Volume 43 | Number 2 | Fall 2013

Fulbright Scholar Studies Chilean Rivers

Fall 2013 Issue | By Andrew Taylor

Idaho State University geosciences Associate Professor Benjamin Crosby has headed about 6,000 miles south to Concepción, Chile, where he is serving as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad de Concepción and conduct research to assess the impact of hydroelectric dams in Chile.

During his one-year sabbatical from ISU, including six months serving as a Fulbright Scholar, Crosby will be responsible for teaching and research among diverse Universidad de Concepción faculty members in engineering, geosciences and geography.

He is teaching the first geomorphology course in that university's history.

Geomorphology is a branch of geology focusing on the processes that sculpt the topographic texture of the earth's surface. He will leave his course and laboratory materials with a faculty member who will continue to teach the course after Crosby leaves.

"They have never had a geomorphology class taught at the university," Crosby said. "This will be the first time that students are exposed to the dynamic interactions between rivers, hillslopes and glaciers. This class will be of interest to a wide variety of theoretical and applied academic disciplines at the university."

His research will focus on what allows daily cycles in river attributes — such as temperature, discharge and chemical character — to persist through only a portion of a stream's network. Though this 'pulse-like' behavior is evident in headwater regions, the signal decays downstream.

This research emphasis is pertinent to modern Chile.

"This work will provide a framework for scientists to both assess the impact of dams on rivers and potentially improve dam management to better mimic natural cycles in rivers," Crosby said.

Crosby will complete his research traveling between the Concepción, Santiago and Patagonia regions of Chile. He noted that Chile's economy is growing fast and has ever-increasing demands for power to support urban growth and a large mining industry.

"Right now Chile is deciding whether to build seven new hydroelectric dams, with some in Patagonia on some of the most pristine rivers left in the world," Crosby said. "My hope is that if we better understand the timing and magnitude of the natural pulse of these rivers, dam managers can design water release scenarios that come close to replicating pre-dam conditions (if the dams are built)."

Crosby has taken his family to Chile. Accompanying him are his wife Cana, 13-year-old daughter, Dylan, and 11-year-old son, Wells. They flew to Concepción, with a metro population of about 500,000 residents, in early June, where they've spent two months becoming familiar with the country and improving their Spanish before Benjamin begins university instruction and the kids start school. Crosby, however, also will be teaching in English as a requirement of the Fulbright Scholar program.

"My family has a nervous excitement about it," Crosby said. "They're excited about the opportunity and they know we're coming back in a year."

Two people in particular inspired Crosby to pursue a Fulbright Scholar award. One was Chikashi Sato, an ISU environmental engineering professor, who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and conduct research in Nepal for seven months in 2012. The other person was Peter Goodwin, University of Idaho civil engineering professor at the UI's Center for Ecohydraulic Research in Boise.

"Goodwin has for years encouraged me to participate in research in Chile, but I wasn't able to do so until this sabbatical," Crosby said. "He was a Fulbright Scholar in Chile in 2003. Ten years later, I'm following in his footsteps."

The Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), under a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of State, administers the Fulbright Scholar Program for faculty and professionals. Each year, the core Fulbright Scholar Program sends some 800 U.S. faculty and professionals to 155 countries to lecture, research, or participate in seminars. At the same time, approximately 800 foreign faculty come to the U.S. each year. For more on the Fulbright Scholar program, visit www.cies.org.