University of Vermont

05/18/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/19/2024 21:49

UVM Water Resource Institute Takes Aim at Global Crises

The University of Vermont's Board of Trustees approved during its annual May meeting Friday and Saturday the creation of a new research engine to leverage decades of research excellence in water science, environmental engineering, and socio-ecological systems.
The Water Resources Institute (WRI), will initially draw on the research of more than 100 faculty members across six colleges and 22 departments to help deliver real-world solutions to climate change-related issues such as harmful algal blooms, historic levels of flooding, and the spread of contamination and pollution.
"As a public research institution, UVM is driven by service and the potential to contribute solutions to complex, worldwide problems," said UVM President Suresh Garimella. "Water is a unifying element for all life on this planet, and the threats of climate change and extreme weather, globally, have never been greater. This new institute's important work will have an impact in Vermont and well beyond."
The WRI will stand at the forefront of interdisciplinary water-related research, innovation, education, and community outreach. It will support, amplify, and grow research and training opportunities for faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and students and connect them with the funding and external partners needed to produce high-impact outcomes.
"The time is right for UVM to elevate its national presence in water research and to create the capacity to support continued excellence as we work toward addressing the challenges we're facing as a planet, and the opportunity to fight climate change and water crises in the future," said Beverley Wemple, a professor of geography and geosciences in UVM's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) who will serve as the WRI's inaugural director.
Researchers affiliated with the institute work in a wide range of water-related fields, with particular focus on rivers and landscape processes, data science and sensing technologies, risk perception and decision science, and planetary health - the interface between the health of our living ecology and the health of the people who inhabit it. This work will inform classroom teaching as well as community engagement - building on work already underway at UVM's Lake Champlain Sea Grant program.
The Sea Grant project, focused specifically on the Lake Champlain Basin, includes programming for K-12 students, a range of community-focused research initiatives, and the work of translating the science of water ecology to communities as they work to understand and adapt to our changing climate.
The WRI will launch with three new projects that link UVM researchers to others in the Northeast and tackle some of the most pressing issues in the region's water cycle. Mindy Morales of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) will study the dynamics of algal populations in extreme hydrological conditions; Rebecca Diehl of CAS will study the complex responses rivers and floodplains experience for improved prediction of erosion; and Andrew Schroth, also of CAS, will use sensors to monitor winter nutrient loading in Vermont watersheds.
The WRI will also leverage two existing funding sources for Vermont-centered water research: the Vermont Water Resources and Lake Studies Center (VWRLSC), based in RSENR, and the Vermont NASA EPSCoR program, based in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. The interest of NASA in weather stems from its increased reliance upon weather prediction, modeling and understanding on satellite technology. As such, weather prediction is a key driver of the modern version of the space race.
"A campus-wide institute focused on water research will further cement our status as not only Vermont's leading land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant research university but as a top research university serving both people and planet," Vice President for Research and Economic Development Kirk Dombrowski said.
The vision for the WRI includes the education of the next generation of problem solvers through the development of certificate or degree programs in water science, policy, and justice.
"We envision these educational initiatives as ones that would leverage existing strengths in Earth systems science, engineering, design, and policy," Wemple said. "These initiatives will provide a new pathway for interdisciplinary graduate student training, engaging faculty across the university and answering the growing demand of a new workforce."