EPSCoR Track 2 - New grant from NSF EPSCoR will establish water resources network

The Delaware Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is a partner in a three-year, $6-million grant from the National Science Foundation through its EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 program.

The grant program supports research by consortia of EPSCoR jurisdictions. Through this award, Delaware will join with the EPSCoR programs in Rhode Island and Vermont to form the North East Water Resources Network (NEWRnet). Two million dollars of the grant will go to each of the three states involved.

The proposed research will address and integrate two grand challenges in environmental science and management:
• The complex interactions among land use, water quality, and aquatic ecosystems; and
• How this knowledge can be used by managers and policy makers to inform decisions about resource management.

The research will involve the placement of an extensive network of environmental sensors in key watersheds in each state to gather hydrological and geochemical data.
These sensors will yield information about the export of carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the watershed over time, including periods of high or low water flow associated with the storms and droughts that are predicted to become more frequent as the region’s climate changes.

At the same time, the researchers will conduct a series of laboratory and field economics experiments and agent-based modeling to determine how stakeholders will accept and use the data collected by the sensor network.

The overarching goal is to assist stakeholders in their decision-making by linking the results of the economics experiments and environmental data to governance and market mechanisms designed to sustain and improve water quality and quantity.

“This project will potentially take the data used by decisions makers beyond the simplistic levels that are now available and allow us to determine how the data can best be visualized and used,” said Dan Leathers, professor of geography at the University of Delaware and a lead principal investigator on the grant.

While the environmental sensor data will likely impact the management of the field sites and similar watersheds in each state, the researchers also expect that their studies of how stakeholders use the data will have even broader implications.

“The understanding of economic decision making and the potential for acceptance of high-frequency data by decision makers will be of broad interest not only in our states but also in other jurisdictions,” said co-principal investigator Kent Messer, associate professor of applied economics and statistics at UD.

Extensive high-frequency data could eventually allow policy makers to accelerate their responses to the severe storm events that are predicted for our region and possibly reduce the deleterious effects of these storms.

In addition to Leathers and Messer, other UD researchers involved in the project include Delphis Levia, geography; Shreeram Inamdar, plant and soil sciences; and Scott Andres, Delaware Geological Survey, as well as a number of undergraduate research interns and graduate students.

Article by Beth Chajes
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and courtesy of Dan Leathers

For questions and information, contact DGS at
delgeosurvey@udel.edu, 302-831-2833