GODFREY - National Great Rivers Research and Education Center
scientists recently collected living plankton from the Jerry F.
Costello Confluence Field Station's aquatic mesocosms.
Mesocosm is a general term for an experimental tool that
brings a small part of the natural environment under controlled
conditions, allowing scientists to conduct unique experiments to
further our understanding of river organisms, hydrology, and the
transport of sediment and nutrients.
NGRREC's aquatic mesocosms consist of three 50-foot by 6-foot
concrete raceways, which can each be split into two channels and
are capable of pumping more than three million gallons of water to
the system per day, while keeping its plankton community, sediment
and nutrients intact.
The water comes from the Mississippi River via a pump located
near the Dynegy Wood River Power Station, which takes in 350
million gallons of river water each day for cooling purposes.
Ultimately, the information gained from research in these mesocosms
will help state and federal decision makers develop better river
The scientists recently collected a plankton sample from
several gallons of water in the mesocosms and condensed it to a few
ounces, which they studied under a microscope.
"Seeing the living plankton was an exciting first step on the
way to operating our experimental system," said NGRREC℠ Director of
Aquatic Ecologist John Chick. "Our goal is to bring the planktonic
community to the mesocosms intact and alive, in levels similar to
the Mississippi River. We now know that many of these organisms are
surviving the journey from the river, through the pumps, and all
the way to our mesocosms alive."
"We saw several species of microscopic plants and animals, and
at first glance the diversity of species appears to be similar to
what we find naturally in the Mississippi River, and that's
important because we would never be able to recreate that natural
community in our lab," said Lori Gittinger, an NGRREC℠ aquatic
NGRREC's system of mesocosms is unique on the Mississippi
"We don't know of any other system of this scale that uses
water drawn directly from the river," said NGRREC Field Station
Manager Ted Kratschmer. "We think it will be a major asset to the
river science community and help solidify NGRREC's position as a
hub for large river research."
NGRREC℠ is an innovative center for research, education and
outreach located near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri
and Illinois rivers in East Alton, Ill. The National Great Rivers
Research and Education Center is a partnership of Lewis and Clark
Community College, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
and the Prairie Research Institute's Illinois Natural History