What We Do: Representative Projects
Resilient natural resource management hinges on understanding the complex and interdependent relationships between food, energy and water (FEW). In the Columbia River Basin, these issues revolve around the competition for limited surface water resources to sustain irrigated agriculture, hydropower generation, and in-stream flow requirements for endangered fish populations. This new, interdisciplinary, cross-institution project will approach problems to FEW issues in the Columbia River Basin through a set of conceptual and biophysical regional models that focus on storage as the key to better understanding how we can best manage FEW sectors for a resilient future. Find out more about the INFEWS project here.
Existing models of the nitrogen, carbon, and water cycles only provide detailed information on specific subsystems within the biosphere, overlooking the interconnected nature of these systems and the complexities this creates. Earth system models (EaSMs) couple these systems to provide a deeper analysis of these cycles, but are still limited. BioEarth is a research initiative led by WSU researchers Jennifer Adam, Brian Lamb, and Serena Chung and funded by a $3 million grant that aims to develop a regional-scale EaSM through the integration of existing process-based models. This model will provide regional-scale information on resource cycling and will help individuals make informed resource management decisions within the context of global change. Find out more about the BioEarth research initiative here.
Unprecedented challenges are emerging in fire management in response to climate change, growing populations, and the expanding wildland-urban interface. Although fires are an intrinsic component of many ecosystems, a combination of biophysical and socioeconomic factors can turn them into social or natural disasters, with compounding negative impacts on both ecosystems and human communities. To address these challenges, we need groundbreaking and sophisticated methods that address ecological, social, economic, and political dynamics at spatial scales ranging from local to national and at temporal scales ranging from instantaneous to multiple decades. Simulation modeling is a useful tool for addressing these multi-scaled and interdisciplinary challenges. We are developing a modeling framework called FireEarth, which expands the Biosphere-relevant Earth system model (BioEarth) to incorporate fire, insect outbreaks, drought, and erosion. This modeling framework will be used to simulate episodic disturbance events and their impacts on hydrologic and biogeochemical cycles. It will also incorporate a novel scaling approach to link society, policy, and forest management decisions at scales ranging from the wildland-urban interface to geographic regions in the Western U.S. and elsewhere.
One of the most difficult aspects of environmental graduate training is placing research conducted at local and regional scales in a global context and then communicating this information to policy makers and land managers. The Nitrogen Systems: Policy-oriented Integrated Research and Education (NSPIRE) began as an IGERT Program funded by the National Science Foundation, launching a multidisciplinary doctoral training program designed to create a new generation of scientists with broad and in-depth training in nitrogen cycling. While funding ended in early 2014, post-award NSPIRE activities are sustained. Students who participate in the NSPIRE program will be able to seamlessly integrate nitrogen cycle science for effective communication with key stakeholders. Find out more about the NSPIRE program here.
To develop scientifically sound and economically feasible public policy, researchers and the general public must work to understand the interactions between water resources, water quality, climate change, and human behavior in both agricultural and urban environments. The Watershed Integrated Systems Dynamics Modeling (WISDM) program is a multi-institutional team, supported by the USDA, which is working toward understanding how climate and land use changes impact water quality and quantity, determining which agricultural practices promote productivity and water conservation, and considering how changes in economic conditions and climate change affect water use. Overall, the team hopes to improve understanding of water systems and explore how primary water users can be involved in the research process. Learn more about WISDM here.