Land & Environment

USU Doctoral Student Wins Prestigious Water Science Award

By Sydney Dahle |

Sara Goeking (pictured), along with co-author and faculty mentor David Tarboton, received the prestigious 2022 Editors' Choice Award from the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research.

Scientists have typically assumed that forest disturbances reduce evaporation and transpiration and increase the amount of water available to streams. But new research at Utah State University has shown that in dry climates the opposite can occur and disturbing forests actually results in less water becoming available.

Sara Goeking, along with co-author and faculty mentor David Tarboton, received the prestigious 2022 Editors’ Choice Award from the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research. Their study, based on forest inventory and analysis data, explores the complex relationship between forest disturbance and water resources in the Western United States.

Only the top 1% of Water Resources Research papers published in 2022 received this award.

Goeking and her team discovered that the relationship between forests and water flow is more complicated than previously thought. It turns out that in some areas, disturbances like insect epidemics or fire can increase the amount of water flowing in streams, while in other areas, such disturbance can decrease it.

The difference depends on how dry or wet the area is. In places where water is readily available, disturbances can cause more water to flow in streams. But in drier areas, disturbances can make the situation worse by reducing the flow of water in streams as more water is lost to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration by other plants.

“Our findings hold significance for watershed management, especially in regions like the Great Salt Lake and Colorado River basins,” Goeking said. “The study combined extensive datasets from forest monitoring, hydrology and climatology, analyzing 159 watersheds to understand the factors influencing water supply.”

Watersheds are areas where rain and snow collect and drain into a common waterway, such as a stream, river, lake or ocean. Watersheds can vary in size, and some can span across multiple states or even countries. Forested watersheds play a crucial role in the environment by controlling the rate and amount of water flowing through streams.

“Understanding these relationships is crucial for managing our forests and water resources effectively, especially as we face challenges like droughts and climate change,” Goeking said.

Goeking’s work, part of her Ph.D. dissertation at USU, shows the importance of robust scientific research in addressing critical resource management challenges. She acknowledges her co-author and mentors for their support in this endeavor.

WRITER

Sydney Dahle
Public Relations Specialist
College of Engineering
435-797-7512
sydney.dahle@usu.edu

CONTACT

David Tarboton
Director
Utah Water Research Laboratory
435-797-3172
david.tarboton@usu.edu


TOPICS

Research 885stories Awards 704stories Water 263stories Plants 190stories Land Management 124stories

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