DENIN and DNREC launch EcoCafé workshops
Don Sparks, director of the Delaware Environmental Institute, welcomes participants to the first EcoCafé workshop hosted by the Delaware Environmental Institute.
Anthony Aufdenkampe of the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, Pa., talks about environmental research in the Christina River Basin.
Steve Hicks (right) of Stroud and Olesya Lazareva (second from right), a postdoctoral researcher at UD, demonstrate the environmental sensors used in their research for DNREC attendees at the workshop.


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3:50 p.m., March 15, 2011----The University of Delaware and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) have created a new avenue to connect science with resource management by launching a series of workshops where environmental academicians and regulators can share current research and discuss research needs.

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Through the sponsorship of the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN), the informal workshops bring personnel from both groups together for presentations, conversation and exploration of possible collaboration. Known as the EcoCafé, the workshops offer a time and place for faculty in environmental sciences, engineering and policy to sit down with like-minded colleagues at DNREC and share experiences, needs and issues over coffee.

“We know there is a lot of common ground between us,” said Don Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry at UD and director of DENIN. “We just needed a place to gather and find out what the other is doing and what each other's needs are. Environmental expertise is spread very widely across the University, but DENIN has the mission and the capability to bring people together and provide an entry point for people outside the University who share environmental concerns.”

Sparks said that he anticipates hosting an EcoCafé every three or four months.

“Resource managers must depend upon the most up-to-date science, both natural and social, in order to have any basis for making decisions,” DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara stated. “This partnership between the University and DNREC creates a positive linkage of environmental entities that can only benefit from collaborative learning. We are very appreciative that DENIN is facilitating these opportunities to share expertise in a conversational setting that builds on a long-standing relationship of cooperation.”

The first EcoCafé on March 8 at the St. Jones Reserve near Dover featured an introduction to DENIN by Sparks and a discussion of ongoing research being conducted in the Christina River Basin by a team of scientists from UD and the Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, Pa. The research is part of a larger network of long-term environmental monitoring projects, known as Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs), sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Anthony Aufdenkampe, assistant research scientist at Stroud, presented the goals and objectives of the Christina River Basin CZO and the progress made to date in establishing a large network of environmental monitoring stations throughout the river basin. He said that such extensive monitoring has been made possible only recently through the development of open-source electronic hardware for assembling customized sensors at a fraction of the cost of more traditional sensors. Several of the research sensors were on display for examination by EcoCafé attendees.

“As you all know, the Christina River Basin is important because it provides 60 percent of the drinking water for the citizens of Delaware and probably another half a million people in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Aufdenkampe told the audience of about 20 DNREC staff. He pointed out that water quality data collected on streams such as the Brandywine, White Clay and Red Clay Creeks as part of the CZO project would be available to policy makers via publicly accessible websites.

Founded in October 2009, the Delaware Environmental Institute conducts research and coordinates partnerships that integrate environmental science, engineering and policy in order to provide solutions and strategies that address environmental challenges. The institute is supported through NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which includes both federal and state funds.

Article by Beth Chajes
Photos by Kathy Atkinson