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Laura Triplett

Laura Triplett holding sediment core tubes filled with several hundred years worth of St. Croix River mud, allowing her to look back into the river's history.

Scholarship winner studies human impact on the St. Croix River

By Bob San, University News Service

Published on December 2, 2004

When Laura Triplett was a kid growing up in Minneapolis, one of her favorite activities was to go canoeing on the lakes and rivers of Minnesota. Today, thanks to a $78,000 Canon National Parks Science Scholarship she received in November, Triplett is now conducting environmental research that will affect the future of one of the most beautiful rivers in the state: the 252-mile St. Croix Riverway that borders Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Triplett, a doctoral candidate in geology at the University of Minnesota, is one of eight students in 2004 to receive the scholarship. This year's recipients, who were selected from about 200 applicants from the Americas, include students studying in Canada, the United States, and Argentina.

By providing support to Ph.D. students, the Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program is helping to develop the next generation of scientists working in the fields of conservation, environmental science, and national park management. The scholarship program is a collaboration between Canon U.S.A., Inc., the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Park Service. Scholars are selected from the disciplines of biological sciences, physical sciences, social/cultural sciences, and technology innovation in support of conservation science. The scholarships provide these students with resources to conduct research critical to conserving the national parks of the Americas. "With this scholarship, I can just focus on the project and don't have to be a teaching assistant or research assistant," Triplett says. "So it's a huge amount of time that they just gave me."

Triplett has already been studying human impacts on the St. Croix River for the past three years as she worked toward her master's degree. By analyzing sediments she collects along the river at the St. Croix Watershed Station (a field station operated by the Science Museum of Minnesota in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota), Triplett already has a good knowledge of how European settlement has affected the river over the last 200 years.

"Since Europeans moved into the area, they've cleared out all the forest, started agriculture, and started building sewers," Triplett says. "The point of my research is to see how much the river has changed. Because it's still beautiful and scenic, everyone thinks of it as a pristine river, but our research so far has shown that it's very changed from its natural condition."

For her doctoral thesis, Triplett will study specific pollutant sources and regional trends affecting the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Her research will help riverway managers and supporters understand which pollutant sources are most damaging to the St. Croix's health; the work also can aid in understanding how best to distribute limited resources in order to maximize the protection of the river system. Groups such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Met Council, the National Park Service, and various municipalities along the river will use her findings to develop management plans for the river.

"We are hoping to find a balance between development and preservation," Triplett says. "We hope we can use this scholarship to get more public awareness and interest in the St. Croix."