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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 17, 2006

Papanicolaou Receives $150,000 Federal Grant To Study Water-Soil Interface

Thanos Papanicolaou, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the University of Iowa College of Engineering and associate faculty research engineer at IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering, has received a two-year, $150,000 research grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to study how water either enters the soil or becomes runoff.

In particular, Papanicolaou will study the process of infiltration -- the entry of water into the soil through rainfall, snowmelt or irrigation -- that determines the amount of runoff as well as the supply of water in the soil. The project will focus on the Clear Creek Watershed, near the University of Iowa campus.

"The overarching goal of this research is to expand the current knowledge on soil infiltration by performing for the first time detailed field experiments under different soil aggregate attributes, landforms and management conditions. To do so, this research will utilize state-of-the-art methodology including sensor technology to obtain measurements of infiltration and conductivity in a non-intrusive manner," he said.

Among the variables affecting run-off and soil retention of water are: the slope of the hillside, soil type, land management and rainfall intensity. He added that knowledge of infiltration is important in predicting surface runoff, water quality properties and hillside erosion.

"Overall, this research will lead to development of a versatile and robust method useful in TMDLs (total maximum daily loads) for measuring surface runoff and transport of contaminants," said Papanicolaou, whose co-principal investigator on the project is Lee Burras, associate professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.

Because the project includes extensive water quality sampling, it should reveal the amount of time required for the benefits of best management practices (BMP) programs to show up downstream.

"This would be a great benefit to watershed planners who will apply BMP programs," said Papanicolaou. "Over the long term, the research will be useful to farmers in the region interested in minimizing nutrient loss to surface waters as part of ongoing BMPs, and to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in strategic planning to clean-up Iowa's surface waters."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,