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Improving an Integral Boston Feature – The Charles River

December 6, 2018

Max Rome, PhD in Civil Engineering ’21, recently led a team of four who were awarded a grant from the inaugural Sasaki Foundation Design Awards. Their entry of "Charles River Floating Wetlands" was one of five winners chosen from proposals submitted by teams from seven countries. The competition focuses on creating innovative solutions to environmental, economic and social challenges facing greater Boston. His team’s proposal will create a visually impactful floating wetland on the Charles River designed to reduce harmful algal blooms. The project builds on previous research by Rome studying water quality and harmful algal blooms in Boston’s famous waterway.

Rome’s research with the Ed Beighley Research Group focuses on understanding the potential for enhanced zooplankton populations to control harmful algal blooms through grazing. He studies how moderately polluted water bodies vary in their ability to absorb and process nutrients.

Previous research has shown that the elimination of a river’s fish population is an effective way to prevent algal blooms, as it releases predatory pressure on the zooplankton that feeds on algae. However, the killing of a river’s fish is not an ideal solution. In this upcoming Charles River project, Rome strives to answer the questions: Can zooplankton populations be protected from predatory fish by increased coverage and improved habitat? How do we translate these ecological insights into new tools that can be used by engineers and policymakers?

The project goals are to create a visually impactful wetland installation, document the impact on zooplankton population and water quality, and educate the public about the relationship between river ecology, pollution, and water quality in order to work toward a healthy and swimmable Charles. An important piece of this project is public education and outreach. He explains, “this project is equally about science, place making, and educating the public.”