Our research: Real world, world class

Current Water@IU research projects

Research is at the core of our program. We know that providing our students with abundant opportunites to be active participants in innovative research initiatives is the best way to prepare them to become the next generation of leaders in the field.

Get a snapshot of our research, below. To dig deeper, visit our faculty page.

Hydrology and Climate

Advancing predictive understanding of hydrologic exchange in the river corridor  The specific knowledge necessary to predict and manage the fate and transport of contaminants within rivers is currently inadequate. The Watershed Hydrology and Engineering Group led by Adam Ward utilizes a conceptual river corridor perspective that considers the surface water, near-surface sediments, the flood zone, the hillslope catchment and contributing groundwater aquifers as a continuum in order to address this inadequacy. The project focuses on three primary goals: (1) improve understanding of dynamic exchange processes in the river corridor; (2) develop methods to scale findings from geomorphic features to the reach and network scales; and (3) improve predictive capacity that can be readily implemented without extensive field characterization of sites of interest. Results of this research will improve our ability to predict the transport and fate of contaminants in river corridors, enabling more effective management of water resources.
Impacts of climate and land-use/land-cover (LULC) changes on vegetation productivity Over the past two centuries, the southeastern US region has experienced a remarkable disturbance history characterized by widespread clearcutting and then reforestation under active land management that affects both forest cover and species composition. While the potential for carbon sequestration could be further and severely impacted by climate changes, the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions create disturbances that may have very long legacy effect. This project, led by Tae Hee Hwang, is to examine what has been the total gain (or loss) in regional GPP/NPP attributable to management-driven reforestation and species composition shifts, and to more recent patterns of forest loss related to urbanization. This project is supported by NASA Carbon Science program from 2017 to 2020.
Impacts of invasive species on sustainability of freshwater resources  Southern Appalachian forests have experienced significant forest composition changes by invasive species over several centuries including chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA; Adelges tsugae), and Princess tree (Paulownia tomentosa) etcHWA is an invasive species that has functionally extirpated eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) from southern Appalachians to New England, and has led to near-complete mortality over the past decades in many forests. Invasive P. tomentosa seedlings have rapidly recruited and are impacting the oak-pine communities in particular, following wildfires. These invasive species may alter seasonal streamflow and stormflow regimes due to changes in leaf phenology, plant water use, and subsequent freshwater yield.  This proposal, led by Tae Hee Hwang, was supported by NSF LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) and Grand Challenge Initiatives.


Seawater intrusion in tidal freshwater marshes In the Wetlands Lab, Dr. Christopher Craft and others study the effects of rising sea level including submergence, salt water intrusion, and changing freshwater river flows on delivery of ecosystem services provided by tidal wetlands. SALTEx (Seawater Addition Long Term Experiment) is a large-scale replicated field experiment to test the effects of increasing continuous and pulsed salinity on tidal freshwater marsh community structure and ecosystem function, including greenhouse gas (CO2, CH4) emissions from the marsh (pictured above). After 3.5 years of seawater additions, they are starting to measure recovery to see how quickly the plots return to baseline conditions after the treatments are ceased. 
Freshwater Microbial Diversity  Many ecosystem services provided by freshwaters depend directly or indirectly on microorganisms, yet little is known about the diversity and composition of microbial communities that help maintain healthy ecosystems. The Lennon Lab’s goal is to better understand the ecological processes that influence microbial diversity. At University Lake, IU Research and Teaching Preserve, bacterial diversity in the reservoir was influenced by the immigration of terrestrial bacteria, which might also influence lake ecosystem functioning. The ability of bacteria to persist in a metabolically inactive state might contribute to the maintenance of diversity during suboptimal environmental conditions. The lab also found that different ecological processes help maintain bacterial diversity in the water column than in the streambed sediments in a stream network in Oregon (H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon).
Indiana Clean Lakes Program The Limnology Lab, led by Melissa Laney, performs lake and watershed diagnostic studies and conducts the Indiana Clean Lakes Program through a grant provided by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Through this program, the lab performs lake water quality assessments and coordinates volunteer lake monitoring of Indiana lakes during summer months. Year-round, the Limnology lab performs public education and outreach, provides technical assistance to lake associations, and coordinates with state and federal agencies for the enhancement of protection of Indiana’s lakes. In 2017, the Limnology Lab was contracted through IDEM to survey Indiana’s lakes as part of the EPA National Lakes Assessment.

Water & Human Systems

Waterworks: A water systems game Fresh water is used increasingly beyond sustainable levels. NASA researchers warned that there is an 80% likelihood that the southwest and the central plains will experience decade-long mega-droughts in the 21st century. Adapting to these risks will require a better understanding of the water commons and increased public willingness to adapt to current and new water risks. In general, people tend to underestimate water use from a variety of household activities and do not have any conception of the embodied water required to grow food. Dr. Shahzeen Attari (SPEA) and Mike Sellers (Medial School) are designing and developing an engaging, interactive web-based game that will inform and educate users on how the water system works. This game will be used as a research tool to experimentally test whether increased engagement improves understanding and risk perceptions. Dr. Shahzeen Attari (Left) and Mike Sellers (Right).
Human Dimensions Lab Dr. James Farmer, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies with IU’s School of Public Health, heads the Human Dimensions Lab, which engages in social-ecological systems research on sustainable food systems and natural resources. Specifically, the lab is focused on the study of farmer/grower decision-making concerning adaptive land management and conservation strategies, regional sustainable food system development, grain farmer adoption of organic standards for NOP certification, and municipal park and recreation department preparation for climate change. 
Indiana Watershed Initiative The Royer lab at Indiana University is a partner in the Indiana Watershed Initiative. This research project is a multi-year, watershed scale manipulation of vegetation cover (winter cover crops) and stream restoration (two-stage ditches). They collaborate with Dr. Jennifer Tank at the University of Notre Dame, farmers, state and federal agencies, NGO’s, and the private sector to identify the effects of these conservation practices on soil and water quality. The goal of the project is to better understand the biogeochemical cycling of nutrients in these headwater, agricultural streams and how land management strategies can benefit both water quality and agricultural production.
Water Governance in Agricultural Landscapes Landon Yoder, a post-doctoral researcher with the Watershed Hydrology and Engineering Group, studies water governance in agricultural landscapes and focuses on the challenge of water quality degradation from agricultural nonpoint source pollution. His work goes beyond the traditional focus of how financial incentives motivate farmers to change their practices by examining how farmer’s management preferences, farm community social norms, and governmental policies and rules shape farmers’ decisions to adopt on-farm conservation practices. In addition, he also considers how these different aspects affect farmers’ willingness to cooperate with other farmers, since tackling nonpoint source pollution requires widespread adoption of conservation practices by many farms.

The University cannot discharge any of its obligations to society unless it is first and foremost an institution dedicated to scholarship and scholarly objectives …

Herman B. Wells