As the U.S is embarking on a dramatic increase in biofuel production, a series of studies have raised questions about the environmental impacts and sustainability of biomass feedstock production due to concerns about water use, soil erosion, nutrient transport, and greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this interdisciplinary project is on modeling the interplay of land use, climate change, and the environment in future biofuel production systems. Understanding the role of biofuels in the water cycle is key to understanding many of the environmental impacts of biofuels. This research will address impacts of alterations in the hydrologic cycle driven by biomass feedstock production, such as changes in yield reliability, soil erosion, stream flow, and stream flow reliability. Water-driven environmental impacts of biofuel production scenarios will be assessed using a set of interconnected models. The MM5 climate simulation and Noah land surface model will be used to predict interactions between weather patterns and biofuel feedstock cropping patterns. The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) will be used to analyze impacts on nutrient and sediment transport and surface water quality in the Upper Mississippi River Basin using weather scenarios produced by the MM5/Noah system. The Iowa Daily Erosion Project (IDEP) model will also use MM5 outputs to predict erosion across Iowa at the field scale. The integration of these highly developed models will provide new insight into dynamic interactions through the hydrologic cycle as influenced by human manipulation of the landscape and climate-soil-vegetation dynamics of the system. The project includes four activities designed to increase diversity and learning at different levels of education. These activities are: mentoring undergraduate summer interns from the Iowa AGEP program for underrepresented minorities; mentoring of undergraduate research associates recruited through the Program for Women in Science and Engineering; developing and implementing an inquiry-based learning activity based on biofuels and the hydrologic cycle; and mentoring graduate students.

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Iowa State University
United States
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