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Discovery DiscoveryMay 2001
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Undergrad Wins Award for Work on Lamar River


by Annette Trinity-Stevens

A Montana State University earth sciences major recently captured a best student paper award from the Association of American Geographers.

Carl Legleiter, a senior in geohydrology, received the award from the association's water resource specialty group for his paper on remote sensing of a stream in Yellowstone National Park.

The award was one of two given by the AAS water resource group. The other went to a graduate student.

Legleiter presented his paper at the association's annual meeting in New York in March.

"Here I am, this punk undergraduate with professors whose papers I had read," Legleiter said. "I was up there with the big boys. I have to admit I was nervous."

The paper described how Legleiter used a technique called hyperspectral imaging to classify features such as riffles and pools along the Lamar River.

Hyperspectral imaging uses very narrow bands within a spectrum to measure electromagnetic radiation reflected by the earth. The human eye can see three bands in the visible spectrum--blue, green and red, Legleiter explained. A Landsat satellite can record six reflected bands, but a hyperspectral camera mounted on a plane or helicopter can record 128 or more bands in a resolution of one-meter square.

The improved resolution lets scientists map and inventor very small features over entire watersheds, said Andrew Marcus, Legleiter's advisor and an MSU associate professor of geography. Scientists can do a better job of tracking and understanding the effects of natural and human disturbance on streams.

Using the imaging technique to characterize streams is still rather new, Legleiter said, but is superior to alternative methods such as sending a crew into the field.

"It's a more objective way of classifying streams over distances plus you get a better idea of changes through time," Legleiter said. "You can infer more specifically what types of features are there and the amount."

Marcus said Legleiter, although an undergraduate, was doing graduate-quality work on this and related projects.

"He's marvelous, just marvelous," Marcus said. "He's heads and tails above anyone else I've worked with at this stage of their career."

A member of the MSU cross-country team and a Goldwater Scholar, Legleiter, 22, has one more semester to complete at MSU before heading to graduate school in California, South Carolina or his native Colorado.

His research and the trip to New York were funded by the MSU Undergraduate Scholars Program and by grants from Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies and NASA.

Annette Trinity-Stevens is the MSU Research Editor.

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