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State-of-the-art tech helps Wash U researchers better understand shut-ins

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Thomas Malkowicz
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Washington University in St. Louis
With a drone-based LiDAR system, Claire Masteller’s team collects topographic data at centimeter-scale resolution, rather than the meter-scale resolution provided by past methods.

When Claire Masteller moved to Missouri from California, she found herself pleasantly surprised by the topography of the Show-Me State. Beyond the flatlands the Midwest is known for, Missouri contains many hills, large river bluffs and shut-ins.

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Washington University in St. Louis
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Claire Masteller is a geomorphologist and assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University.

Shut-ins are a “beautiful expression of what a river has to do to get through harder rock,” the Washington University assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences told St. Louis on the Air. “It’s really striking.”

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park is of particular interest to Masteller. The data her team collects there, using state-of-the-art LiDAR technology to study bedrock river erosion, could help researchers better understand how rivers react to flooding.

“Eventually those shut-ins will erode. It might take thousands of years, but we can get a little bit of insight over a couple of years to get a sense of how quickly that might be happening,” Masteller said. “UAV-based or drone-based LiDAR is a great solution because we can [not only] get the high resolution of allowing our laser instrument to be very close, but we can also get this wide coverage that we wouldn't be able to get on foot.”

Missouri isn't just a place that has an uncommon amount of shut-ins, Masteller said. It’s also becoming a hub for geospatial startups. Masteller’s work has been boosted due to a grant from the local geospatial company, InfraLytiks.

Claire Masteller joins St. Louis on the Air

“Being able to leverage the expertise of all of these geospatial startups that are coming up in the region, the beautiful geology and the rivers in southern Missouri, and the UAV technology that we have in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at Wash U,” Masteller said, “allows us to make a lot of progress towards answering these bigger questions about how the shape of a river like Johnson's Shut-Ins integrates information about the floods that it sees — and how it might change in the future.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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