A Day at the Lake

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

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Slideshow of the Iowa Water Center Board visit to the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory.

This week, the Iowa Water Center Advisory Board held their bi-annual meeting at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory at Lake Okoboji in northwestern Iowa. The IWC advisory board started in 2006, and is made up of representatives from around the state (list of members provided below). This was the first meeting for several of our board members, so we covered IWC history to start off the meeting and spent time discussing current and upcoming IWC activities.  Staff members and the advisory board also visited the research field sites for Elizabeth Swanner, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences at Iowa State University.

Swanner’s research is funded by the Iowa Water Center’s competitive annual seed grant program. This grant program funds one faculty member at an Iowa college as well as graduate students. Swanner’s project titled, “The role of iron mobility from anoxic sediments in stimulating harmful algal blooms,” received funding in 2016 and renewed funding for 2017. During the visit, Swanner described the project and demonstrated how samples are collected during a pontoon boat ride. Her research is focused on evaluating the potential that iron is released out of lake sediments, thus stimulating the blooming of toxic cyanobacteria in Iowa’s lakes during the summers. You can read more about her research here.

Follow her research on twitter at @betsyswanner.

The Iowa Water Center Board Members

  • Larry Weber (Chair), Director of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, University of Iowa
  • Marty Adkins, Asst. State Conservationist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Daryl Smith, Professor Emeritus of Biology at University of Northern Iowa
  • Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Lakeside Laboratory
  • Jon Nania, Supervisory Hydrologist at the Iowa Water Science Center at the USGS (replacing Kevin Richards as USGS Iowa Water Science Center representative)
  • Jon Tack,  Water Quality Bureau Chief at the Iowa DNR (replacing Bill Ehm as IDNR representative)
  • Jake Hansen, Water Resources Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (replacing Jim Gillespie as IDALS representative)
  • John Lawrence, Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach
  • James Reecy, Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University (replacing Wolfgang Kliemann as ISU Vice President for Research representative)

We’d like to extend a special thank you to Mary Skopec for making the arrangements for our meeting at Lakeside Lab. We highly recommend trekking to Okoboji for a tour of the campus or to take one of Lakeside’s academic courses. Lakeside does a variety of outreach, too – so bring the entire family!

Soil – Agriculture’s Reservoir

Post submitted by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant for the Iowa Water Center

The soil is like a sponge that holds water so it is available when crops need it. Wetter soil at the surface prevents deeper infiltration and so water is lost as surface runoff. Not only this, but soil moisture is also a variable that influences the timing and amount of precipitation in a given area. This is due to the impact it has on the water cycle. This cycle circulates moisture from the ground through evaporation and plant transpiration to the atmosphere and back to the ground again through precipitation. Therefore, the amount of water stored in the soil can affect the amount of precipitation received during the growing season.

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Satellite imaging from the European Space Agency. The center figure depicts imaging derived from SMOS.

According to Hornbuckle (2014), “we enter each growing season ‘blind’ as to whether or not there will be enough soil moisture and precipitation to support productive crops.” If there were a way to document and record water storage in the soil besides field measurements, we would have a better ability to predict future weather patterns and therefore, make better field decisions. Satellite remote sensing tools such as the European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and NASA’s Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) can be used to take such measurements. Before these tools can be used to estimate water storage and improve weather and climate predictions, researchers must compare them to what is actually measured within the soil. This process of confirming accuracy of a tool is called validation.

A project led by Dr. Brian Hornbuckle, and funded by the Iowa Water Center in 2014, sought to improve and validate SMOS and SMAP in near-surface soil moisture observations of Iowa. Hornbuckle used a network of soil moisture measurements located in the South Fork Watershed as a standard to validate the accuracy of SMOS and SMAP. At each site, soil moisture and precipitation was measured.

