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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




January 31, 2018

Social Position Influences Water Perception Gap

A new study has found that city leader's views may not be aligned with the public they serve on key water issues. Melissa Haeffner, former iUTAH post-doctoral researcher, and colleagues looked at how socio-hydrology models may oversimplify results by suggesting that social structure are equally and fully informed of the issues or would respond to cues in the same way.  


Researchers were able to compare concerns about the current and future water supply, water shortages, quality, cost, and infrastructure through the use of surveys and interviews with urban Utah Mayors, City Council persons, public utilities staff, and residents.  More information on surveys can be found at Utah's Water Future - 2014 Household Survey and the Utah Water Survey found on the HydroShare data repository.


Results of the surveys suggest that residents were more concerned about future water shortages and high water costs while leaders were more concerned with deteriorating water infrastructure. This view remained consistent independent of where cities were located or what water source they used. It was found that leaders thought that their relationship with their residents was largely reactive.


The finding is valuable in demonstrating how misaligned expectations between leaders and constituents may result in unintended consequences. It suggests that a greater attention to the values, norms, and attitudes held by each group of people with different roles serves both policymakers as well as researchers developing socio-hydrological models.


This study has many connections to iUTAH project research, including the model introduced by researchers in the published study “iSAW: Integrating Structure, Actors, and Water to Study Socio-Hydro-Ecological Systems,” which appeared in the journal Earth’s Future in March 2015. The iSAW model is an integrated framework for human-water system sustainability and has been used in this new study.


Authors of the article include Melissa Haeffner, Douglas Jackson-Smith, and Courtney G. Flint. While the article will be released later in 2018 under the title “Social Position Influencing the Water Perception Gap Between Local Leaders and Constituents in a Socio-Hydrological System,” it is available ahead of publication through the journal Water Resources Research.



This is an illustration of the iSAW integrated framework for human-water system sustainability.



January 17, 2018

Why Science Communication Matters – Afternoon Workshops in Logan & SLC



Clear communication can improve understanding, empathy, and respect for the work that scientists do. The public wants to understand, support, and value advancements in science BUT for this to happen, scientists must first engage the public in their work rather than wait for the public to come to them. This workshop will help individuals to reimagine science communication as a proactive rather than reactive effort. Participants will learn to assess their current science communication efforts, build a strategy to reach more people, adapt content using social media and other communication channels, and expand their impact by building an outreach network connected to other programs.


The Why Science Communication Matters workshop was developed as collaboration between iUTAH EPSCoR, the University of Utah’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Utah State University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and USU’s Ecology Center to address this topic. Workshops in both Logan and Salt Lake City will be free and open to education practitioners from across the state.

Researchers, faculty, graduate students, and other practitioners are invited to attend this free workshop that will focus on learning science communication strategies that individuals can apply to meet their professional goals. iUTAH team members Andreas Leidolf, Jeannine Huenemann, and Ellen Eiriksson will present their own experiences and connections forged while working on a $24MM National Science Foundation water research, education, and outreach project in the state, as well as examples of successful, proactive science communication by researchers from across the state.


You should plan to attend if you are looking to build a strategy to communicate your science to non-scientific audiences, create a stronger broader impact approach for grant applications, or connect with outreach groups in your state. 


Participants are encouraged to ask questions while learning how to design and implement effective messages to engage with diverse audiences in dynamic and compelling ways. You will leave with ideas and resources on how to approach science communications in a way that best supports your professional goals and objectives. Both workshops, listed below, will cover the same material. 


Utah State University campus:


When: Tuesday, February 27, 1 – 4 p.m.

Where: Conference Rm/1st Floor (158/158A), USTAR Bioinnovations Building (IC650), 650 E 1600 N, Logan, UT


University of Utah campus:


When: Thursday, March 1, 1 – 4 p.m.

Where:  Eccles Boardroom (Rm. 1850), Warnock Engineering Building (WEB), 72 South Central Campus Dr. Salt Lake City, UT


Cost: Workshop is offered free of charge. Preregistration is encouraged, as space is limited. Walk-up registration on the day of the workshop is also an option, but we cannot guarantee available space. 



January 17, 2018

Cross-Campus Collaborations Bring Classrooms Together

One of the hallmarks of the iUTAH project has been collaboration between campuses across the state. Throughout the past five years, researchers have shared ideas, equipment, and even students. This spirit of sharing has led to the development of a number of cross-institutional courses, including ones involving hydroinformatics, watershed planning and management, and green infrastructure.


The Green Infrastructure course was co-taught for the second time around this last fall at Utah State University and the University of Utah. Ryan Dupont, a professor in civil and environmental engineering at USU, had 14 students in his section of the course, while Sarah Hinners, a research assistant professor in city and metropolitan planning at UU, had 12 students, or a total of 26 students.


The class met on Friday afternoons, at their own respective campuses in technology-linked classrooms, exploring the topic of green infrastructure from planning and engineering to homelessness and social equity, and hearing from a variety of guest speakers. Field trips brought the class together to meet in-person to view and discuss local examples of Green Infrastructure planning and execution in the Ogden area. They also ran parallel field trips in Logan and Salt Lake City, and reported back to one another.


When asked about the benefits of bring the course together, Ryan Dupont said that “content and discussions we have had in the joint offering course are richer, than when I am able to offer the course myself with only engineering students making up the class roster. I find it very valuable to have students, faculty and guest lecturers with different perspectives on this subject presenting and discussion issues on GI design and implementation.”


