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Researchers Earn Grant for High-Tech Tools to Study Watersheds

By: Sherry Squires   Published 10:01 am / August 2, 2013

AlejandroFloresBoise State researchers are joining with scientists in Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico to study watersheds in the western United States with the help of advanced computer simulations.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the states a grant for a three-year project to analyze, visualize and explore watersheds. Idaho’s $2 million share of the $6 million award will be managed by the statewide Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, which brings together Boise State, University of Idaho, Idaho State University and many of the state’s two- and four-year higher education institutions.

The project builds on a previous award to the states’ EPSCoR programs. Idaho, New Mexico and Nevada recently completed a project to build cyber-infrastructure in the region, including better Internet access and data-sharing capability. Now, the states will put the improved connectivity to use to better understand watershed-related issues such as snowpack dynamics, vegetation growth, water quality and the way surface and groundwater interact.

The project will use information from real Idaho landscapes, including the Dry Creek Watershed in Boise, at which previous EPSCoR projects established data-gathering instruments.

Boise State professors James McNamara and Alejandro Flores are charged with developing virtual McNamararepresentations of hydrologic conditions in test watersheds using advanced simulation tools. These virtual watershed representations will be visualized using state-of-the-art techniques and facilities at Boise State and University of Idaho. Advanced communication and data-sharing tools supported by the grant will facilitate rapid collaborations over long distances using the developed virtual watersheds.

An interdisciplinary group of researchers and students from the three states will develop a virtual watershed, giving them new ways to visualize and study how environmental change may affect watersheds and how different hydrologic processes are linked.

“We laid the foundation, and now our states are able to work together to do some collaborative science in addition to collaborative outreach and education,” said Rick Schumaker, Idaho EPSCoR assistant project director.

Project researchers also will examine how to manage the large amounts of data involved in creating and using the virtual watershed. UI will take the lead on this portion of the project via the Northwest Knowledge Network.

In an effort to involve more faculty and students from Idaho’s two- and four-year colleges in EPSCoR, the project also includes a program to bring teams of college students and instructors to Idaho’s universities to learn about the latest computer modeling tools. These teams will then help integrate the new technology into their home classrooms.