For visiting Fulbright Senior Research Fellow Martin Thoms, dispelling myths about scientists is one of his favorite parts of his work “What I do gives students a different picture of scientists,” said Thoms. “I like to get them out on the water, and turn around and say, ‘Welcome to my laboratory.’ River science is fun.”
Thoms is currently “on loan” from the University of New England Armidale, Australia (UNE). He arrived here this summer and has spent his time conducting research and giving lectures at Winona State University and University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
Back in Australia, Thoms is Director of the Riverine Landscapes Research Laboratory and Chair of the Geography Department at the University of New England in Australia. He is an internationally recognized scientist in the field of river ecosystems, specializing in the connections between freshwater ecology, hydrology and geomorphology. His competency in this field has been recognized numerous times by Australian and International organizations, winning awards for his innovation in river science from the University of Canberra, the International Association of Hydrological Sciences and the Binghamton Geomorphology Group.
According to Thoms, the purpose of the Fulbright program is to act as a bridge builder between different countries and to increase awareness and international collaborations. This type of cooperation is not new to Thoms, who joined forces with Mike Delong, professor of biology at WSU, some time before pursuing a formal partnership through the Fulbright program.
Thoms is also working with Bill Richardson of the U.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse. Each scientist contributes a different perspective and area of expertise, with Thoms focusing on hydrology, Delong on foods webs and Richardson on food webs and nutrient dynamics. “Just call us the three stooges of river science,” Thoms joked.
The research being conducted by Thoms, Delong and Richardson examines the resilience of river ecosystems in relation to climate change. The project will address significant knowledge gaps in relation to the changing structure of floodplain-rivers by reconstructing past and present food webs in aquatic ecosystems of lowland rivers of the Murray Basin in Australia and the Upper Mississippi River in the U.S.
“Without a doubt, your climate is changing,” Thoms said. “Our job as scientists is to help you learn how to manage (the river) in a way that it’s not impacted. One way to manage the future is to learn what happened in the past.”
For more information, contact Andrea Mikkelsen at 507-457-5024.