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Mar 9, 2020 | News

Baker University Wetlands tornado damage to be used for student environmental research

Three students surveying tornado damage at the Baker wetlands

The Baker University Wetlands has designated an area on its grounds damaged by a tornado on May 28, 2019, as a natural disturbance research site. Baker University biology students will monitor the area, located on thesoutheastern portion of the Wetlands along the Wakarusa River, by measuring and analyzing the disaster response in the forest.

“This is a wonderful and rare learning opportunity for our students to learn about the effects of nature on a habitat impacted by a natural event,” said Dr. Scott Kimball, Baker University biology professor. “While riparian forests like the one at the Wetlands are regularly exposed to major disturbance through periodic flood events, the type of disturbance caused by a tornado is much less frequent, making it more difficult to study.”

This type of quarantined habitat provides students with the research experience they will need as scientists:

  • Hands-on experience measuring and analyzing the forest’s response to disaster
  • Communicating research results with both the scientific community and the general public
  • Developing interpretive public displays that explain the role of disturbance in natural systems, the role of riparian forests in the landscape and the importance of science in helping us to understand the natural world around us

The EF-4 grade tornado cut through a 9-acre section of the Wetlands’ grounds nearDouglas and Leavenworth counties and Topeka carrying 170 mph winds that snapped trees, broke bridges on the Wetlands grounds and blew in debris from surrounding buildings. The damage and debris have remained untouched in order for students to observe and research how nature responds to being damaged by a natural event.

“The Baker University Wetlands’ mission is to educate our students, allow for research opportunities, and provide outreach to the community. This research project allows us to provide our students with hands-on, real world research experience they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Dr. Irene Unger, director of the Baker University Wetlands.

With an emphasis on promoting research and outreach opportunities, the Baker University Wetlands contains 10 miles of public trails, including riparian forest habitats, which are open to the public. However, the 9-acre tornado-damaged area will be closed to the public for safety reasons and to maintain the state of the scientific research that will continue indefinitely.

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