NSF grant to study effects on water cycle from human interactions

March 30, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State has received a $281,615 grant from the National Science Foundation to evaluate how water quality and quantity is affected by interactions between urban development patterns and the water cycle in the context of regional and local climate variability.

H. Allen Klaiber, an assistant professor of agricultural and environmental economics, is the lead researcher on the project, called “Regional Climate Variability and Patterns of Urban Development: Impacts on the Urban Water Cycle and Nutrient Export.” The grant is part of a larger $5 million NSF-funded project led by Claire Welty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Klaiber’s grant is for five years, and it will be administered by the Penn State Institutes for Earth and the Environment (PSIEE).

Klaiber said that it’s important to look at linkages between hydrologic processes and human interactions as urban development changes a landscape. For instance, impervious structures such as roadways and buildings have the potential to alter the hydrologic cycle.

“This example of the influence of human activity is important in understanding larger climate and sustainability implications. For example, increasing impervious surfaces directly increases water run-off and intensity into streams and waterways,” Klaiber said. “The paradigm driving this research is that dynamic interactions between the natural and human components of the urbanizing landscape produce striking spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in water storage and fluxes that are major determinants of water quantity and quality.”

Klaiber said his team hopes to create a modeling system capable of simulating the feedback relationships that control urban water sustainability. They will use the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER as a platform for place-based research to carry out the work.

“This capability enables us to take advantage of a multi-year database of hydrologic and chemical characterization data; high-resolution land cover, land use and socio-demographic information, and a high-density hydrologic observing system,” Klaiber said.

Researchers will evaluate connections among:

  • -- How human locational choices, water-based eco-system services, and regulatory policies affect the supply of land and development patterns over time;
  • -- How the changing composition and variability of urbanizing surfaces affect local and regional climate; and
  • -- How patterns of development (including the engineering water system) and climate variability affect fluxes, flow paths and storage of water and nitrogen in urban areas.

In addition to Penn State and UMBC, collaborating researchers are from Ohio State University; Princeton University; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Rhode Island; the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; the U.S. Geological Survey; and the USDA Forest Service.

The grant also will support a number of graduate students and undergraduate work.

Last Updated May 21, 2015