Catawba College joins UNC-Chapel Hill lake level monitoring project

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

Catawba College

A monitoring gauge was installed in Lake Baranski in the Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve at Catawba College on the morning of Feb. 27.

It is a part of a NASA-funded initiative being conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in a lake level monitoring project designed to better understand how the volume of water in lakes is changing over time.

Grant Parkins and Sarah Yelton from the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment were joined by Tyler W. Davis, visiting assistant professor in Catawba College’s department of environment and sustainability, and Matthew Hendricks, preserve keeper for the Center for the Environment, for the gauge installation.

“Lakes are an important part of our surface water system, which — along with rivers and streams — provide around 70 percent of the freshwater that we as humans have come to rely upon,” said Grant Parkins of the UNC Institute for the Environment.

NASA, in collaboration with space agencies from three other countries, plans to launch a satellite in 2021 that will be able to measure the lake height and surface area of the more than 20 million lakes around the world that are larger than the size of two football fields, of which less than 1 in 10,000 are actively monitored.

“Several of the things we value about lakes — drinking water, wildlife habitat, recreation and tourism — are impacted by the way we manage our watersheds,” said Jon Rife, a Catawba College student.

In an effort to provide valuable data for the validation of the upcoming satellite mission, scientists and researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill have partnered with Tennessee Tech and the University of Washington to begin installing an international network of lake gauges.

The project has just finished its first year, which served as a prototyping phase with a focus on natural lakes of North Carolina. In the coming years, the plan is to extend gauging locations across the United States, France, India and Pakistan.

Parkins spoke with students in Davis’ water management and ecology class and explained the scope of the project and how Catawba students and the community can play a role in the monitoring project. Students and preserve visitors will be able to check the gauge and record levels.

“Our climate impacts how much rain we get. If it changes, this can cause more runoff and pollution in rivers that can end up in our lakes,” said AJ Boyd, a Catawba College student.

A gauge can be installed for as little as $100. To make the grand effort possible, project leaders are calling on citizen scientists (volunteers from the general public) to assist in reporting lake levels that would otherwise go unchecked.

Reporting can be accomplished in one of several ways and can be as simple as reading the water level on the ruler-style gauge and text messaging the value along with the unique lake identifier. All records are saved and published online for everyone to access.

For more information on the project and how to become involved or to view recorded lake levels, visit or contact Tyler W. Davis at