University of Wyoming Extension News

UW receives biggest-ever grant to study Wyoming hydrological systems

Associate Professor Scott Miller measures streamflow in a creek in Wyoming's Snowy Range as part of a doctoral research project in hydrology. Miller is one of the key players in UW's $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation for water research.

Researching the state’s hydrological systems and how they respond to changes, including pine beetles and climate variability, has drawn the largest grant in the history of the University of Wyoming.

The $20 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Wyoming’s EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) office, will also establish the Wyoming Center for Hydrology and Geophysics at UW.

Two faculty members in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources – molecular biology professor Anne Sylvester and Scott Miller, an associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management – will lead the research with Steve Holbrook, professor in geology and geophysics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to establishment of the hydrology and geophysics center, the grant provides for four new faculty positions, two facility managers, two information technology positions and a variety of graduate and undergraduate research opportunities.

This interdisciplinary award brings together researchers and educators from four UW colleges and 11 departments.

The grant will pay for acquisition of scientific equipment, including streamflow and groundwater measurement devices. Much of that equipment will be portable, allowing for temporary field installations around the state.

EPSCoR supports efforts to enhance research, science and mathematics education and workforce development.

Changes that can affect hydrological systems include pine beetle outbreaks, which could alter snowpack melt rates and affect late-season streamflows and groundwater recharge; climate variability, which has already been shown to have wide-ranging impacts on water resources; and shifts in land use, such as oil and gas development, said Miller, a hydrologist.

Wyoming community colleges are part of the effort, which will include collaboration with multiple state and federal agencies and the Wind River Tribal College. In addition, at least three private firms have agreed to provide summer internship opportunities for students in exchange for use of hydrology and geophysics center equipment.

“We’ll be building research infrastructure for the entire state and bringing new technology to the region,” said Sylvester, who heads Wyoming’s EPSCoR. “As the only research university in the state, we recognize and embrace our responsibility to conduct statewide research consistent with the state’s needs.”

Educational outreach also is a major component of the program and will include work with high school and community college teachers around the state. A series of town-hall meetings is planned around the state to seek public input on water issues.