U of I College
Illinois scientists receive USDA NIFA grant to develop soil erosion
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[August 12, 2019]
Two University of Illinois scientists received
a $500,000 grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and
Agriculture (NIFA) to develop a computational tool that stakeholders
can use for estimating and predicting soil erosion.
“Quantifying soil erosion is a very complex problem because of
the variability in time and space,” says Maria Chu, assistant
professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) in
the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental
Sciences. Chu is principal investigator on the grant.
Wind, water, and human activities drive the erosion process.
Land surface erosion diminishes soil fertility and contributes
to the pollution of our waterways. As soil particles are
mobilized, they act as carriers that can transport biological
and chemical pollutants. Erosion processes are difficult to
predict. They may happen instantly or over a long period of
time, and they may be local but in time can affect watersheds
further away. Current measurements are not able to capture the
full dynamics of soil erosion in agricultural landscapes, Chu
The goal of the project is to develop and integrate a set of
computational tools that can enable stakeholders to evaluate the
effects of land management practices on erosion over time and
space both at the local and regional scale.
“We’re going to create a web interface that farmers can use to
assess different scenarios,” says Jorge Guzman, research
programmer in ABE, and co-principal investigator on the grant.
For example, farmers can choose between different options such
as “tilling” or “no tilling” on the website and see the likely
effects of each on their regional watershed over time.
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“This will provide stakeholders with an information
tool that allows them to gain a view of sediment production from the
local scale to the regional scale,” Chu says.
To develop the tool, the researchers will use observations from
satellite data combined with ground-based data and numerical models.
“We are going to extract information from the data to improve
hydrologic and erosion models for predictions that can then be
converted into decisions,” Guzman says.
The pilot study areas are the Kaskaskia River Watershed in southern
Illinois, which feeds into the Mississippi River, as well as a
watershed in Oklahoma for comparison purposes. The researchers say
their long-term goal is to extend the project to a larger region in
the Midwest, and eventually to the entire United States.
[Source: Maria Chu
News writer: Marianne Stein]