U of M receives $4.3 million NSF grant to study interactions between water and land-use systems
Minnesota River Basin will serve as the test bed for research
September 26, 2012
The University of Minnesota announced today that it has received a $4.3 million Water Sustainability and Climate grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to lead a study on the interactions between climate, water and land-use systems. The grant will specifically examine impacts of land use and climate change on water quality and ecosystem health using the Minnesota River Basin as a prototype.
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the lead institution for this grant that involves researchers from institutions across the country such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, Utah State University, University of Washington, Iowa State University, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The researchers will develop a framework for identifying and predicting processes, locations and times that are most susceptible to accelerated change. This framework is envisioned to guide decision and policy making toward a healthy and resilient environment. The research team has chosen the Minnesota River Basin as a location for their research because it encompasses an extremely broad spectrum of natural and human-induced rates of change and sensitivity to land-use practices. Of particular interest is the interaction between land use and river network processes. Many of the state’s waterways already exceed recommended amounts of sediment and nutrients.
“This grant brings together some of the top scientists and engineers from across the country to study one of the most important issues of our time—water sustainability under climate and human stressors,” said Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and lead researcher on the grant. “Change is often inevitable, but if we can use the best of science to understand the ‘workings of a system,’ its complexities, feedbacks, and vulnerabilities to change, we are half-way toward sustainability. The other half is working with decision and policy makers, to implement science-based solutions.”
Based on a unique hypothesis called human-amplified natural change (HANC), this research will explore the concept that areas most vulnerable to human, climatic and other external changes are those experiencing the highest natural rates of change. The ability to more easily identify these so-called “hot spots” of sensitivity to change could enhance targeted response, including remediation and management, for potential issues of water scarcity and quality.
To better understand which land and water management efforts are most effective to produce sustainable and resilient environmental systems, the research will explore in-depth the following issues:
- Sediment production rates throughout the Minnesota River Basin and their sensitivity to natural versus external changes;
- Features in the landscape and water system that accelerate change and how these features can be factored into the assessment framework;
- The relationship between human-amplified natural changes in the geomorphic system and ecological changes in the Minnesota River; and
- Methods and means to include the assessment in decision-making processes so that sensitive regions can be identified and targeted for monitoring and management activities.
In addition, an educational component of the grant will help develop hands-on experience for teachers and curricular materials on environmental literacy for classroom. The educational component will also involve working collaboratively with the Science Museum of Minnesota to share what is learned with the entire community.
Led by Foufoula-Georgiou, the project involves several other researchers including Gary Parker and Praveen Kumar, professors of civil and environmental engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Peter Wilcock, professor and associate chair of geography and environmental engineering, Johns Hopkins University; Jacques Finlay, associate professor of ecology, evolution and behavior, University of Minnesota; Karen Gran, assistant professor of geological sciences, University of Minnesota-Duluth; Patrick Belmont, assistant professor of watershed sciences, Utah State University; Catherine Kling, professor of economics, Iowa State University; Sergey Rabotyagov, assistant professor of environmental economics, University of Washington; and Gillian Roehrig, associate professor of science education and director of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Center, University of Minnesota.