Hydrology is the study of the waters of the earth on and below the surface of the planet. Hydrology also involves the study of the various properties of water and its relationship with the living and nonliving environment. Areas of specialization within the Department include: surface and groundwater hydrology; watershed dynamics; hydrogeology; and ecosystem hydrology. Fields of application with hydrology include groundwater management and consulting; water pollution research and regulation; and hydrologic modeling and analysis.
Research on coastal systems in the department covers a broad range of disciplines and environments. Studied systems include seagrass meadows, coral reefs, mangrove forests, salt marshes and barrier islands. Our diverse research groups study the ecology, hydrology and geomorphology of these various systems. Current research focuses include plant genetics, carbon storage, sea level rise, flow regimes, aquaculture, primary production and metabolism, invasive species and more. This research takes place in many locations, including Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Florida and the Caribbean, Israel, Panama, Hawaii and Mexico.
Also part of: Geoscience
Geomorphology is the study of how planetary landscapes change through time in response to physical, chemical, and biological processes. Researchers in the department study landscapes over a wide range of scales, from particle-scale sediment transport to the global evolution of planetary surfaces, utilizing a variety of methods including computational modeling, field studies, and experimental work. Examples of recent research projects include investigating the effects of floods and debris flows on stream channels; quantifying rates of sediment erosion and deposition in coastal wetlands; constraining fluvial modification on the surface of Mars to assess the planet’s potential for habitability; and using computational modeling to understand landscape evolution on the icy moons on Jupiter, Saturn, and other giant planets.
Within the Department there is a strong focus on the interactions between the Earth’s surface and its atmosphere. These efforts integrate hydrological, ecological, and meteorological principles to understand the exchange of water, heat, and trace gases between the land and the atmosphere. Much of the interest in these mass and energy fluxes centers on the nonlinear feedback effects between the surface and the atmosphere, and the resulting impacts to the biosphere and atmosphere.
Also part of: Geoscience
Aqueous geochemists, hydrolgists, and microbial ecologists interact on a number of hydrogeological problems. Topics under investigation include: modeling of catchment hydrochemistry; bioremediation and biodegradation; solute, colloid, and bacterial transport through porous media; and modeling of groundwater flow, mass transport, and biogeochemical reactions. The Program of Interdisciplinary Research in Contaminant Hydrogeology (PIRCH) focuses on problems of contaminant hydrogeology, and involves researchers from Chemical and Civil Engineering.
Also part of: Ecology
Ecohydrology is the science which relates hydrologic processes to ecosystem dynamics. This type of inquiry is fundamental to the understanding of the coupling existing between the water cycle and the biota. For example, Ecohydrology investigates the main hydrologic controls on the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems. Some of these controls are exerted through the soil water balance, which mediates the impact of hydrologic processes on the dynamics of plant and soil microbial communities. Low values of soil moisture lead to the emergence of water stress conditions both in vegetation and in soil micro-organisms, thereby limiting the rates of photosynthesis, transpiration, microbial respiration, and soil organic matter decomposition. On the other hand, the anoxic conditions associated with soil saturation limit plant productivity, microbial decomposition, and mineralization, while providing favorable conditions for the biogenic emissions of nitrogen oxides (denitrification) and methane. Thus, the study of plant and microbial response to changes in hydrologic conditions requires the analysis of fluctuations both in root-zone soil moisture and in water table depth. Ecohydrology is also concerned with the biotic controls on hydrologic processes, including infiltration, runoff, water table dynamics, evapotranspiration and precipitation.
Humans interact and alter each of the earth systems studied in the department. Researchers in the department collaborate across natural and social science disciplines to better understand the interactions between humans and the environment. Recent work in this area has focused on the environmental impacts of food production, including the development of a nitrogen footprint, possibilities for yield gap closure, and mapping the global virtual water and seafood trade networks. Additional social-environmental research aims to evaluate the effect of weather events on air quality and human health, assess the possibility of credits for carbon sequestration in sea grass beds, and understand the drivers and consequences of land use change in the tropics.