eNews March 2022

NMSU Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms

NMSU Student Receives Student Water Research Grant to Study Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Sr. Student Program Coordinator

Algae are a group of aquatic organisms that form the base of the aquatic food chain. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when algae grow out of control in freshwater or marine environments producing toxins, dissolved oxygen depletion, and anoxic conditions. There have been reports of HABs causing harmful poisoning effects on animals, including mammals, birds, and aquatic life across the United States. These HABs can also cause kidney and liver toxicity, skin rashes, and respiratory problems in humans. HABs are occurring worldwide due to polluted water caused by human activities, revealing a need for effective technologies that help mitigate the effects of HABs and prevent future blooms.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute has awarded a Student Water Research Grant to a graduate student at New Mexico State University (NMSU) to investigate this topic. Wijayalath Kodige Nimasha Lakshani Abeykoon, a master’s student in Environmental Engineering, is working on research focused on mitigating HABs using modified clay with her faculty advisor Dr. Yanyan Zhang.

The project, Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms Using Modified Clays, will use porous clays to adsorb and settle down algal cells. Abeykoon is working with clay because it is a naturally available material with no significant environmental impacts, making it an attractive solution for HAB mitigation. Abeykoon and her research team have modified the natural clays to enhance their adsorption properties. The project’s innovative method of using dialysis tubes with packed modified clay inside will recover phosphate (a main ingredient in developing HABs) from water bodies to avoid phosphate release from the sediments.

According to Abeykoon, the proposed solution for HAB mitigation is expected to control existing algal blooms in a water body by settling harmful algae and adsorbing algal toxins. This solution is also expected to prevent future blooms by precipitating phosphate in water. As Abeykoon explains, “Considering its low cost, regeneration potential, and eco-friendly properties, the proposed solution has the potential to be used for HAB control and prevention on a large scale.” Abeykoon presented this research at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October, 2021.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Abeykoon earned her bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Peradeniya. She graduated in December with a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering at NMSU and will continue her research as a PhD student at NMSU’s Environmental Engineering department. Abeykoon will begin her PhD Program in the fall of 2022 and says she is “delighted to start this new chapter of my life.” Abeykoon adds, “I hope the knowledge, experience, and skills I gain through this chapter of my life will guide me to an academic and research career in [the] same field that I am wishing for.”

eNews March 2022

Meet the Researcher, Christopher Brown, Professor, New Mexico State University

Meet the Researcher, Christopher Brown, Professor, New Mexico State University

by Jeanette Torres, NM WRRI Program Coordinator

This month’s featured researcher is Christopher Brown, a professor in the Department of Geography at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Brown teaches three Viewing a Wider World courses (Urban Geography, Economic Geography, and the Geography of Latin America), and he emphasizes the need for team-based learning among his students by providing them with relevant news stories and discussion topics to help facilitate understanding and involvement. Brown is also the inaugural Faculty Fellow for the NMSU Beyond Borders Community of Practice, where he works with faculty across campus to advance border studies and research, with a special focus on supporting the development of external funding proposals.

Brown is currently on several research teams with unique project goals and objectives. One includes an NSF proposal exploring ways to make food supply chains more resilient. Brown also has worked with researchers outside of NMSU to develop a concept paper shared with the incoming commissioner of the United States International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), seeking to address environmental and water resource issues in the U.S.-Mexico region. Brown recently learned that this paper has been well received by both the US and Mexican sections of the IBWC, and discussions are underway to explore the establishment of a binational science advisory group, based on the ideas in the paper. According to Brown, the research he is working on to advance water resource management issues in border regions could be a fundamental issue that applies to many global regions. “I have an interest in the comparative nature of the political ecology of these regions, and I think this provides a very useful lens on how to balance globalization and related economic development, with the need to better manage natural resources, especially water resources,” Brown states.

In support of his research, Brown and his colleagues have been funded by several organizations, including current awards endorsed by the Agricultural Research Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Fort Sumner Irrigation District. He has additionally been the recipient of 14 awards, honors, and scholarships with his most recent being the NMSU Research Council’s Award for Exceptional Achievements in Creative Scholarly Activity.

Brown is an active member of six service committees and organizations, including the Chair for NMSU’s Department of Geography Promotion and Tenure Committee, and Co-Director of the NMSU Spatial Applications Research Center. He has authored and co-authored over 50 publications, and has been an invited speaker and presenter at over 145 different conferences, workshops, seminars, etc., over the course of his career.

Brown graduated with his BA in Economics with honors from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 1986, with an emphasis in environmental and energy economics. He earned his MA in Geography from Michigan State University in 1991, and in 1998 he received his PhD in a joint doctoral program with SDSU, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Through this program, he completed his dissertation titled, A Watershed and Ecosystem Approach to Transboundary Wastewater Management in the Tijuana River Watershed. Brown’s interest in the geography of human environment interactions developed during an undergraduate course he attended, which influenced his academic interests and career arc dramatically. According to Brown, “after this class, my interest pivoted sharply from economic and business management to an interest in the geography of human-environment interactions. This, in turn, drove my interest in pursuing an MS and PhD in geography that has allowed me to study human-environment interactions in a range of varying locations.” Brown has multiple career goals for the future, including successfully advancing collaborative research and knowledge on U.S.-Mexico border issues, and supporting efforts to promote stronger support for international programs at NMSU.