KU News Headlines
LAWRENCE — From the garden in your backyard to your local watershed to the entirety of North America, structural changes are taking place in the soil underfoot — and evidence suggests it’s happening faster than previously thought, altering water quality and availability throughout the U.S.
“Water resources are governed by properties of the soil just beneath the Earth’s surface,” said Pamela Sullivan, assistant professor of geography & atmospheric science at the University of Kansas. “For a long time, we thought properties of these soils are changing at a slow rate. But a lot of evidence is coming to light that they’re responding to climate change and different kinds of land use more quickly. They’re responding quickly because biota in the soil are responding — both plants and microbes — and as they do, they’re changing properties of soil. But we don’t have good measurements of how that happens or the ability to put into models the interactions and feedbacks that will determine water resources in the future.”
Now, Sullivan is leading work under a $738,562 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new mathematical models to analyze causes of these observed alterations in soil structure — the arrangement of soil particles and pores — and to examine plant-soil-water responses to varying environmental conditions.
“This work looks at both the biogeochemistry of the soil and how it changes the soil structure,” Sullivan said. “Anyone who cares about what water resources will be like in the future will care about this. Projections and management decisions and understanding of flood dynamics can be influenced by the structure of the soil. If we don’t understand that, we won’t do a good job of understanding how it influences water.”
The KU researcher said the relationship between soil and water was defined by the soil’s matrix of minerals and organic matter and the …