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CAREER: Towards Forecasting Watershed Organic Carbon Fluxes across Flow Regimes and Ecoregions


When water flows through ecosystems it picks up dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from plants and soils. As a result, water can control whether an ecosystem releases carbon (a carbon source) or stores carbon (a carbon sink). Consequently, the movement of water plays a key role in global carbon cycling, but DOC is also an important control on water quality across the globe. Understanding how water affects the production and movement of DOC can improve society's ability to provide water for industrial, agricultural, and domestic uses. How and when DOC moves through different types of rivers and ecosystems, especially during floods, is a major knowledge gap in carbon cycling and water quality research. This project will conduct analyses of river DOC dynamics from geographically diverse areas. The project will examine movement of DOC into and out of watersheds and evaluate if DOC dynamics can be estimated from local to continental regions using river flow and watershed properties. This DOC research is combined with an innovative education plan that will improve the translation of hydrological sciences to public audiences via undergraduate curriculum development and student-led scientific outreach. These advances will focus on training students to be effective science communicators and outreach practitioners.<br/><br/>Given the global importance of riverine dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and uncertainty in the light of climate and land use change, the main objectives of this proposal are to test assumptions of watershed DOC flux behavior and to develop new ways to quantify and forecast DOC flux across understudied flow regimes and ecoregions. These objectives will be addressed through multiple approaches, including data synthesis, modeling, and new sensor technologies that will identify the key watershed and climate conditions controlling DOC flux across diverse landscapes. The project integrates these research objectives and general hydrologic science issues with a long-term education plan to establish innovative curriculum development and methods for creating effective outreach materials for multiple public stakeholder groups, including K-12, life-learners, and policy makers. The new curriculum employs novel human-centered design theory and partnerships with five expert outreach institutions to create meaningful experiential learning opportunities that are underrepresented in most science curricula. Through this project, the PI and the associated students will be integrated with the NSF-supported Kellogg Biological Station and Arctic Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) site research communities and a broader impact network of five community-serving outreach institutions.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Jay Zarnetske
Michigan State University
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