- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - At a public boat launch on the Black Warrior River packed with boaters taking advantage of the long Labor Day weekend, University of Alabama graduate student Eugene Randle, plastic champagne coupe in hand, celebrated his months-long labor moored at the busy dock.

Randle gathered with family, neighbors and fellow graduate students and professors from the department of geography to celebrate the launch of his research vessel Minerva, a renovated pontoon boat outfitted to help him study the river bottom of the Black Warrior River.

“She’s not a luxury craft, she’s kind of spartan,” Randle said.

The group gathered late Monday morning to celebrate the christening of the Minerva as a parade of fishing boats, ski boats and pontoon boats were hauled up and down the steep concrete ramp nearby at Rock Quarry Branch Boat Launch.

“Minerva is a fitting name for a vessel which shall carry Eugene in his scientific journey,” fellow graduate student Shawn Carter said, reading from prepared comments.

Randle’s wife came up with the name for the boat, inspired by the Roman goddess of wisdom and her connection to UA. The likeness of the goddess is included in the university seal.

“It was fitting,” Kristy Randle said, pointing to the goddess’ image in the setting of the UA class ring.

Carter christened the boat with champagne poured on the bow as Randle and his friends and colleagues looked on from the wooden pier where the boat was moored.

The Minerva is built on the salvaged pontoons from a 1994 South Star pontoon boat. Randle replaced the rotted decking and installed refurbished deck furniture and a Humminbird side- and down-view sonar array, which was purchased by the department. He spent about four months working on boat, including creating parts for the specialized task. The arm for the sonar transducer - a section of a surveyor’s pole - is fixed to a trolling motor mount Randle adapted for the purpose.

Randle said the sonar would be paired with a GPS for more accurate mapping of features on the river bed.

Randle still has to tweak and calibrate the electronics on the boat before beginning his research. He hopes to begin his survey of the river bottom by the spring.

Randle’s research is on bedload dynamics in the Black Warrior River. He is hoping to track the changes in the riverbed’s sediment over time using a sonar array fitted to the boat. The Humminbird array, originally meant to aid fishermen on the water, has been adapted by Randle for his research. The readings from the device are recorded on memory cards and a computer. Randle will also use the boat to gather samples of river water and the riverbed in his research.

Randle estimates he will be on the water collecting data for about a year.

Sagy Cohen, an assistant professor of geography at UA, is a co-supervisor with associate geography professor Lisa Davis of Randle’s graduate research. His Surface Dynamics Modeling Lab looks at the processes on the surface of the planet and works on computer models.

Cohen said Randle’s work is interesting because it involves more field work than the work in the professor’s lab. The hope is computer models can be developed from Randle’s work, he said.

The Black Warrior River is an interesting subject because of its lock and dam system and the effect the man-made structures have on the movement of sediments in the body of water, Cohen said.

As Monday slipped into another hot afternoon, Randle treated his well-wishers to rides on Minerva in front of Holt Lock and Dam. The passengers looked over Randle’s shoulder at the steering console as the Humminbird was turned on for the first time and the landscape of the river’s bottom appeared in yellow and black on the screen.


Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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