College of Arts & Sciences Missouri River Institute

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The MRI promotes and engages in interdisciplinary river research that encompasses the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and legal field. The Institute contributes faculty, student, and equipment resources to this research. In some cases, the Institute also acts as a funding vehicle for these projects.

The Institute collaborates with many other institutions, such as the University of Texas-Arlington, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service.

Research Projects

WaterQualityWater Quality Monitoring Network

The Water Quality Monitoring Network observes the main river and tributaries as well as monitors the physical, biological, and chemical parameters.


  • Provides baseline and historical dataset
  • Analysis of temporal water quality changes
  • Impact of storm events
  • Impact of tributaries

View an Interactive Map and Database of the Water Quality Monitoring Network.

Contact: Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute

Thalweg MappingThalweg Mapping

The unchannelized Missouri River between Gavins Point Dam and Ponca State Park is characterized by varying water depths and velocities that are frequently changing. The portion of the main channel with the fastest moving and often deepest water is known as the thalweg. The Missouri River Institute has been mapping the thalweg of the river since 2009. View a summary report on the Institute’s Thalweg Mapping Efforts.

Contact: Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute


Assessment of Historic Land Cover Change and Cottonwood Age Structure along the Missouri National Recreational River

This project is assessing the current status, past changes, and future trajectories of cottonwood forests along eight Missouri River segments, including six determined to be of moderate to high priority for the Bald Eagle.

Key components of the project include:

  1. Use of GIS with current and historical imagery to quantify floodplain land cover, historic change, and present-day cottonwood area and age distribution.
  2. Vegetation sampling to assess species composition and structure across a gradient of ages of remnant cottonwood stands.
Using analyses of historic land cover change, in conjunction with vegetation sampling, this project will forecast future changes in cottonwood forest area, composition, and age structure within the historic Missouri River floodplain.

Mark Dixon (, University of South Dakota

Picture5Historic Geomorphology of the MNRR Floodplain

Collaborative research between the MRI, USD Earth Science Department, and University of Texas-Arlington is documenting former channels of the Missouri River and James River (a major tributary on the 59-mile MNRR). This research is looking at how these rivers changed their flow patterns over the past few centuries. Impacts of climate change, dams, and bank stabilization are considered.  View more information on Paleochannel Research.

Contact: Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute

research4-medium_1New Geologic Mapping Along the Missouri National Recreational River

In cooperation with the National Park Service, Missouri River Institute, SD Geological Survey, Nebraska Conservation and Survey Division, and university partners, the U.S. Geological Survey began a geologic mapping project of the Missouri River corridor region along the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) of southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. The geologic framework of the river corridor, especially the glacial and postglacial geology emphasized in this work, dominates the geomorphic and hydrogeologic bases of the physical habitat and ecology. The area of the corridor spanned by the MNRR includes several geologically significant terrains. The river valley, with a width of 3-6 km throughout most of the Dakotas and eastern Montana, expands markedly below Yankton, SD to a width of 10-16 km. The expanded reach coincides with the southernmost extent of the James River lobe of the late Wisconsinan Laurentide Ice sheet. In the uplands south of the river valley in eastern Nebraska, a much older and morphologically distinctive pre-Illinoian glacial terrain is partially mantled by loess. Both terrains include extensive glacial-buried-valley aquifers, which are contiguous with the alluvial-outwash aquifer that underlies the river and its valley.  View Project Poster

Contacts: Scott Lundstrom (, U.S. Geological Survey or Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute  

BackwaterBackwater Monitoring

This project is monitoring the habitat of five backwaters along the river. Graduate students are conducting thesis/dissertation research in this area. Water quality, plant and animal species, and hydrology are included in the comprehensive monitoring plan for this project.
View Project

Contact: Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute 

estradiolBow Creek Watershed Endocrine Disruptor Compound Study

This project is sampling sites in the Bow Creek watershed to determine the potential impact of endocrine disruptor compounds originating in the Bow Creek watershed on the Missouri River. This is a collaborative project with the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
View Project

Contact: Tim Cowman (, Missouri River Institute  

TurtleSpecies composition and abundance of turtles within the 59-Mile District of the Missouri National Recreational River

Within the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) turtle populations are impacted by a number of factors which include limited access to nesting sites due to bank erosion, river bed degradation, and bank stabilization projects; flooding of nest sites, encroachment of nesting habitats by vegetation, overall reductions of suitable nesting habitat, and increased predation pressure related to high concentrations of nests within available areas. This mark-recapture study is investigating the habitat relationships, species composition, age structure, sex ratios, and abundance of turtle populations on the 59-mile segment of the MNRR.

Contact: Aaron Gregor (, University of South Dakota