MAILED: May 4, 1998|
EAU CLAIRE -- Digging around in the backyard is usually regarded as a pastime of our youth. But for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Amy Jo Steffen, it's serious business.The Glenwood City native has been working on two research projects dealing with soil erosion and clay mineralogy this year, each of which has her working closely with soil and other sediments.
Steffen, a geography major and geology minor, became interested in studying soil characteristics last year after taking a soil science class and later digging a hole in the woods behind her parent's home and discovering evidence of erosion from the samples.
After she reported the findings to her geography professor Dr. Garry Running, what started as a curious trip to the backyard, became a full-fledged research project on soil erosion.
"It's a subject I am very enthusiastic about," Steffen said. "The enjoyment of doing the research comes naturally because I care for the environment around me."
The research is important to her because soil erosion is a problem often overlooked when environmental issues are discussed, she said.
"In small communities there aren't always laws and ordinances governing soil erosion and the state laws are easily ignored," she said. "It's a problem that is neglected usually because people don't realize how often it occurs."
Steffen said she hopes her research will help communities become aware of problems associated with soil erosion and realize certain agricultural practices and development of the land can be hazardous to the environment.
"Stopping soil erosion preserves soil fertility, ecosystems and the landscape," she said. "It also stops stream sedimentation that can destroy fish habitats. It's a problem that can easily be controlled."
Running, who supervised Steffen's research, said her erosion study should be taken seriously.
"If her warnings are given due consideration when planning future development and land use, the area around her home will remain a place with beautiful, vegetated rolling hills and streams," Running said. "If not, once valuable rich and fertile soils will become water pollution problems. Streams will silt in with eroded soils, floods will become more frequent and severe, and we will see a repeat of the dust bowl conditions of the 1930s once again."
Along with having a keen eye in problem solving, Steffen has a unusual determination to get the work done and produce a professional quality project, he said.
"Research is hard work, and she has been willing to put in the long hours and has done her fair share of the button sorting and bottle washing that are necessary evils in research," he said.
At the Association of American Geographers national meeting in Boston, Mass. March 26-28, Steffen exhibited her work before a convention crowd of 4,000 other geographers and students.
Along with her research of soil erosion in the area around Glenwood City, Steffen has been working on a pilot study about clay mineralogy. The project examines the clay mineralogy of different glacial deposits found in Western Wisconsin and was presented at a meeting of the Geological Society of America on March 19 in Columbus, Ohio.
This project is cutting edge work and involves designing methods to analyze clay mineralogy in a manner that samples from very different sedimentary environments can be compared accurately, Running said. These methods use high-tech and expensive equipment to address the structure of clay minerals, the most difficult family of silicate minerals to deal with.
Steffen will pursue a master's degree at Vanderbilt University beginning this summer, at which time she will participate in an international study of soil erosion and land use history on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus to begin her graduate studies.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: May 4, 1998