Student Spotlight: Katie Bowes
Hometown: Gretna, LA
High School: Dominican
Classification: Graduate Student, Oceanography & Coastal Sciences
The College of the Coast & Environment’s unique location in South Louisiana places it at “ground zero” for studying coastal vulnerabilities, and its multidisciplinary curricula lead to well-rounded students and future employees. Because of this, many organizations look to the college, also known as CC&E, for knowledgeable and passionate interns, like Katie Bowes, that are in such high demand.
Bowes is working toward a master’s in Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and pursuing a full-time career at Chenier Environmental Consulting, LLC, where she currently works as an intern for Aaron Bass (Bass is the owner of Chenier and a CC&E alumnus who also serves on the CC&E Advisory Council). Much of Bowes’ job entails performing wetland assessments and delineations for different properties. Bowes ensures that companies are complying with the Clean Water Act, which protects wetlands. In other words, if a company purchases a property and suspects there may be wetlands there, Bowes will assess whether there are wetlands on the property and, if so, recommend the appropriate action.
In addition to regulatory work, Bowes is able to participate in the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan through her internship at Chenier. She and Bass are assessing the environmental impacts of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project, which diverts sediment, nutrients and fresh water into degraded areas of Barataria Basin to build new land and maintain existing marshes.
“She is a confident, easy going person who is focused on providing much needed answers to very practical environmental issues. Her drive is likely related to her significant work life experience in the environmental consulting arena,” said Katie’s thesis advisor, John White, John and Catherine Day Professor of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and Associate Dean of Research.
In fact, her thesis, “From the River to the Gulf: An Investigation of Biogeochemical Cycling in Wetland Soils and Coastal Shelf Sediments,” incorporates two projects that explore nutrient cycling and contaminant removal in two different environments – Barataria Basin and the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Both projects are focused on nutrient enrichment from the Mississippi River as a result of increased agricultural production and the consequences of altered river discharge as a result of the Mississippi River levee system.
Her first project was conducted under John White’s supervision. In this project, Bowes quantified the effects of colder incoming river water from the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on water quality and the ability of the wetlands to remove agricultural contaminants within the Basin. Bowes found that there were limitations to agricultural contaminant removal as a result of the colder river water, which could cause excess nitrate, a commonly used fertilizer, to flow further out into the bay and possibly stimulate eutrophication—an excess of nutrients which causes a dense growth of plant life and the fleeing of animal life from lack of oxygen.
“Katie’s thesis project provides critical data to the ongoing modeling efforts in support of the 1+ billion dollars planned Mississippi River sediment diversion into Barataria Bay. Since river water is colder than the bay water, our expectations of environmental impact need to include temperature effects in our understanding and modelling and, more importantly, calibrate the prediction with actual experimental data. Katie designed her experiments to mimic the diversion and to provide the most relevant data that is available of nitrate removal rates under these conditions for the basin,” said White.
Her second project, conducted under the supervision of Kanchan Maiti, associate professor of oceanography and coastal sciences, aimed to quantify the significance of phosphorous mobilization in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Phosphorous is another nutrient that, in excess, could further exacerbate eutrophication. Bowes wanted to find out if phosphorus would be leached from sediment into the water in a low-oxygen environment. While Bowes found no net leaching of phosphorus during her short-term experiment, more experimentation is underway in Maiti’s lab to gather conclusive evidence.
Understanding the connectivity of wetland and marine science in a more holistic way is beneficial in planning future coastal restoration strategies. Findings from Bowes’ research will inform restoration modelers of the net impact of the sediment diversion on Barataria Basin and further contribute to research being conducted on in the Gulf.