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UW-Eau Claire Hydrogeologist
Receives $234,000 USDA Grant

RELEASED: Nov. 29, 2006

Dr. Katherine GroteEAU CLAIRE — Dr. Katherine Grote, assistant professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has received a $234,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for research to improve the capability of ground-penetrating radar techniques to measure soil water content over a large area, such as a farm field.

The three-year grant will provide funds for a GPR system and salaries for Grote and student researchers to conduct laboratory experiments and then field studies to test the results of the laboratory work.

Grote, whose teaching specialties are hydrogeology (groundwater) and environmental geophysics, said GPR techniques to collect soil water estimates in large areas are limited by the uncertainty of the measurement depth. A goal of her project is to overcome this limitation by determining the depth of GPR groundwave penetration. Another goal is to evaluate the potential of GPR amplitude data for estimating three-dimensional soil electrical conductivity, information that could be used to determine how much water is in soil pores and to estimate concentrations of agrochemicals (such as fertilizer) in the soil.

The research will allow farmers to apply irrigation water more efficiently so less water is wasted, which is especially important in areas where water is scarce and irrigation is common, Grote said.

It also will let farmers apply the optimal amount of water to crops so they don't wilt or become water-logged. Some crops, such as grapes, need a certain soil water content to produce the desired flavor, Grote said.

"The research may also reduce the negative environmental impacts of agriculture by limiting the amount of fertilizers and pesticides that reach the water table and by helping farmers to determine how much fertilizer to apply in different areas of a field," Grote said.

Students will be involved in every aspect of the research, starting with a large laboratory experiment, and then moving to field experiments. They will help build the experimental apparatus, collect and analyze data, and present the results, Grote said.

"Projects like these give UW-Eau Claire undergraduates an opportunity to use equipment and software not usually available to them until graduate school," Grote said. "They learn valuable skills in how to plan and conduct experiments and how to analyze and present the results. These skills and experiences make UW-Eau Claire students very attractive to graduate schools and employers."

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JW/JB

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