June 3, 2013 — Vol. 29 No. 20
Idaho State University geosciences Associate Professor Benjamin Crosby is heading about 6,000 miles south to Concepción, Chile, where he will serve as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad de Concepción and do 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 will be 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 on power to support urban growth and a large mining industry.
"Right now Chile is deciding whether to build seven new hydroelectric dams, 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 is taking his family to Chile. Accompanying him will be his wife Cana, 13-year-old daughter Dylan and 11-year-old son Wells. They'll be flying to Concepción, with a metro population of about 500,000 residents, in early June, spending two months in the country becoming familiar with it and improving their Spanish (Crosby, however, will be teaching in English, a requirement of the Fulbright Scholar program) before Benjamin begins university instruction and the kids start school.
"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."
The family hopes to drive home from Chile, traveling through portions of Peru, Brazil, Columbia and Central America. Those plans are not yet firm, however.
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 his footsteps."
Crosby is chronicling his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar in a blog crosbyfulbright.blogspot.com.
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 http://www.cies.org.