UA-Led Study of Southeastern Groundwater Assists Water Management

  • November 5th, 2020
Two men and a woman stand for a photograph in front of a building.
UA researchers on the project include, from left, Dr. Mukesh Kumar, Dr. Prabhakar Clement and Dr. Leigh Terry,

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama is leading a 4-year, $6 million project to conduct groundwater research. The data and modeling tools developed will provide new scientific insights and make useful groundwater predictions for the Southeast.

The information can be used to manage and allocate groundwater resources in critical areas such as drought management, drinking water, ecology, climate models and agriculture.

“Water sustains life,” said Dr. Prabhakar Clement, principal investigator on the project and UA professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. “An adequate amount of freshwater is necessary to preserve human and ecological health, two critical aspects for sustaining a healthy economy. The management of groundwater systems is critical since aquifers store about 100 times more freshwater than lakes and rivers.”

UA is partnered with four other universities in the grant from the National Science Foundation. At UA, Clement, also director of the UA Center for Water Quality Research, is joined by his colleagues in civil, construction and environmental engineering, Dr. Leigh Terry, assistant professor, and Dr. Mukesh Kumar, associate professor, and Dr. Grey Nearing, assistant professor in geological sciences.

“We are thrilled. This is a true team effort, and we have several outstanding partners,” Clement said.

Partner institutions include Louisiana State University, the University of Mississippi, Southern University and Tuskegee University.

Along with the research, the grant will support over 20 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, visiting faculty, summer internship for high school teachers, and several undergraduate interns and lab assistants. These researchers will get the opportunity to learn technical skills along with exposure and networking with experts and peers in the field.

In the United States, about 38 percent of the population depends on groundwater for drinking water, and in rural areas, groundwater can account for up to 90 percent of drinking water, according to the National Groundwater Association. It also is the primary source of water for more than half of the country’s irrigated land.

However, not as much is known about groundwater as surface water. While mapping the availability of water in topsoil, reservoirs and rivers continues to receive attention, mapping of groundwater at fine spatiotemporal resolution over large areas is currently lacking. This causes issues in managing water resources, especially during droughts since groundwater is a strategic reserve for mitigating drought impacts.

The effort supported by this grant will be the first major project to focus on groundwater depletion and management issues in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. The project will harness the power of big hydrological datasets using machine learning tools and process models to develop groundwater recharge and storage maps for three Southeastern states. The team will also develop a first-of-its-kind, regional scale, high-resolution data of aquifer stratigraphy, information crucial for obtaining reliable groundwater predictions.

“Groundwater is an extremely important freshwater source for sustaining the socioeconomic activities of the Southeastern region, but, despite its widespread use, we have little understanding of groundwater to make sound public policy decisions,” Clement said.

The results of the project will be shared through a web-accessible data-sharing platform. All the tools and results developed in this project will be open-sourced. The fine resolution groundwater information will be useful for groundwater resource management as well as the planning of agriculture water supply, municipal water supply and rural water supply.

Contact

Adam Jones, UA communications, 205-348-4328, adam.jones@ua.edu

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.