Physical Geography and Sciences



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Jennifer Fornell, Geology and Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Professor Jill Singer, Earth Sciences

The Buffalo River is classified as a Great Lakes Area of Concern (AoC). This designation reflects the industrial legacy of the river that includes bottom sediments contaminated by heavy metals and organic compounds. Efforts to restore the Buffalo River and de-list it as an AoC requires the impairments to the river to be remedied and that, in turn, has led to a large scale environmental dredging project that took place between 2011 and 2015. This project resulted in the removal of >1 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the lower 9 km of the Buffalo River and Ship Canal. Side scan sonar surveys were conducted prior to the start of the multi-year dredging effort (2005, 2009, and 2011) and annually thereafter (2012-2019). These surveys provided an opportunity to investigate the effects of dredging on the morphology of the river channel, and in particular the destruction and reformation of sedimentary structures. Side scan sonar data were processed using Chesapeake Technology’s SonarWiz7. A field of sedimentary furrows, first identified in the early 1990’s, persisted until it was largely removed by dredging activities. Preliminary interpretations of the 2018 and 2019 side scan sonar data suggest that only a few furrows either survived and/or reformed in the years since that section of the river was dredged. The effects of dredging and the disturbance it makes to the river bottom is also being documented. This research provides an opportunity to document temporal changes in the morphology of the Buffalo River before, during, and after the end of the environmental dredging project. These findings will advance our understanding of how the Buffalo River is adjusting to channel widening and deepening due to the removal of the contaminated sediment.

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Temporal Changes in the Morphology of the Buffalo River Resulting from Environmental Dredging
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