Chloe Fender

2019 Doyle W. Stephens Scholarship Winner

Westminster College


I am a recent graduate from Westminster College with a B.S. in Biology. My experience broadly has been focused on measuring water quality in many of the streams in and around Salt Lake City. I have worked on projects that evaluated water quality through macroinvertebrate community structure and through measuring pollutants directly. I enjoyed pursuing these topics and would like the opportunity to conduct ecotoxicology research again in the coming years. Within this work, I hope to explore methodologies that are less wasteful and resource intensive

Title: Contaminant pulses associated with snowmelt in Big Cottonwood Creek, Utah

Abstract: Utah is dubbed as having the “greatest snow on earth” with average annual snowfall reaching 500 inches at many Utah ski resorts. The Salt Lake valley is notorious for poor air quality punctuated by frequent winter and summer inversions. Previous studies in other systems show that air pollutants can be integrated and stored in the snowpack and detected in snowmelt throughout the spring and summer months. Data on these processes are lacking for the Salt Lake valley. With the Utah population projected to continue growing, the number of airborne pollutants may also increase, thus increasing the toxicant presence in the snowpack. The purpose of this study is to better understand the fate and distribution of contaminants that could be integrated into the snowpack locally and then released into the environment via melt. Water, sediment, soil, and macroinvertebrate samples were collected weekly from transects in Big Cottonwood Creek beginning in April 2019, before mean daily temperatures were above freezing, and ending in August 2019. We plan to measure a suite of metals associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. So far we have measured mercury concentrations from the sediment, soil, and biota. Overall trends suggest a temporal and spatial change in mercury concentrations in all compartments. Interestingly, the early season deposition of mercury seems to be influenced by creek flow. While the majority of our detections of mercury were well below concentrations of concern, three soil collections measured concentrations that can cause chronic toxicity in some animals. These transects, in particular, will be evaluated in future iterations. Recent years have shown near-record snowfall with some ski resorts receiving over 700 inches of snow last year. An increase in winter storms results in far fewer inversions. However, air pollution that harbors combustion byproducts is still being created and distributed both locally and globally. While our chemical analysis is still ongoing, it may not be indicative of historic trends of contaminant deposition in snowpack due to the above-average increase precipitation.


Why We Care

  • "This was by far the most exciting and effective wave excursion I ever made this side of the Rocky Mountains; and when at its close I was heaved ashore among the sunny grasses and flowers, I found myself a new creature indeed, and went bounding along the beach with blood all aglow, reinforced by the best salts of the mountains, and ready for any race."

    - John Muir describing a swim in Great Salt Lake