River researcher awarded prestigious Fulbright Scholarship

A Leicester expert in river systems has been awarded a prestigious scholarship to expand her research in the USA.

Dr Catherine Russell, who studied at the University of Leicester and most recently lectured as a Teaching Fellow in Sedimentology within the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, has been granted a 12-month Fulbright Lloyd’s Scholarship at the University of New Orleans.

Also affiliated to Louisiana State University, her technical expertise is in the development of innovative multi-disciplinary approaches for analysing rivers on both Earth and Mars.

Dr Russell will seek to better understand the long-term effects of human impact on Earth’s systems in the Anthropocene – the geological age defined by human-driven changes to the environment – generally in river systems, and in particular in reservoir water quality.

New Orleans famously sits on the huge Mississippi River Delta, itself formed from many individually formed layers that have accumulated over the past 7,500 years. The delta has grown and evolved as driven by the Mississippi River, sea level, weather events – including hurricanes – and now humans.

Around half of central New Orleans sits at or below sea level, which places the city at high risk of flooding, so there is a varied and intricate web of infrastructure intertwined with a richly complex social narrative between the city’s 400,000 residents and the water that surrounds them.

Water security in the USA is of such increasing concern that more than 90,000 dams have been installed across the country to manage water resources. But as levels of pollutants in these reservoirs increases, and as water levels decrease, the pollution is becoming more concentrated, posing health risks to local people.

Dr Russell will be adapting traditional geological techniques to contemporary environments to help to mitigate and manage such risks. Speaking of her appointment as a Fulbright Lloyd’s Scholar, she said: “I am so excited for the amazing opportunities that this award presents as I can expand my knowledge and experiences of the world, whilst also growing my research. Leicester has been part of my research journey since I did a school project here in 2008, then I joined as a student in 2009, completed my MGeol degree, and returned to lecture in 2018 after completing my PhD at the University of Leeds.

“During my time in New Orleans, I will learn a lot and use my findings to better understand the long-term effects of human impact on surface processes across Earth Systems in the Anthropocene.”

Maria Balinska, Executive Director, US-UK Fulbright Commission said: “Our vision is a world where there are no obstacles to learning, understanding and collaboration. Today there are many global challenges to overcome, and the world needs compassionate leaders to tackle them.

“This cohort of awardees will be placing cultural engagement at the heart of their experiences as they undertake ambitious study and research programmes in the US: I am filled with hope for the wonderful collaborations that will ensue.”

A Fulbright Lloyd’s Award allows academics and professionals to pursue research in any discipline related to risk at an accredited US university.

The Lloyd’s awards are funded by Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation, a charitable trust established by Lloyd’s in 1988.