Some of the results of this research project are presented in a 2015 article published in the Journal of Hydrometeorology.  Rondinelli et al. found that SMOS and the network of soil moisture measurements detect different layers of the soil. SMOS takes measurements of the soil surface while the network observes a deeper level of soil. These results will allow scientists to better evaluate the accuracy of measurements from SMOS and SMAP and ultimately enhance our understanding of the water content of the soil surface.  As noted earlier, it is this layer of the soil that determines how much precipitation is lost to surface runoff.

In a subsequent study published in 2016, Hornbuckle et al. published further results that indicate new ways of using SMOS. Researchers found that SMOS can be used to look at water in vegetation, as opposed to water in the soil.  Hence SMOS might be used in the future to observe the growth and development of crops, and perhaps estimate yield and the time of harvest as opposed to conducting field surveys from the ground. It also has the potential to measure estimates of the biomass produced during the growing season, which could be useful to reach bioenergy production goals.

Research like this demonstrates that a single tool can be used in multiple ways to better understand our landscape. Not only this, but preliminary studies of SMOS also show that it is important to verify the accuracy of tools before relying on them. Like all research, the work is not done to identify all the potential uses for SMOS and SMAP.  A new NASA grant, in partnership with the Iowa Flood Center, will help get researchers even closer to making satellite measurements a useful, scientific tool to understand water near the soil surface.

References

Hornbuckle, Brian K. “New Satellites for Soil Moisture: Good for Iowans!.” A Letter from the Soil & Water Conservation Club President (2014): 20.

Hornbuckle, Brian K. Jason C. Patton, Andy VanLoocke, Andrew E. Suyker, Matthew C. Roby, Victoria A. Walker, Eswar R Iyer, Daryl E. Herzmann, and Erik A. Endacott. 2016. SMOS optical thickness changes in response to the growth and development of crops, crop management, and weather. Remote Sensing Environment (180) 320-333.

Rondinelli, Wesley J., Brian K. Hornbuckle, Jason C. Patton, Michael H. Cosh, Victoria A. Walker, Benjamin D. Carr, Sally D. Logsdon. 2015. Different Rates of Soil Drying after Rainfall Are Observed by the SMOS Satellite and the South Fork in situ Soil Moisture Network. Journal of Hydrometeorology. April 2015.

 

View from my Windshield: Observations of soil erosion across Iowa

Post written by Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center

For the past couple of weeks, I have been on the road across Iowa. These trips vary in their purpose, but one thing that remains the same is the evident erosion in the fields along my travels. Regardless of where I am – whether it is in the Loess Hills visiting family or in the Des Moines Lobe for a meeting – spring rains have revealed that there are deep cuts in the bare brown soils where lush, even soils used to be.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Topsoil thinning is closely linked to loss of crop production potential. Typical statewide average erosion rates have only a minor impact on crop yields in the subsequent year. However, cumulative effects are far more significant and contribute to a loss of state revenue that becomes much more important as time progresses.”

The simple fact is that without soil there would be no life. In Iowa, we have high quality soils that, along with some good science and great farmers, enable us to be the top producers in corn, hog, and egg production. This leads to the question: What may be the ultimate cost of this productivity?

Cruse et al. (2016) conducted a study to determine the effects of erosion on commodity yields and to gauge the future impacts on the agricultural economy in Iowa. Researchers studied seven farm sites in Iowa with cropping history and available yield maps. The Daily Erosion Project was used to estimate crop yield impact on soil depth from 2007-2014. The average state loss across those years was 5.7 tons of soil per acre per year. “Assuming a 2.2 bushel per acre corn yield loss across 14 million acres in a given year and a corn price of $4.00/bu, the next year’s crop production loss would equate to approximately $4.3 million total across this land area” (Cruse et al. 2016). There are informational resources and federal programs available for soil conservation practices, but with a short-term economic market system, there is little motivation to participate.

