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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – This summer’s flooding was a stark reminder of the power of water. Now, researchers at Washington University want to see how that power may reshape underwater landscapes in a future impacted by climate change.

One of the lead researchers is Geomorphologist, Claire Masteller, who studies the effects of extreme weather and climate on landscapes, both above and below the water. This new study will look at the potential effects of future floods on the all-important interface between the river water and the riverbed.

“What we think is that in response to these big floods, all the structure that’s been built on the riverbed is going to get broken up and disconnected, which is going to make the rivers a lot more susceptible to erosion,” says Masteller.

More erosion could impact everything from vegetation to aquatic habitats and even our drinking water.

Masteller and her team want to look at many different types of floods hitting many different types of river systems. But to travel to observe these rivers in person would be time-consuming, dangerous, and expensive. Instead, they’ve built a river model in their laboratory, that will allow them to recreate a variety of floods and river types with the flip of a switch.

“We’re able to measure everything about our river system before the flood happens, during the flood, and the aftermath of the flood. And we can do that through a number of different lines of inquiry including looking very closely at the riverbed topography and measuring how much erosion happens in response to these flood events,” said Masteller.

All from the comfort and convenience of the laboratory at Washington University.

The study is expected to last at least three years and has been funded by the National Science Foundation.