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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Oct. 27, 2008

Survey Scientists Awarded Grant To Study River Environment

LAWRENCE--Evaporation and thirsty plants draw water out of river environments. What impact that has on the state's vital water resources is now being studied by water specialists at the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $172,000 grant will be used to monitor the environment along the Whitewater River in Butler County, Kansas, west of El Dorado and northeast of Wichita.

Survey groundwater geochemist Don Whittemore and geohydrologist Jim Butler, working with researchers from the University of Iowa and University of Colorado, will look for fluctuations in the river's stream flow and in soil moisture and groundwater levels in the area abutting the river known as the riparian zone.

Soil moisture and groundwater, normally abundant in riparian zones, can be reduced by evaporation or transpiration--the release of water into the atmosphere by plants as part of photosynthesis. Deep-rooted plants, such as hackberry, elm, and green ash trees, may tap into groundwater and release more moisture into the air than is replaced by precipitation.

"Because evapotranspiration is so difficult to measure in a riparian zone, it is often ignored," said Whittemore. "But it is important to be able to predict its influence so we can effectively manage water supplies. This is especially true in arid and semi-arid environments where it may be the dominant mechanism by which groundwater is removed from the riparian zone."

Atmospheric and hydrologic models will be developed from data gathered in the study and used to understand the effect of water cycle processes on such matters as flood control, sustainable water supplies, agricultural practices, and preservation of the environment.

National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that is a major source of federal support for research in science and related fields. NSF funds approximately 11,000 of the 40,000 grant proposals it receives each year.

Story by Cathy Evans, (785) 864-2195.
For more information, contact Don Whittemore, (785) 864-2182

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach