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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).

CREW Facilities and Equipment

The University of Oklahoma Center for Restoration of Ecosystems and Watersheds (CREW) facilities include a laboratory/office complex on the OU-Norman campus (Cleveland County, OK), shared space in the Water Quality Laboratory of the Grand River Dam Authority Ecosystem and Education Center (EEC) in Langley (Mayes County, OK) and multiple long-term field sites throughout the state.  CREW laboratories and offices occupy approximately 4,000 ft2 in 18 rooms physically located in Carson Engineering Center on the campus of OU-Norman.  CREW also maintains collaborative greenhouse space at the OU Aquatic Research Facility on the University Research Campus.  CREW laboratories focus on analyses of natural waters, soils, sediments, and biota, and include state-of-art analytical instrumentation for the analysis of inorganic chemical analytes (anions, cations, and metals analyses), organic chemical analytes (volatiles, semi-volatiles, volatile fatty acids) and other environmental parameters.

Major analytical instrumentation and sample preparation equipment in CREW laboratories in Norman include: Varian Vista-PRO Simultaneous Axial Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectrometer (ICP-OES); Varian AA240 FS true double-beam atomic absorption spectrometer for multi-element flame atomic absorption and graphite furnace determinations; CEM Microwave Accelerated Reaction System with MarsXpress Temperature Control System; Seal Analytical AQ 300 automated discrete analyzer (for major anions); LabSynergy Multi NC 2100S Total Organic Carbon/Nitrogen Analyzer; Milestone Direct Mercury Analysis DMA-80 System; Cole-Parmer SQ-2800 UV/Visible spectrophotometers; Genesys 20 spectrophotometers; two BioRad iMark 96-well Microplate Absorbance Readers; MetroOhm dual channel cation/anion ion chromatograph; Dionex ICS 90 Ion Chromatograph; New Brunswick Scientific BioFlow III fermentor; Turner Luminometer Model TD20E; Model 3740-12BRE-II TCLP invertor; Thomas-Scientific Wiley Laboratory Mill Model 4; Humboldt Soil Grinder Model H-4199; Tyler Sieve Shaker Model RX-94; Fritsch Pulverisette Type 02.101 Model 3132; LabConco Freeze Dryer Model 4.5; and TurboVap evaporation units.

Other miscellaneous pieces of equipment include multiple pH/ dissolved oxygen/ oxidation-reduction potential/ specific conductivity/ temperature benchtop meters; incubators; drying ovens; orbital, platform and vortex shakers; sonicators; benchtop and floor centrifuges; anaerobic glove-bag; pH-stat autotitrators; autosamplers; light microscopes; dissecting scopes; gyrotory water baths; cryobaths; fraction collectors; analytical balances; chemical fume hoods; visible spectrophotometers; fluoro-colorimeters; colorimeters; benchtop and floor autoclaves; two Millipore water deionization units and two NanoPure water deionization units; muffle furnace; BOD incubator; laminar flow hood; refrigerators, chest freezer and a walk-in temperature-controlled room and various desktop personal computers, printers and scanners.

Field-portable equipment includes 10 Hach Sigma 900max field autosamplers; four MasterFlex E/S portable peristaltic samplers; Sequoia Portable Laser In Situ Scattering Transmissometer (LISST); Thermo Scientific Niton XL3t GOLDD+ Model No. XL3t 950 x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer; 6 SonTek hand-held Acoustic Doppler Velocimeters; 2 SonTek field-deployable Argonaut Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers; an OceanScience Riverboat River Surveyor Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler with integrated GPS and plume detection software; Solinst Model 101 Water Level Meter; Keck Model ET-89 water Level meter; multiple Hach 2100P and 2100Q turbidimeters; SPER Scientific Broad Range LUX/FC meter; UVAB digital light meter; Kanomax Clinomaster multi-function anemometer; Industrial Scientific Gas Badge Pro Hydrogen Sulfide Detector; 15 Solinst Levelloggers and Barologgers; 2 HOBO water level loggers; 2 YSI 600XL, 2 YSI 600QS, 3 YSI 600, 1 YSI 600R, 6 YSI 6920v2, 3 YSI 600XLMv2 and 3 YSI 600OMS multiparameter datasondes and 5 YSI 650 MDS handheld controllers; Aerial Technologies International (ATI) AgBot small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) with MicaSense RedEdge Multispectral camera; Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) Phantom 4 Pro+ sUAS with GoPro still photography and video capabilities; CST-Berger PAL/SAL Automatic Level; CST-Berger Model ALH Rotary Laser; GTS-210 Electronic Total Station; Trimble 5700/5800 Differential Global Positioning System; multiple soil and sediment samplers, augers, probes; multiple field pH, DO, SC, T meters; multiple Kemmerer, alpha, beta and other water samplers; oil-water interface meter; hardened laptop computers include a Getac Model X500 Ultrarugged (Intel Core i7-410 CPU, 16 GB RAM, 3.5 GHz), Panasonic Toughbook Model CF-30 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 3.15 GB RAM, 1.60 GHz). GETAC Model M220 (Intel Pentium M, 992 MB RAM, 591 MHz) and a Fatuba T14SG tablet; watercraft include three 18-foot aluminum canoes; available 4WD vehicles include a 1999 Ford Expedition SUV, and a 2004 Ford F250 crew cab pickup truck.  Sadly, both of our beloved 2000 Chevrolet Suburbans have died painful deaths after 20 years and a half-million miles.


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