Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2018WI373B

New proxy-based hydrological reconstructions over the past five centuries in southwest Wisconsin

Institute: Wisconsin
Year Established: 2018 Start Date: 2018-03-01 End Date: 2019-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $25,120 Total Non-Federal Funds: $24,853

Principal Investigators: Christopher Underwood, Evan Larson

Abstract: Effective water resource management for the present and future requires a long-term temporal perspective on the variability of past water resources. A better understanding of past conditions allows water managers to make informed decisions regarding present and future groundwater availability and use. Short-term instrumental records, however, are insufficient to provide insight into the occurrence of rare, severe events that have caused pronounced economic, ecological, and social implications over longer time scales. This is problematic in light of numerous predictions that future extreme events will become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Wisconsin benefits from abundant water resources, yet droughts that occurred during the last century illustrate that we are vulnerable to extreme events. The influence of extreme drought has significant implications for the ecology and economy of our state, both of which are intimately connected to the natural environment. In line with University of Wisconsin priorities for groundwater research, our proposed research aims to (1) improve understanding of the effects of environmental conditions and variability on groundwater levels; (2) inform groundwater management strategies for long-term management targets that consider extreme weather events and climatic trends; and (3) demonstrate through our results the implications of changing environmental conditions on groundwater management for southwest Wisconsin. To address these priorities, we propose a new and deeper analysis of oak tree-ring samples previously collected in southwest Wisconsin which will sharpen the temporal window of climate response identified in tree growth and provide sub-annual records of seasonal groundwater variability. We will then combine those data with multiple, newly developed, 500+ year tree-ring chronologies from eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) trees growing throughout the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin to reconstruct multi-century records of depth-to- groundwater on local to regional scales for southwest Wisconsin; identify the frequency, spatial extent, and severity of past extreme hydrologic events; and, enhance the availability of data that are used to calibrate existing hydrologic models and refine predictions of the effects of future climate change on the agricultural and ecological systems of Wisconsin. Our research will enable analyses of long-term spatial and temporal trends in hydrologic conditions that can be used to help develop adaptation strategies for businesses, farmers, public health officials, municipalities, resource managers, and other stakeholders. In addition to the scientific merit of our project, the proposed research will further cultivate relationships among scientists, managers, and landowners throughout southwest Wisconsin and provide extensive hands-on research experience for multiple undergraduate research assistants and dozens of students through projects integrated with geography coursework at UW-Platteville.