Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Energy Science and Engineering

Major Professor

Mark S. Bevelhimer

Committee Members

Debra L. Miller, Ryan A. McManamay, Elizabeth D. Barker, Brenda M. Pracheil


Hydropower accounts for nearly 40% of renewable electricity generation in the US; however, dams significantly impact the surrounding aquatic ecosystems. One of the most visible impacts of hydropower―beyond the dam itself―is the direct negative impacts (injury or death) to fish populations that must pass through hydropower turbines to access desired downstream habitat. During passage, fishes face many potential stressors that can cause severe injuries and often leads to high rates of mortality. In this dissertation, I have focused on quantifying how fishes respond to impacts from turbine blades that may occur during turbine passage. Laboratory research into blade strike impact has a nearly 30-year publication record and observed trends in injury and mortality rates are generally true for most species. Additional research on untested species (American eel, bluegill, paddlefish, American shad, blueback herring, and brook trout) was successfully completed and new biological response models are also available. Quantitative support of surrogacy―applying biological response models for blade strike from one species to represent another species or group of species―was also confirmed. For example, Oncorhynchus and Salvelinus species had approximately the same biological response curves suggesting data from one could be used to infer mortality for the other. Live animal response data are invaluable, but the paucity of data on actual physical forces of turbine blade strike necessitated developing novel technology. A new biomimetic model (i.e., Gelfish) was successfully created using additive manufacturing techniques, ballistic gelatin as a tissue surrogate, and a sensor to detect changes in acceleration during blade strike. Importantly, preliminary blade strike testing also suggested the Gelfish prototype responded in a similar way to live fish. Finally, I compiled an anatomical and morphological fish traits dataset that was used to delineate species into functionally relevant groups. The resulting anatomorphic functional guilds were also found to account for variation in relative flexibility better than purely taxonomic groups among the riverine species studied. Combined, these results suggest that the available biological response models can be used to represent untested species within the same anatomorphic functional guilds, and will help calibrate/validate newer versions of Gelfish that maximize biofidelity.

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