Former NIWR-USGS intern pays it forward

Tatiana Garcia, a former intern for the National Institutes for Water Resources-U.S. Geological Survey (NIWR-USGS) and now a full-time research hydrologist at the USGS Illinois-Iowa Water Science Center, recently hired NIWR intern Santiago Santacruz. Santiago will be working with Tatiana modeling Asian carp egg movement in the Sandusky River (tributary to Lake Erie) where grass carp, a species of invasive Asian carp, have successfully reproduced.

Although both arrived at the University of Illinois from their native Colombia more than five years ago with similar professional research pursuits in hydrology, neither had set out to study carp specifically.

“My involvement with the Asian carp project originated from my expertise in river hydraulics,” said Santiago. “Tatiana is the one who has been more involved in ecohydraulics research. This internship has been a unique opportunity for me to learn about Asian carp and the transport of eggs. My background is on hydraulics, and my PhD topic is actually related to the operation of the Chicago Area Waterways System using artificial intelligence for flood and pollution control.”

At USGS, Santiago has focused his work on a hydraulic model of the Sandusky River to simulate the river conditions during spawning events of grass carp, a species of Asian carp. The results are the input for another model developed by Tatiana for her PhD to simulate the transport of eggs in rivers (FluEgg). In this manner, they aim to determine the flow conditions leading to grass carp recruitment success or failure in the Sandusky River.

“Tatiana once described it as ‘forensic engineering,’” Santiago said. Instead of predicting a future outcome, “We are trying to reconstruct the story of the spawning that occurred in 2011   and 2013 based on the captured eggs and fish and the flow records.”

The results from this study and a similar one in the Illinois River may help thwart the spread of Asian carp towards the Great Lakes basin.