Cruse et al. (2016) writes:

“Short-term minor yield impacts on a per acre basis create little incentive for investing in short-term soil conservation strategies available for many farmland renters. However, as the cumulative effect compounds the economic effect over time, landowners that have longer term planning horizons are much better positioned to recover their financial investments in soil conservation practices.”

To put is succinctly, a loss of soil leads to a loss of productivity, which leads to a financial loss for the state. The impacts of the above findings on decision-making out in the field may be significant given the short-term mindset of our commodity market. Making present-day investments to maintain soils may pay off in the end when compared to short-term commodity gains from year-to-year. Other research has revealed that there is hardly a piece of land in Iowa that is exempt from the problem of erosion. According to Cruse et. al. (2006), soil erosion affects everyone although it is spatially and temporally variable. With 55% of Iowa farmland leased rather than owner controlled (Duffy et al. 2013), an investment in soil saving practices will require candid conversations and real partnerships between a tenant and landowner.

Overall, the first step in making a change is being knowledgeable about your surroundings. Next time you are on the road, look out in the field and really see where you are travelling. Then, compare that to what the data shows on the Daily Erosion Project. You may be surprised about what you learn.

References

Cruse, R., D. Flanagan, J. Frankenberger, B. Gelder, D. Herzmann, D. James, W. Krajewski, Kraszewski, J. Laflen, J. Opsomer, and D. Todey. 2006. Daily estimates of rainfall, water runoff, and soil erosion in Iowa. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 61(4): 191-199.

Cruse, Richard M., Mack Shelley, C. Lee Burras, John Tyndall, and Melissa Miller. 2016. Economic impacts of soil erosion in Iowa. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Competitive Grant Report E2014-17.

Duffy, Michael, William Edwards, and Ann Johanns. 2013. Survey of Iowa Leasing Practices, 2012. Iowa State University Extension & Outreach. File C2-15.

Daily Erosion Project goes International

This week Dr. Richard Cruse, Professor in Agronomy at Iowa State University and Director of the Iowa Water Center, was invited to speak at the Rendez-vous végétal 2017 in Quebec, Canada. He provided a presentation on the cost of soil erosion and introduced the Daily Erosion Project to an international audience of soil and water professionals.

Below is an article published in le Bulletin des agriculteurs, a publication on new agricultural technologies in Quebec.  The article is written by Nicolas Mesy, an agronomist and freelance reporter and photographer. Topics the article explores include soil loss in Iowa, the science behind the Daily Erosion Project, and how soil erosion assessments can be a tool in decision-making.

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Podcast spotlights a pioneer of precision conservation

Post originally appeared on the Iowa Learning Farms website by Ann Staudt

Precision agriculture is a unique, emerging field, and it is certainly one that is rapidly evolving before our very eyes. The complex world of remote sensing, big data, ag informatics, statistics, and on-the-ground farm management means there’s a whole lot of data out there … how do we make sense of it all?

Meet Dr. Amy Kaleita. High energy, eternal optimist. Agricultural engineer. Lover of learning. Passionate teacher and researcher. Soil Whisperer (or some might say Soil Listener).

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Kaleita’s work at Iowa State University is truly at the intersection of conservation, information technology, and the world of precision agriculture. While precision ag technology is commonly used by farmers and crop consultants across the state of Iowa today in such applications as nutrient management (variable rate technology) and precision seed placement, Kaleita is on the forefront of the next generation of precision ag – precision conservation. Kaleita’s research efforts range from studying different sensor technologies, including both embedded [contact] sensors, such as in-the-ground soil moisture sensors, as well as non-contact sensors [data collected from drones], to optimizing the layering of those different technologies to obtain the best data sets possible.

However, collecting the data is just the start —  the real challenge emerges in sorting through huge amounts of data and trying to make sense of it all!  Which is just where Kaleita comes into play, evaluating and analyzing the vast amounts of data collected in the field. She strives to identify patterns and linkages that can help us better understand the relationships between such factors as crop yield variability, precipitation, soil moisture, hydrology, transport of dissolved contaminants (such as nitrate-nitrogen), and on-the-ground conservation practices. As Kaleita puts it, a big part of her job is trying to “understand uncertainty.”

