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About CREW

History and Leadership

The Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds (CREW) was founded at the University of Oklahoma in 2004 and was initially an outgrowth of the combined efforts of the Ecosystem Biogeochemistry and Ecology Laboratory (EBEL) of Dr. Robert W. Nairn and the BioEnvironmental Engineering and Science Laboratory (BEESL) of Dr. Keith A. Strevett.  Dr. Strevett's teaching and research emphases changed and he is no longer affiliated with CREW.  Dr. Robert C. Knox is now an Associate Director. Most CREW members are affiliated with the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science in the Gallogly College of Engineering.  CREW members work with various academic and research units at OU and other universities, as well as multiple local, state, federal, tribal and non-profit partners.

Research Philosophy

CREW conducts research focusing on natural infrastructure, either through conservation of natural ecosystems or creation and restoration of human-made ecosystems.  The CREW research philosophy takes a holistic approach, using our understanding of ecosystem biogeochemistry to develop sustainable solutions to complex environmental problems.  We work on the watershed- and ecosystem-scale, examining environmental impact and developing environmental remediation and restoration technologies based on ecological engineering techniques.  Ecological engineering uses a systems perspective based on the premise that sustainable solutions require working with natural ecological and biogeochemical processes and not against them.  Ecologically engineered systems are designed to require less fossil fuel input, produce less pollution and represent cost-effective alternatives to traditional energy- and resource-intensive technologies.

We are very-much a field-oriented research team, but provide ample opportunities to couple field evaluations with replicable laboratory and greenhouse microcosm/ mesocosm experimentation or modelling.  In many cases, our ecosystems of choice are passive treatment systems for water quality improvement, with a focus on drastically-disturbed watersheds impacted by mining activities. These systems consist of various ecologically-engineered process units, often alternating oxidative and reductive biogeochemical mechanisms, with an overall objective to address ecotoxic metal contamination in a cost-effective and sustainable manner. We use the watershed approach to prioritize impacts and implementation of solutions.

Research Emphases

CREW research is conducted on multiple scales (e.g., laboratory bench-top, microcosm, greenhouse and field) but specific ecosystem- and watershed-scale demonstrations are emphasized with a focus on solving the complex environmental dilemmas resulting from past industrial activities (e.g., abandoned and derelict mines).

CREW research evaluates these challenges, designs solutions, and - perhaps most importantly - documents results through physicochemical water quality changes and ecological recovery.  Most projects focus on two general areas:

  • Watershed biogeochemistry including drainage-basin scale evaluations of pollution sources and mass loadings to and in streams and other receiving water bodies, leading to remediation and restoration planning that summarizes and prioritizes impacts for clean-up.  Recently, CREW has expanded our on-the-ground monitoring efforts with two small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) to collect high-resolution, site-specific multispectral data.
  • Ecological engineering, especially passive treatment systems (design, construction and evaluation of sustainable ecological systems for treatment of contaminated waters), land reclamation (native plant establishment and phytoremediation of degraded soils and wastes), applied fluvial geomorphology (natural channel design for stream restoration) and waste recycling (beneficial reuse of mining wastes).

Final effluent of the Mayer Ranch passive treatment system at the Tar Creek Superfund Site.