Getting Down and Dirty: Professor Builds Wetland Research Area on Campus

Posted: August 14, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Changwoo Ahn wants his students to soak up the outdoors. In the four years Ahn has been an assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Mason, it has been his goal to create a high-tech outdoor wetlands research area.

Last week, his idea finally got a border.

The dry pond basin near the intramural fields on the western half of the Fairfax Campus was fenced off for the official Wetland Mesocosm Compound and Ecological Observatory Area. Thanks to a generous donation by Long Fence, a 10 x 60m area (roughly two-thirds the size of a football field) has been secured with a heavy-duty fence and will be designated as an outdoor environmental research area for students and faculty.

“Access to natural landscape — without a 45-minute van ride — is an invaluable tool for teaching students concepts in organismal biology, ecology and environmental science,” says Ahn “Mason students will now be able to design and implement research projects right here on campus. Being able to control variables and environmental factors will be a great asset for them and improve our teaching abilities.”

The area will house multiple mesocosms, or what Ahn refers to as “kiddy pools”—controlled small-scale environments for ecological studies of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The pools will simulate the effect of environmental factors such as flooding, drought, pollution and climate change on wetlands in more controlled and replicated experiments.

“Watershed and water quality problems through destruction of natural wetlands have been one of the biggest issues in environmental science and policy in the region,” says Ahn. “These mesocosms will further our research into this area.”

Fenced off area for mesocosm
This area on the western part of the Fairfax Campus has been fenced off for the new mesocosm project.

Ahn would like also to include an observation area that will be managed for natural plant and animal communities. The area would feature tools such as weather instruments, light sensors, soil sensors and other measurement systems. Students, faculty and the community would be able to observe these ecological environments, and Ahn hopes to eventually install a live webcam for remote observation as well.

Ahn taught at Ohio State University for about six years, where he had access to a research park much like the one he would like to eventually develop at Mason. He hopes that in addition to an excellent research area, Mason’s facility will eventually become a small-scale nature park for the community.

A shed will be built in the next month to secure instruments and tools needed for the research. The mesocosms will be installed during the fall semester, and Ahn hopes the compound will be up and running by spring 2008. Ahn plans to use the compound for a new course in the spring on practices and principles of ecological engineering.

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