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April 10, 2018

Aerial Imagery Gives Insight into Water Trends

iUTAH researcher Bethany Neilson and Tyler King, at Utah State University, have developed a new method to estimate river discharge using aerial imagery gathered from helicopters and drones.

 

A media release by USU’s Grace Michaelson says that new technology could make measurements of water flow of rivers more feasible, accurate, and less expensive in the field.  The article states, “(t)hese alternative methods for monitoring water resources are necessary to continue meeting global water demands while simultaneously easing the impacts of floods and droughts.”

 

The article goes on to add that, “(t)here are a limited and dwindling number of locations where river discharge is measured directly at gauging stations. Establishing and maintaining these stations is expensive and time consuming. As a result, preference is often given to large rivers of significant economic and social importance. Additionally, other remote sensing methods have been developed, but rely on relatively coarse data collected by satellites and, as such, also focus on the larger rivers of the world. As a result, scientists lack a complete view of what is happening in smaller river basins, leaving limited understanding of the processes controlling river water quantity and quality.

 

King and Neilson’s approach aims to fill this data gap by using high resolution aerial imagery to estimate flows at many locations along smaller rivers and streams. This complements both traditional gauging station networks that are tied to a limited number of specific locations along river networks and satellite based remote sensing methods that are used to estimate flows in larger rivers.”

 

After the development of a basic approach to imaging “information is then used within a hydraulic model to approximate the relationship between river discharge and river width. Once these models are built, any following observations of river width — including satellite imagery, aerial imagery or ground observations — can be used to estimate river discharge. ‘Remote sensing methods like these can significantly improve our ability to understand hydrologic responses to a changing climate in small, ungauged watersheds around the world,’ said Neilson, an associate professor at USU.”

 

Nellson and Tyler King, a PhD candidate at USU,  published the results of their study Feb. 7, 2018 in Water Resources Research.

 

Press: Science Daily | Utah State Today | NSF News From the Field | ENN Environmental News Network

 

Researchers at USU published a study on a method they developed to estimate river discharge using aerial imagery gathered from helicopters and drones. Credit: Utah State University

 

 

April 2, 2018

Building Cross-Campus STEM Collaboration in Utah

The iUTAH EPSCoR project has built Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) capacity in Utah through its Research Catalyst Grant (RCG) program. These competitively funded grants targeted faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUls) involved in water-related research. They also strongly encouraged undergraduate student participation in research, presentations, and publications. What started as seed funding for research evolved to take a more holistic approach including professional development, release time from teaching, and funding for additional equipment and resources. An outreach component of this program also supported 23 outreach events to diverse audiences.

 

As a result, 20 researchers, 11 of them women, were awarded RCG funding totaling $300,000 over the past five years. The research involved four different PUIs: Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University, Weber State University, and Westminster College. 

 

The research of RCG awardees has captured the attention of larger universities in Utah, as demonstrated in these stories below:

 

 

"The RCG grants and participation in iUTAH gave the PUI faculty opportunities to flex their professional muscles through research; it also provided a break from heavy teaching loads,” said one participant in a post-award focus group.  Another applicant not receiving an RCG grant said that “the whole RCG process had been instrumental in providing a relatively streamlined, low friction opportunity, which incentivized him to put together a proposal, and providing feedback that strengthened the proposal to the point where it could be competitive in another setting.” The applicant later received funding from a federal agency.

 

Awardees have taken full advantage of professional development training, opportunities, and funding offered by iUTAH to grow their skills and present their research. Three recipients participated in communications workshops by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, 8 participated in an iUTAH sponsored Broader Impacts Forum, and one recipient was awarded a travel stipend to attend a Council on Undergraduate Research Institute on developing an undergraduate research program at a PUI. The program also supported travel for four students and their mentors to present RCG research at scientific conferences.

 

iUTAH’s RCG program has also encouraged continuity and synergy among research efforts carried out at PUIs, as evidenced by the publication of a co-authored paper by two non-concurrent RCG recipients. Suzanne Walther from UVU was among the first researchers to receive a RCG award in 2013. After she left the university for another post, Weihong Wang continued Walther’s initial research, and later expanded on the theme by submitting her own successful RCG proposal in 2015. Both researchers published their results, along with other iUTAH collaborators, in a paper titled “The historical records of stable isotopes and trace metals along Utah Lake-Jordan River transition zone, Utah (USA)” through the Utah Geological Association Publication, in 2017.

 

Interdisciplinary research and cross-campus collaborations has been a hallmark of the iUTAH RCG program. Research projects have involved 111 students to date, representing one third of the iUTAH undergraduate student cohort. Additionally, 14 of the researcher awards involved collaborations with at least one of three academic research universities in the state. Three also involved collaborations with other PUIs. To date, RCGs have generated 7 publications, 51 presentations, and 8 submitted grant proposals. Five of these grant proposals were awarded, for a total of $169K. Undergraduate students at PUIs throughout Utah were truly the beneficiaries of the RCG program by being involved with faculty mentors in real research and having opportunities not otherwise available to them.

 

One of the many RCG project funded over the past five years included getting 14 Westminster College students involved in collaborative research of the Great Salt Lake. Photo by Frank Black/Westminster College.

 

 

March 14, 2018

USU's Nancy Huntly Named Ecological Society of America Fellow

iUTAH researcher Nancy Huntly, professor and director of the Ecology Center at Utah State University, have been named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. She will be one of 28 honorees formally recognized by the ESA, the world’s largest community of professional ecologists.

