WKU Crawford Hydrology Laboratory and University of Belgrade engage in international academic exchange

Last June, Autumn Singer, head of the Crawford Hydrology Lab (CHL), traveled to the Balkan region of Eastern Europe for a cultural and scientific exchange funded by the Trust for Mutual Understanding (TMU) , an organization that offers grants to encourage and support interactions. between American and Eastern European scientists. CHL Deputy Director Lee Anne Bledsoe and Dr. Nenad Marić from the Department of Ecological Engineering at the University of Belgrade and the Cave Research Foundation received TMU funding for their “Research Scholar Exchange in Groundwater Studies” proposal in 2019 Part of the exchange took place the same year with Dr. Marić traveling to Kentucky to receive training in cave survey and mapping, fluorescent dye tracing techniques, and hydrological monitoring methods used in urban and rural karst environments of south-central Kentucky. Singer was scheduled to complete the exchange in the summer of 2020 with plans to travel to the Balkans and attend the International Hydrogeology Course and Field Seminar held in Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or similar event. groundwater training/research in coordination with Dr. Marić to focus on contaminant transport and remediation in karst areas. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed those plans.

Fast forward to June 2022 when Singer traveled to Belgrade, Serbia to meet Dr. Marić and his colleagues at the Center for Karst Hydrogeology (CKH) at the University of Belgrade. There she presented “Fluorescent Dye Tracing: Applied Methods in Hydrogeology” at the Faculty of Geology and Mining, Department of Hydrogeology, University of Belgrade. Attendees received information on fluorescent dye tracing techniques using activated carbon media for passive monitoring in karst systems and received several case study examples demonstrating these and other new techniques that the CHL uses for groundwater monitoring, such as environmental DNA (eDNA) tracking and microbial source tracking. (MST).

During his visit, Singer also learned about Belgrade’s rich and turbulent history, dating back to prehistoric times. Multiple conquests from neighboring counties sought to control and defend the strategic city fortress at the confluence of the Danube and Sava. Serbian-American relations and contributions are also numerous. Prominent examples include Jovan Cvijić, Serbian geographer who is credited as the first to describe soluble bedrock and its caves, springs and other associated features common to the Dinaric region as “karst”, a word which is quite familiar to those who live in the center-south. Kentucky, because it has its own karst. Another recognizable figure is Serbian engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, known for many contributions including the design of alternating current electrical systems. A visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade revealed details of Tesla’s life, his time in America, his major accomplishments, and exhibits of several working Tesla motors and coils. At the end of the week, Singer and Dr. Marić joined a group of CKH hydrogeologists for a tour of karst springs and ancient monasteries located in the hills of the eastern Serbian countryside, learning about historical and modern human use in the region, with access to natural water sources being a need that still connects the active monasteries to the surrounding rural communities. The team visited Krupaj Springs, a unique location where a large karst spring is located just a few hundred feet from a large geothermal spring. The karst spring serves as a drinking water supply to the surrounding communities and a trout farming facility exists in the cool waters below the dam.

The final stage of the exchange took place in Postojna, Slovenia, where Singer attended and presented the results of the TMU exchange at the 29e International Karstological School. Each year the ZRC SAZU Karst Research Institute hosts this conference which offers professional lectures, poster presentations and field trips to karst features in the heart of the famous Dinaric karst region. There, Singer presented the “Enhancing Scholarship in Karst Hydrogeology through Cultural Exchange” poster to make other researchers aware of the funding opportunities available to support scientific exchange between the United States and Eastern European countries. His participation also included field expeditions to the famous Postojnska jama and the UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, Škocjanske jame. Both caves are known for their exquisite prevalence of formations, the presence of unique cave-adapted organisms, and are places of great cultural importance for the preservation of evidence of early explorers dating back to prehistoric times.

The exchange resulted in several positive outcomes, including the awarding of a Fulbright Visiting Scholar Award to Dr. Marić for the proposal he developed with Dr. Jason Polk, Director of the Center for Human GeoEnvironmental Studies at WKU, during the part based in the United States. of the exchange. The results of dye-tracing efforts conducted with Dr. Marić in 2019 led to the hydrological connection of Mammoth Cave proper to Great Onyx Cave, the identification of an endangered Kentucky cave shrimp in a new location at Mammoth Cave and additional efforts to better characterize the Great Onyx Groundwater Drainage Basin. Together, these accomplishments provided the basis for obtaining additional funding to support continued research in the vicinity of Great Onyx. The Balkan portion of the exchange was equally productive, providing opportunities to experience the culture of Serbia and Slovenia while being surrounded by a community of interdisciplinary scientists, working towards common goals in the cradle of geological settings. karstic. Interactions with Serbian hydrologists of the CKH karst allowed Singer to introduce new sampling techniques for dye tracing that are commonly used in the United States but are not widely used in Serbia. The opportunity to see and explore Dinaric karst, formed through processes unique to south-central Kentucky karst, and to observe that both regions face similar challenges in characterizing and protecting groundwater has put highlight the need for greater collaboration and communication of the different approaches to karst resource management used within the international community. With approximately 20% of the world relying on karst groundwater as a source of drinking water, the importance of applying multi-faceted approaches to groundwater study and management is increasing. Karst scientists must continue to learn from each other to ensure the security of groundwater quality and availability. An understanding of the successes and failures of karst groundwater management in a geological context is a valuable reference point that can be used to inform approaches that may be applicable in other contexts.

An ever-increasing sense of people and place was the common thread that connected these experiences. Although the initial exchange is over, the interactions between the CHL and the Serbian colleagues are far from over. CHL and CKH continue to share contacts on tracer studies, and Singer plans to attend the International Karst Aquifer Characterization and Engineering Course in Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer of 2023 to continue the relationship. The exchange was successful in part thanks to the Trust for Mutual Understanding, Cave Research Foundation, Mammoth Cave National Park, Dr. Rickard Toomey III, Dr. Chris Groves, National Speleological Society, University of Belgrade Faculty of Mining and Geology, University from the Center for Karst Hydrogeology in Belgrade and from the Department of Hydrogeology of the University of Belgrade.

For more information or questions, please contact Autumn Singer at (270) 745-9224.

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