“Six years and about 4,000 water samples later, an outdoor experimental watershed laboratory established by University of Delaware faculty members Shreeram Inamdar and Delphis Levia at Fair Hill, Md., is now producing valuable data and novel insights into how water and chemicals move through the forest canopy, soils and watersheds, and how future climate change may impact or alter such responses.
“Inamdar, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has investigated the role of soils, streams, andwatersheds in leaching water and nutrients, while Levia, professor in the Department of Geography, has studied the interactions of atmosphere and the forest canopy in leaching water and nutrients. Together, they have provided a complete picture of watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry.
“The two were awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in 2008 to study the mechanisms behind the leaching and exports of carbon and nitrogen from watersheds and how these chemicals evolve as they change in space — traveling through the forest canopy, soils, and stream drainage network — and as they change in time through the different seasons.
“Both carbon and nitrogen are important elements of natural ecosystems but in excess can cause problems. Excess dissolved organic carbon in runoff and drinking water supplies can result in the production of cancer-causing byproducts when the water is chlorinated for disinfection. Elevated nitrogen concentrations, such as nitrate, ammonium and the organic forms, can result in degradation of water quality and the production of algal blooms in stream, ponds, and lakes and large water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay, making them unfit for swimming, fishing and other recreational activities.
“To characterize the movement of water and chemicals in the watershed, Inamdar and Levia implemented an intensive network of multiple, state-of-the-art, automated instruments, sensors and sampling devices that record rainfall and weather data, streamflow runoff, groundwater elevations, soil moisture and water quality. These sensors have been recording data at a frequency of 5 to 30 minutes for the past six years.”
Read more: Phys