As part of the USU section, students completed a class project to enter EPA's Campus RainWorks Challenge, for which student teams design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus that effectively manages stormwater pollution while benefitting the campus community and the environment. At UU, four students worked with the Jordan River Commission and a state legislator to produce background research and recommendations for a proposed Jordan River State Park.


Both Dupont and Hinners said that interdisciplinary engagement has been a very positive aspect of their involvement in iUTAH, one that they hope continues into the future.  “I don’t have an available co-instructor from engineering down here, and I really can’t cover that topic area well myself, but it’s critical to the topic of green infrastructure,” said Hinners. “I really love having a diversity of backgrounds, experience and expertise in the classroom.”


Other courses brought together by the iUTAH project that use this model of cross-campus collaboration include Integrated River Basin Watershed Planning and Management and Water Resources Planning taught by David Roseberg from USU and Steven Burian from UU. In 2012, a Hydroinformatics graduate course was started taught by Jeff Horsburgh and David Rosenberg from USU, along with Steve Burian from UU, and Dan Ames from BYU. The course was offered simultaneously at the three locations via interactive video conferencing and covered information on how to use computer software and hardware to collect, manage, and analyze large amounts of water-related data. The course has been offered annually since 2012, with a one-time expansion in 2014 to include faculty and students from University of Wyoming, and University of Virginia.


Syllabi for the Fall 2017 Green Infrastructure course:



Green Infrastructure course participants touring to the Ogden River Restoration project. Credit: Ryan Dupont.



December 20, 2017

WSU Symposium Showcases Student Research

Amid the hectic schedule of finals week, some Weber State University students made time in their busy schedules to present their research findings from participation in iUTAH’s summer iFellows undergraduate research fellowship program and faculty Research Catalyst Grants (RCG). The event was co-hosted by Carla Trentelman, associate professor of Sociology, and Dan Bedford, professor of Geography and WSU honors program director, and attended by students, faculty, administrators, and friends of iUTAH.


This year, two WSU undergraduates, Maggie England and Mike Fowles, were part of a cohort of 15 students that participated in the 11-week summer research experience. During that time, they were actively involved in iUTAH fieldwork, research, and analysis. Working with faculty and student mentors, these students learned about the challenges and solutions needed to sustain the state’s water supply over the next few decades and the environmental impacts that we have on bird species, and aquatic habitats in local watersheds.


Students presenting research at the WSU symposium include Maggie England, Mike Fowles, and Rebekah Holt. Past participant attendees included Cynthia Elliot, 2016 iFellow, William Soule, Summer Institute mentor, and Kassandra Sqrow, who participated in both an RCG and as a Summer Institute mentor.


Rebekah Holt worked with faculty mentor Bridget Hilbig, assistant professor of botany at WSU, on a RCG project focused on enhancing soil complexity to improve sustainable urban agriculture. They constructed a rooftop garden, adding Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) native to Utah to soil and measured growth responses in pepper plants. While the AMF plants grew better, challenges with the location and the growing boxes limited the growth of viable crops. Future research will involve changing the plants from peppers to parsley, and making adjustments to the boxes and watering schedule.


“Ever since iUTAH began, our colleagues at Weber State have been terrific supporters of undergraduate research,” said Mark Brunson, iUTAH Education, Outreach and Diversity director and professor in the Department of Environment & Society at Utah State University. “Our research faculty have greatly enjoyed working with Weber students, and the work they’ve done has made a real contribution.”


In the five years that WSU has partnered with iUTAH, 41 students have been involved in undergraduate research, including 14 iFellows, 7 Summer Research Institute mentors, and 24 student RCG researchers.



2017 iFellows Maggie England and Mike Fowles presented their research at a student symposium held at Weber State University



December 4, 2017

Researcher and Team Contribute to Restoration Efforts

iUTAH Education, Outreach and Diversity Director Mark Brunson, professor in the Department of Environment & Society at Utah State University, is contributing to restoration efforts by the Shoshone Nation on the site of the Bear River Massacre near Preston ID.


An excerpt from the Herald Journal writer Sean Dolan said “When Darren Parry was a child, his grandmother took him to the site of the Bear River Massacre. He didn’t quite understand why she always had a tear in her eye she when pointed out where the lodges used to be. As he has grown older and taken on leadership roles in the Northwestern Band of The Shoshone Nation, he now understands how important it is to honor a request she made before passing away five years ago.


Brunson and his team, "after consulting with Parry, [will be} preparing a description of what that restoration might look like. One of the main challenges will be removing the invasive Russian olive trees, which Utah classifies as noxious weeds. Then, Parry and Brunson hope to plant native grasses, shrubs and trees. Part of the process is gathering information on what the land used to look like and what plants are indigenous to that area.


"During his research, Brunson said he came across a map drawn by a soldier led by Col. Patrick Connor that included several willow thickets around the Bear River. Willows are no longer found in that area, which Brunson said could be due to the river shifting and cattle grazing. Parry said willows were vital to the Shoshone people. ‘They used the willows as protection from the weather, and they made things out of it,’ he said. The willows were just one aspect that made that valley an ideal winter camp. Parry said the largest natural spring in the county is nearby, and there are several natural hot springs around the river.”


Brunson said that a team, including Molly Cannon, director of the Museum of Anthropology, Eugene Schupp, professor in the Department of Wildland Resources, and Matt Munson, an undergrad researcher, all from USU, are conducting assessments and preparing a proposal to develop a restoration plan.


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Mark Brunson, iUTAH Education, Outreach and Diversity director speaking to the Native American STEM Mentorship program held on USU’s Logan campus, June 2016