CHEYENNE — A record grant received by the University of Wyoming will pay for wide-ranging research on a timely topic in this period of drought: water, both surface and subsurface.
The $20 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research office is the single largest research grant the university has received.
UW’s previous record research award was a
$16.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research in 2009.
“There’s nothing more central to the future of life in Wyoming and the West than water,” Bill Gern, UW vice president for research and economic development, said in a news release. “This award will allow for unprecedented levels of research into our hydrological systems, above ground and below, so we have a better understanding of how they respond to changes.”
The award brings together researchers and educators from four UW colleges and 11 departments. The project will be led cooperatively by three principal investigators: molecular biology professor Anne Sylvester, geology and geophysics professor Steve Holbrook and ecosystem science and management associate professor Scott Miller.
The grant will fund the establishment of the Wyoming Center for Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) at UW. It provides for four new faculty positions, two facility managers, two information technology positions and a variety of graduate and undergraduate research opportunities, the UW release said.
The $20 million grant to Wyoming EPSCoR correlates with a $6 million National Science Foundation award to Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University for a regional research project. That earlier award focused on high-performance computer modeling and computational resources to simulate and study how factors such as population growth, shifting land uses and climate variability will affect water storage and availability.
Fred Ogden, the UW Kline distinguished chair of engineering, environment and natural resources, is the prime investigator for the $2.5 million part of the UW grant for the hydrological component of the study.
Ogden said he will work with researchers at the three Utah institutions to develop a computer model on the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell. Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Utah and Arizona.
The big objective for both states, Ogden said in an interview last week, is to provide access to the National Center for Atmospheric Research supercomputer nearing completion in Cheyenne.
Noting the state has an investment in the supercomputer, Ogden said, “We’re aiming at water managers at the state level so they can use it or can get to the point where they can ask the effect of a water project.”
Researchers at Utah State are working on the data. The people at Brigham Young are studying the access piece. Researchers at the University of Utah are looking at water consumption in cities.
“That’s an important part of the problem in terms of diversions out of the basin to the (Colorado) Front Range and the Wasatch Front in Utah,” Ogden said.
One example would be the impact of the proposed Flaming Gorge Reservoir pipeline that would move water from the reservoir to Colorado.
The award also allowed UW to order a computer with more than 1,000 processor cores to store the researchers’ data. Ogden noted the NCAR supercomputer, in comparison, has 73,000 processors.
The grant carries an outreach requirement to educate students about water issues in Utah and Wyoming, including the impact of changes in population, land use and climate.
“This year is an example of how bad things might become in the future,” Ogden said. “We’re trying to
educate kids in the state in how things might change in the future.”
The National Science Foundation, he said, insists on stimulating off-campus involvement throughout the state.
According to the UW release, the NCAR supercomputer “will enable the simulation of the hydrologic processes in greater detail, accounting more comprehensively for variability in topography, land cover, geology and water management infrastructure.
“That will lead to improvements in predictions needed to better plan and manage water resources,” the release added.