She goes on to explain, “In an agricultural context, there are so many sources of unexplained variability … things that you do on the landscape that cause results, but they cause different responses under different conditions, and so how do those conditions change over time and space?

“The soil is very different, and it changes over time, and it certainly changes over space. The rain, and the air temperature, and the wind speed, and all of that stuff cause responses in the crop and they cause the interaction between the crop and the soil to change. And so [we’re] trying to understand all of the things that cause those differences, and then trying to design systems that can be responsive to that variability.”

Tune in to Episode 27 of the Conservation Chat for more of this fascinating conversation with Dr. Amy Kaleita!  You can also download or listen to any of the previous podcast episodes on the Conservation Chat website and on iTunes.

Villarini Receives AGU Macelwane Medal

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IIHR’s Gabriele Villarini recently received the American Geophysical Union’s James B Macelwane Medal, which honors young researchers

Story originally appeared on the IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering website

When Gabriele Villarini heard the news that he had been chosen to receive the American Geophysical Union’s James B. Macelwane Medal, this normally unflappable researcher got pretty excited.

“I was in such a daze!” he remembers. The associate professor in civil and environmental engineering and IIHR associate research engineer was thrilled to receive the honor, presented each year to only 3–5 young researchers selected from the AGU’s 60,000+ members. AGU scientists study everything from the center of the Earth up to space—and everything in between.

“It’s highly competitive, very selective, and it really is a great honor,” Villarini says. “You always wish it would happen one day, but there is no guarantee. Especially given that there are so many brilliant scientists out there in so many different disciplines.”

Iowa Flood Center (IFC) Director Witold Krajewski, who served as Villarini’s PhD advisor and now works with him as part of the IFC, agrees. “This is a big time award,” Krajewski says. “Very few hydrologists have received it in the past and those who did followed up with distinguished careers. I feel very fortunate to have Gabriele first as a student and now as a colleague. We all should be proud of his accomplishments.”

The AGU selects the Macelwane Medalists based on their significant contributions to the geophysical sciences as outstanding early career scientists. Villarini and the other medalists was celebrated at the annual Honors Ceremony and Banquet held during the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. In addition, Villarini submitted an abstract for the “New Generation of Scientists” Union session during the AGU Fall Meeting.

Villarini says he is humbled to receive the medal, which he considers the most meaningful accomplishment of his career so far. “I would probably say it’s humbling,” he says. “It’s not just an award for me—it’s bigger. It wouldn’t have happened without the support of a number of people.”

He adds, “Obviously my family played a critical role—both my family in Italy and my family here.” He plans to attend the awards ceremony with his wife, Amie. “She has given me endless support, and I wanted her to be there with me when I received it,” he says.

Current Research track now open for the 2017 Iowa Water Conference

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Are you a researcher with ongoing or recently completed research related to water?

The Iowa Water Conference Planning Committee invites researchers from around the state to submit an abstract to present at the 2017 Iowa Water Conference in the Current Research track.

Submissions to this track will undergo a review process by the Iowa Water Center. Selected presenters will have the opportunity to share and discuss their research in a 30-minute slot during the breakout session times at the conference. A total of nine presentations will be chosen for this section of the conference.

“The Current Research track is an opportunity for researchers to discuss ongoing projects and new information,” said Dr. Richard Cruse, Director of the Iowa Water Center. “Providing a platform for researchers to share their work with the public is a critical component of the Center’s education and outreach goals.”

The deadline for abstract submissions is February 1, 2017. The submission process is online at the following link (http://www.aep.iastate.edu/iwc/papers). Questions and inquiries regarding the conference can be directed to Hanna Bates, Program Assistant at the Iowa Water Center (hbates@iastate.edu).