UIC ecohydrologist receives NASA early career award for wetland restoration research

A University of Illinois Chicago researcher who studies the interactions between water and ecological systems has received a major early career award from NASA.

Kimberly Van Meter, UIC assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences

Kimberly Van Meter, UIC assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences

Fewer than 40 of the competitive grants were awarded through NASA’s New (Early Career) Investigator Program in Earth Science, which is “designed to support outstanding scientific research and career development of scientists and engineers at the early stage of their professional careers.” 

Kimberly Van Meter, UIC assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, will receive more than $374,000 for her project, “Wetland Legacies: Using Remotely Sensed Data to Quantify the Landscape-Scale Effects of Drained Agricultural Wetlands on Water Quality and N2O Emissions.”

Van Meter’s three-year project will focus on the potential for using wetland restoration to improve water quality, especially in intensively farmed areas throughout the upper Midwest. She will use remote sensing data collected by NASA and other organizations, such as Landsat and Sentinel-2, to identify historical wetlands that have been drained to make way for farming in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

“Some of these drained areas still flood regularly, and crop yields in these wet spots tend to be poor,” Van Meter said. “I will use both data analysis and modeling approaches to understand how these wet spots in fields, which I refer to as ‘legacy wetlands,’ contribute to nitrate runoff and emissions of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.”

Based on her analysis, Van Meter will work to identify optimal locations for wetland restoration.

“We want to find areas for restoration where crop yields are the lowest, but where the potential for environmental gains, like reducing nitrate runoff and nitrous oxide emissions, is the highest,” she said.

The proposed work also aims to better quantify the economic and environmental tradeoffs associated with restoration of legacy wetlands.

Research based out of Van Meter’s UIC lab explores the ways in which climate, land use and management practices impact water quality in anthropogenic landscapes. In recent work, her group has focused on the long-term impacts of intensive agricultural practices on water quality.

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