 

A media release provided by USU’s science writer Mary-Ann Muffoletto said ‏that the “ESA lauded Huntly’s ‘foundational research on herbivory, coexistence and human ecology,’ as well as her commitment to and innovation in both science communication and the application of ecological principles to the management of natural resources.

 

‘Nancy is an outstanding scientist, professor and administrator,’ says Maura Hagan, dean of USU’s College of Science. ‘Her contributions to the establishment and leadership of the USU Climate Adaptation Science program epitomize her innovations in science communication, as well as her scholarly research achievements. Nancy is an exceptional role model to her students and to the young faculty she mentors.’ “

 

Additionally, “Throughout her career, Huntly has been a key advocate for students and faculty from underrepresented groups. She’s a major contributor of the NSF-funded iUTAH project’s education, outreach and diversity efforts in areas of workforce development and diversity. Huntly also assisted with the establishment of a USU student chapter of SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

 

As chair of Science Unwrapped, Huntly oversees a six-person committee and dozens of volunteers, who present community-wide science outreach events, which draw some 500 attendees, ranging in age from preschoolers to senior citizens, to USU’s campus each month during the academic year.”

 

Press: USU Today | The Herald Journal Deseret News

 

Nancy Huntly, USU professor and director of the Ecology Center, discussing ecology and her career. Credit: Kevin Opsahl/Herald Journal

 

 

February 23, 2018

Homeowner Preferences Drive Tree Diversity in Salt Lake Valley

iUTAH researchers Diane Pataki from University of Utah and Joanna Endter-Wada from Utah State University have been in the news for their research on tree diversity in Salt Lake Valley.

 

A media release provided by the University of Utah’s science writer Paul Gabrielsen said “Utah’s early residents would be surprised to see the canopy of trees that covers the Salt Lake Valley today. Few trees are native to the valley, which means that most of the trees present there today are imported. It’s a much different situation from a natural forest, which is shaped by climate, water availability and biodiversity.

 

The article goes on to add that “tree species diversity can be shaped by the species available in nurseries, the preferences of the homeowners, and even the tree selections of their neighbors. ‘Ecology started out as a descriptive discipline,’ Pataki says. ‘You want to understand why you see the distribution of species that you do. This paper states what is out there in Salt Lake, and makes the best attempt we can to figure out why.’

 

Urban ecology incorporates social science into ecology and is a relatively unexplored field. So, Pataki and Avolio didn’t have much precedent to go on when designing their study. They began by looking at comparable neighborhoods in the Salt Lake Valley and chose nine neighborhoods representing combinations of median home age (pre-1939, 1951-1970 and 1985-2005) and median household income (less than $45K, $45-85K and more than $85K). From those neighborhoods, they chose five or six blocks to survey, and sent postcard surveys to homeowners, followed up with in-person visits in 2014. The researchers were looking at the tree species present both in homeowner’s yards and in streets. In the homeowner surveys, researchers asked what people liked about the trees in their yard, and what factors led them to remove trees."

 

Findings also show “that yards and neighborhoods close to each other had more similar species patterns, suggesting that neighborhoods have distinctive landscape identities. ‘These landscape identities likely contribute to the role that trees have in creating a sense of place,’ the team writes, ‘whereby people form a bond with specific trees and with the attributes of a place that trees help create.’ Pataki adds: ‘When you walk through a forest, you see different environments. That’s probably driven by soil characteristics or slope. Maybe in neighborhoods, people influence each other’s plant preferences.’”

 

Former U postdoctoral scholar Meghan Avolio, now a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Tara L.E. Trammell from the University of Delaware were also co-authors of this study. The National-Socio Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) supported this research. While not an iUTAH-funded activity, the study relates to urban sustainability in Utah.

 

Find full study here

 

Press: Science Daily | UNews

 

Picture Drive, Rose Park, Salt Lake City, Utah. Credit: IsoFocus. via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

January 31, 2018

Dust on Snow Controls Springtime River Rise in West

 

A coating of dust on snow speeds the pace of snowmelt in the spring. Credit: NASA

 

University of Utah and iUTAH researcher McKenzie Skiles has been in the news for her contribution to research on the effects of dust on mountain snowpack during spring runoff. Skiles received funding through an iUTAH Research Catalyst grant on snow hydrology along the Wasatch Front in 2017.

 

 A media release provided by the University of Utah’s science writer Lisa Potter said the “study has found that dust, not spring warmth, controls the pace of spring snowmelt that feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the amount of dust on the mountain snowpack controls how fast the Colorado Basin’s rivers rise in the spring regardless of air temperature, with more dust correlated with faster spring runoff and higher peak flows.

 

The finding is valuable for western water managers and advances our understanding of how freshwater resources, in the form of snow and ice, will respond to warming temperatures in the future. By improving knowledge of what controls the melting of snow, it improves understanding of the controls on how much solar heat Earth reflects back into space and how much it absorbs — an important factor in studies of weather and climate.

 

Coauthor McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor in the University of Utah Department of Geography, said that while the impacts of dust in the air, such as reduced air quality, are well known, the impacts of the dust once it’s been deposited on the land surface are not as well understood. ‘Given the reliance of the western U.S. on the natural snow reservoir, and the Colorado River in particular, it is critical to evaluate the impact of increasing dust deposition on the mountain snowpack,’ she said.”

 

The article titled “Variation in rising limb of Colorado River snowmelt runoff hydrograph controlled by dust radiative forcing in snow” was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Along with Tom Painter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and McKenzie Skiles from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, other coauthors are from University of Colorado, Boulder; and University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

Press: Jet Propulsion Laboratory website | UNews