Purdue Faculty Funded in NSF Project to Examine Interfaces for Materials Transport in the Environment

August 26, 2020

Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Studies (EAPS) and Agronomy (AGRY) Tim Filley, along with assistant professor of EAPS, Lisa Welp, have been funded for their role in a research team led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor Praveen Kumar.  The grant of more than $6 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will enable the team to study critical interfaces, such as hillslopes, flood plains, and tile drains, in the environment that affect the transport and transformation of materials such as water, sediment, carbon and nutrients. This project “Network Cluster CINet: Critical Interface Network in Intensively Managed Landscapes” is a follow up to the earlier NSF funded IMLCZO: Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory.  Both studies are designed to add to our understanding of the critical zone – the region of the landscape from the top of the plant canopy to the bedrock beneath.

The Midwest’s first Critical Zone Observatory, funded by NSF in 2013, included Filley as Co-PI, established instrumented sites located throughout the upper Midwest that enabled the team to study how the shallow and deep subsurface have responded to, and interact with, short and long-term human modification of soil and water systems for agriculture. This initial work enabled  the team to explore questions concerning overall dynamics that occur in critical zones, whether changes were naturally occurring or mediated by human modification, for example, through agricultural drainage networks.  In this new grant, the team will add new observational systems and approaches, including data analytics, machine learning and innovative modelling capacities to focus on analysis of three specific interfaces within the near-land surface, the active root zone, and the river corridor.

Tim Filley is a professor of geochemistry and soil science in EAPS  and AGRY. He is also the current director of Purdue’s Discovery Park Center for the Environment and Director of the Arequipa Nexus Institute. Broadly, Filley’s research focuses on the fundamental processes controlling the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen on land and water within natural and managed ecosystems.  Using natural abundance and highly enriched stable isotopes and biomarker tools his group investigates how perturbations to ecosystems (e.g., wild fires, storm events and intensive management) interact with soil properties to stabilize or destabilize soil organic matter and change soil function and its vulnerability to stress.

Lisa Welp is an assistant professor of geochemistry in EAPS. She is a directing member, along with Filley, of the Purdue Stable Isotope Laboratory where she specializes in water and organic carbon stable isotope applications. Broadly, Welp’s research interests include vegetation-water-climate interactions with a focus on hydroclimatology, plant water use, and sensitivity of terrestrial ecosystems to climate change. A primary goal of her work is to relate nutrient and soil organic matter processes with water travel pathways through the soil using water stable isotope tracers.