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CREW Research Summary

The Mayer Ranch passive treatment system, in operation since 2008, addresses trace metals-contaminated waters at the Tar Creek Superfund Site in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, though a series of ecologically engineered ecosystem process units.

Research in CREW is applied and focuses broadly on watershed biogeochemistry and ecological engineering, emphasizing the role of natural infrastructure in providing functions and services which benefit society and environmental quality. 

Specific ecosystem- and watershed-scale demonstrations are highlighted with a focus on solving the complex environmental dilemmas resulting from past industrial activities (e.g., abandoned and derelict mines).with an emphasis on water quality and ecosystem restoration. Research is conducted on multiple scales (e.g., laboratory microcosm, greenhouse mesocosm and full-scale field applications)

CREW research evaluates environmental challenges, designs solutions, and - perhaps most importantly - documents results through water quality, soil, sediment, biota and other changes leading to ecological recovery.  Most projects focus on two general areas:

Watershed biogeochemistry research 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 Unoccupied Aerial Systems (sUAS) to collect high-resolution, site-specific multispectral data.

Ecological engineering research includes passive treatment 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 student performing field water quality analyses at the Tar Creek Superfund Site.



CREW student flying a multispectral sensor -equipped quadcopter (small unoccupied aerial system).

Current CREW Field Research Sites

Collecting sediment cores from the CREW catamaran on a passive treatment system oxidation pond.

CREW research projects are conducted in multiple watersheds and address various water quality problems.
  • Tri-State Lead-Zinc Mining District of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, USA: CREW has worked at numerous long-term locations in small headwater stream watersheds of the Tar Creek Superfund Site.  A major focus is the long-term evaluation of the first two full-scale mine water treatment systems in the district, the Mayer Ranch and Southeast Commerce passive treatment systems.  CREW has research sites on Tar Creek, Lytle Creek, Elm Creek, Beaver Creek, Cow Creek, Coal Creek, Little Elm Creek, Garrett Creek and several small unnamed streams.
  • Arkoma Basin Coal Fields of eastern Oklahoma/western Arkansas, USA: CREW has been involved in design, construction and/or monitoring of several operating passive treatment systems (Hartshorne, Red Oak, Lebosquet and Huntington) in this historic coal mining region.  CREW has also conducted work on Pit Creek, Gaines Creek, Fourche Maline Creek, Red Oak Creek and many abandoned and active coal mine discharges in this region.
  • Grand Lake o' the Cherokees Watershed of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas: Along with other OU and Oklahoma State University partners, CREW works extensively with the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) on comprehensive watershed planning and management issues in this 27,000 square kilometer watershed.  Water quality related issues include impacts from row crop and pasture agriculture, confined animal feeding operations, urban development, the Tri-State Lead-Zinc Mining District, recreational activities and resulting sediment contamination, eutrophication and ecotoxicity.  Through work in the Grand Lake o' the Cherokees (GLOC) watershed, CREW efforts have expanded into these neighboring states.
  • Lake Thunderbird Watershed of central Oklahoma: Lake Thunderbird serves as the drinking water reservoir for several cities, including Norman.  Reservoir water quality is detrimentally impacted (elevated nutrients and chlorophyll) by urban storm water runoff and other sources.  CREW has examined performance of low impact development best management practices for storm water management, potential water reuse scenarios, and related subjects.
  • Cerro Rico Mining District near Potosi, Bolivia:  This hard-rock mining region has been mined for nearly 500 years for silver, tin, lead, zinc and other metals.  It is a high elevation (>4300 m AMSL) desert (<25 cm/year) environment and metals-contaminated waters are used for irrigation, having direct impacts on human and ecological health.

CREW student sampling the Grand River Dam Authority Duck Creek Nursery Ponds.