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Catawba College Joins the UNC-Chapel Hill Lake Level Monitoring Project

March 5, 2018

Category: Academics, Environmental Science, Students

Grant Parkins and Sarah Yelton from UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment install a lake level gauge in Lake Baranski behind the Center for the Environment at Catawba College as a part of a NASA-funded project to study changes in lake water volume.

A monitoring gauge was installed in Lake Baranski, located within the Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve at Catawba College, on the morning of February 27. It is a part of a NASA-funded initiative being conducted by UNC-Chapel Hill in a Lake Level Monitoring Project to better understand how the volume of water in lakes is changing over time.

Grant Parkins and Sarah Yelton from the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment, were joined by Tyler W. Davis, Visiting Assistant Professor in Catawba College's Department of Environment & Sustainability, and Matthew Hendricks, preserve keeper for Catawba's Center for the Environment, for the gauge installation.

"Lakes are an important part of our surface water system, which — along with rivers and streams — provide around 70% of the freshwater that we as humans have come to rely upon." - Grant Parkins, UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment

NASA, in collaboration with space agencies from three other countries, plans to launch a new satellite in 2021 that will be able to measure the lake height and surface area of the more than 20 million lakes around the world that are larger than the size of two football fields, of which less than 1 in 10,000 are actively monitored.

 Students in Dr. Davis's Water: Management and Ecology class learn about the importance of managing our lakes and watersheds and hear from Grant Parkins about how they can participate in the Lake Level Monitoring Project at Catawba.

"Several of the things we value about lakes (drinking water, wildlife habitat, recreation and tourism) are impacted by the way we manage our watersheds." - Jon Rife, Catawba College student

In an effort to provide valuable data for the validation of this upcoming satellite mission, scientists and researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill have partnered with Tennessee Tech and the University of Washington to begin installing an international network of lake gauges.

The project has just finished up its first year, which served as a prototyping phase with a focus on natural lakes of North Carolina. In the coming years, the plan is to extend gauging locations across the United States, France, India and Pakistan.

Parkins spoke with Dr. Davis's Water: Management and Ecology course and explained the scope of the project and how Catawba students, and the community, can play a role in the monitoring project. Students and preserve visitors will be able to check the gauge and record levels.lakelevel.jpg

"Our climate impacts how much rain we get. If it changes, this can cause more runoff and pollution in rivers that can end up in our lakes." - AJ Boyd, Catawba College student

A gauge (see the figure to the right for an example) can be installed for as little as $100. To make this grand effort possible, they are calling upon citizen scientists (volunteers from the general public) to assist in reporting lake levels that would otherwise go unchecked.

Reporting can be accomplished in one of several ways and can be as simple as reading the water level on the ruler-style gauge and text messaging the value along with the unique lake identifier. All records are saved and published freely online for everyone to access.

For more information on this project, how to become involved, or to view recorded lake levels, please visit or contact Tyler W. Davis at

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