From Student Researcher to Mentor: Assessing the Health of the Nashua River in Massachusetts

Caroline Anderson1, Elizabeth S Gordon1, John P Ludlam2, Daniel Welsh3, Jane Huang1, Emma Downs4, Elyse Clark1 and Ben Levy5, (1)Fitchburg State University, Earth and Geographic Sciences, Fitchburg, MA, United States, (2)Fitchburg State University, Biology, Fitchburg, MA, United States, (3)Fitchburg State University, Biology/Chemistry, Fitchburg, MA, United States, (4)Fitchburg State University, Biology/Chemistry, Fitchburg, United States, (5)Fitchburg State University, Mathematics, Fitchburg, United States
It is important to understand the health of aquatic streams, as the water from streams eventually flows into the ocean. If a river is unhealthy and contains contaminants, the ocean can end up being polluted. One study at Fitchburg State University that took place from 2017 to 2019 was designed to assess the health of the Massachusetts portion of the Nashua River. In the 1960s, the Nashua River was considered one of the nation’s most polluted rivers but major improvements in stream health were made by the 1980s. The project looks at the current health of the Nashua by analyzing water quality indicators to test the hypothesis that a higher percent urban in a stream’s watershed will lead to lower water quality. This interdisciplinary collaborative research project consisted of seven teams assessing nine mainstem sites and twenty tributary sites. These teams studied indicators such as conductivity, nutrients, turbidity, sediment grain size, microplastics, and fish and macroinvertebrate populations. This presentation includes the perspective of a student participant, researching river flooding one summer, as well as the perspective of a student mentor, overseeing all aspects of this interdisciplinary research project the subsequent summer.