Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2008NV134B

Soil Heterogeneity and Moisture Distribution Due to Rainfall Events in Vegetated Desert Areas: Potential Impact on Soil Recharge and Ecosystems

Institute: Nevada
Year Established: 2008 Start Date: 2008-03-01 End Date: 2009-05-31
Total Federal Funds: $21,492 Total Non-Federal Funds: $42,982

Principal Investigators: Michael Young, Li Chen

Abstract: Water resources in arid environments are becoming increasingly important in both human and ecological contexts. As populations expand in these regions, scarce resources are progressively strained. Unprecedented growth in the southwestern U.S. combined with a persistent drought has forced regulators and land managers to make decisions that could have serious impacts on local desert ecosystems. An increased understanding of soil-water dynamics across the landscape would aid in producing scientifically sound and ecologically sustainable water resource policies and decisions for Nevada as well as the region. The availability of water for plants and the ability of water to migrate past the root zone for potential recharge of alluvial aquifers are highly dependent on the soil hydraulic properties. Previous research has shown that soil hydraulic properties are highly correlated with surface age in certain alluvial fan environments. Additionally, the presence of plants can greatly alter the hydraulic properties of soils, increasing the permeability around them and affecting the recharge potential. In this context, we view soil-plant-water relationships as essential to the movement of water across arid landscapes. Recognizing the interdependence of the natural systems (i.e., water, soil, and plants), and developing integrated approaches to characterize them are critical for understanding arid ecosystems and thus local water resources. Moreover, it is essential to train young scientists and engineers to think of these important water issues in a multifaceted manner that incorporates multiple disciplines.