$230K grant allows UNK’s Mary Harner to expand river research

KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney associate professor of communication and biology Mary Harner was recently awarded a $230,932 research fellowship for a project that aims to enhance the public’s understanding of river systems and their importance as a global resource.

Mary Harner
Mary Harner

The National Science Foundation grant, awarded through the federal Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), will fund a collaboration between UNK and the University of New Mexico, where Harner earned a doctorate in biology. The project will expand ongoing research and science communication activities taking place across University of Nebraska campuses, notably with Platte Basin Timelapse, a long-term, multimedia documentary project focused on the Platte River watershed. Platte Basin Timelapse, co-founded by Michael Forsberg and Michael Farrell, is based at the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The fellowship project, which is expected to last about two years, will enable Harner and an early career researcher at UNK, Emma Brinley Buckley, to use digital technologies such as time-lapse cameras and sound recorders to document river ecosystems and collect ecological data. They will develop strategies to deliver this information to public audiences with a goal of improving understanding of river and flood plain systems and the various forms of life they support.

“People are searching for ways to manage rivers to meet societal and ecosystem needs as human populations and demands for freshwater increase globally. Communication among diverse stakeholders is necessary for achieving solutions for how to simultaneously utilize and protect freshwater resources,” Harner noted.

The project will look at historic and present influences on water-use decisions and the drivers of change across river basins, highlighting connections within and across these systems. Focal rivers include the Platte in Nebraska and Rio Grande and Gila in New Mexico.

The digital media produced will be shared with a range of audiences to determine how people respond to and learn from various forms of scientific content, with an ultimate goal of developing a deeper connection between people and river systems. Fellowship activities will transform ongoing research at the University of Nebraska and provide opportunities for students to access information, approaches and skills to understand and describe the changing world and prepare for careers that increasingly focus on working in teams across disciplinary – and watershed – boundaries.

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