September 29, 2008

Pinter named to panel studying Missouri River

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A geologist at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will serve on a national committee of scholars examining ways to better manage sediment issues with the Missouri River.

The National Research Council selected Nicholas Pinter, professor of geology in the College of Science at SIUC, to serve on its Committee on Missouri River Recovery and Associated Sediment Management Issues. The council’s Water Science and Technology Board will oversee the ad hoc committee, which will examine issues associated with the Missouri River basin sediment and how it influences water management decisions throughout the greater Mississippi River watershed.

Pinter said he was honored to receive the appointment.

“The U.S. National Academies and the National Research Council play a pivotal role in the country, providing in-depth scientific analysis and objective advice through their blue ribbon panels,” Pinter said. “It’s an honor to be named to the Missouri River panel, and an opportunity to contribute to this important national debate.”

Pinter is an expert in earth surface processes such as flooding, river systems, hydrology and natural hazards. His research includes changes in river systems, particularly how humans and natural alterations affect flooding. He has examined Mississippi, Missouri, Rhine, Danube and other rivers in the United States and around the world, quantifying the effects of levee expansion, navigational engineering, changes in basin land use and other issues. He also has testified in U.S. Federal Court about the effects of levees and levee construction on river dynamics and flooding.

Pinter also is leading a $1.2 million multi-county emergency preparedness effort in Southern Illinois funded by the federal government. The project is aimed at assessing disaster risks in several area counties and making plans to mitigate those potential risks.

The committee will examine how and why sediment is a significant variable in environmental restorations of river systems such as the Missouri River, and how sediment might impact the hypoxia problem -- or lack of oxygen -- in the Gulf of Mexico. Members will look into key environmental and economic elements and considerations regarding nutrient and contaminant loads in the Missouri River sediment, and how engineers might manage those. They also will examine the effectiveness of Army Corps of Engineer management strategies along the river, and many other questions.

The Army Corps of Engineers is sponsoring the project, which will take about two years.

The Missouri River sediment management has a broad geographic impact, with its effects ranging from its headwaters in Montana to its mouth north of St. Louis, and beyond. Laura Ehlers, senior staff officer at the NRC and director of the commitee, said the group will comprehensively evaluate the sediment issues in the Missouri River basin, looking at factors such as the role of sediment in bird and fish habitat, river hydrology and delivery of nutrients and contaminants downstream in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.

“The results will be used to guide restoration efforts being carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers and others,” she said. “Dr. Pinter was chosen to serve on the committee because he is an international authority on river systems and natural hazards such as flooding, in particular human and natural alterations that make flooding more severe than it would otherwise be. He has quantified the impacts of levee expansion, navigational engineering, changes in basin land use, and other factors on the Mississippi, Missouri, Rhine, Danube, and other rivers worldwide.”
Pinter earned his bachelor’s degree in geology and archaeology at Cornell University. He earned his master’s degree in geology at Penn State University and his doctorate in geology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.