing their research with other professionals and scientists and the opportunity to gain feedback for further topic development. The most feedback Williams received was from Gerard Gonthier, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey. He told Williams that he liked her research topic because he wondered about the same things while conducting research on the Georgia coastal plain. Gonthier recommended future study methods if Williams decides to apply for a grant to conduct a field study on the terraces and ridges.

"His comments not only helped raise my overall confidence in my poster, but also made me think about where I could possibly go next with my research," Williams said. She believes her experience with the conference will translate into her being more confident as an entry-level scientist.

Williams also thanked Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. James Deemy for helping her build her poster presentation and for being "an awesome advisor/editor/co-author." She recommended that other students reach out to Deemy for assistance with their research topics as well.

Williams' presentation was also accepted into the College's seventh annual Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Collaborative Exploration (SOURCE) that highlights students' faculty-mentored research. Williams' poster presentation can be viewed here.

The participating students in the 2021 Georgia Water Resources Conference were:

  • Aaron Bell (ENVS major)
  • Hollie Hancock (ENVS major)
  • Nellie Little (ENVS major)
  • Katie Williams (ENVS major)
  • Kaelyn Tyler (ENVS and Biology double major)
  • Jonah Rigdon (ENVS and Biology double major)
  • Taylor Warren (Biology major, ENVS minor)
  • David Armstrong (Biology major, ENVS minor)
  • Travis Simmons (Biology major, ENVS minor)
  • Amanda Rice (Nursing major, ENVS minor)

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Kimberly Takagi and Assistant Professor of Geology Dr. Robin McLachlan also participated in the conference. McLachlan led a panel on water resources education, and Takagi led a session on changing coastal water resources. Deemy served on the steering and technical committees for the conference.

Students who participated in the 2019 conference were:

  • Kristina Ashe
  • Cameron Atkinson
  • Clayton Davis
  • Isabelle McCurdy
  • Sabrina Hodges
  • Oliva Husted
  • Summer Wright