Ryan Clark, IGS Geologist
For the past 20 years Iowa Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) has been cleaning up Iowa’s rivers with the help of hordes of volunteers and a few dedicated staff members. The Iowa Geological Survey (IGS) has participated just about every year, from helping haul trash to giving educational programs. I have been involved in Project AWARE since 2013, starting out as a staff member hauling/sorting trash and shuffling canoes around, then as a volunteer paddling the route and plucking anything out of the river that doesn’t belong there.
Each year I give a presentation about the geology of the watershed along the route. As a bedrock geologist I tend to focus on the intriguing aspects of bedrock formations volunteers might see while paddling, like coal beds along the Boone River (2019), sandstone bluffs being undercut by the Raccoon River (2021), and even geodes in the Lower Des Moines River (2016)! I usually team up with another geologist or archaeologist who can speak to the more recent geologic history of the watershed. Glacial advances marked by linear hills called moraines, how rivers meandered into their current alignments, and areas along the river previously occupied by indigenous people (and the artifacts they left behind) are of particular interest.
Participating in Iowa Project AWARE is one of the many ways the IGS educates the public about the importance of understanding Iowa’s natural resources. You do not need to be a geoscientist to make a positive impact on the environment, but you might need to get your hands dirty once in a while!