Everybody say saltwater! A day on the water for the Channels, Rivers, and Estuaries students

A field trip account by Dr Kristen Splinter:

This year A/Prof. Will Glamore and myself (Dr. Splinter) took over the teaching of CVEN 9620: Channels, Rivers and Estuaries. With over 30 years of experience in the field, as 2 new teaching staff based at WRL; we were keen to give the students a more hands-on and practical experience for what it’s like to be Coastal and Environmental Engineers. Will is an expert on wetland and estuary dynamics, with multiple research projects ongoing across NSW; while I have expertise in sediment transport and numerical modelling, with current research in the Cook Islands looking at lagoon dynamics.

"In the classroom we’ve added more practical engineering into the design of river structures, but also tried to include more of our industry experience with real-world problems."

We have tried to take a practical approach to the course this year. It’s a graduate level course, so we get a mix of fourth year undergraduate students in their final semester before they go off into industry. We also have Master’s and PhD students taking the course, with about 50% of our enrollment as distance students from around Australia. Some of these are working consultants, so we want to train them with practical skills they can use. 

One of the hidden gems of this course is that it’s still ‘boutique’. Enrollment numbers allow us to do things like hire a boat and take students out into Sydney Harbour for a few hours; something that is difficult to do with larger classes. Field work also allows students to problem solve in real time when things don't go as planned. They are also required to develop research plans/experiments on the fly, organise data, and communicate with each other. All great skills for engineers. The field trip also provides the opportunity for our non-local students to come spend some time with fellow students for a day.

"Students are encouraged to develop research plans/experiments on the fly, organise data, and communicate with each other. All great skills for engineers."

This year we took the students on a ‘research cruise’ in Sydney Harbour. As every good field experiment, we had our share of hiccups with instruments and equipment, giving the students ample opportunity to problem solve along the way. We planned 3 different transects to look at variability in flow as well as water quality, but as field work would have it, we successfully finished 1 in our allotted time. 

The students measured water quality using 2 different instruments. A Solinst CTD probe was deployed throughout the cruise and a multiparameter water quality logger (AquaTroll) also measured pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen, depth and Eh in real time. The students completed this as a depth profile to look for mixing and water quality variations within the estuary.

All in all, it was another great day in the field, putting our theory to action.

"Teach what you love, love what you teach."

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