This planning visit will develop an international collaborative research and training project on the topic of interactions between dissolved organic matter, microbial communities, and arsenic biogeochemistry in groundwater of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. The planning visit will bring together U.S. scientists and engineers from the University of Colorado and Kansas State University with scientists from the Botswana Geologic Survey and the Okavango Research Institute (ORI) to develop a compelling research plan, collect samples for preliminary analyses, and meet with science teachers from Maun Senior Secondary School to plan future educational outreach activities for U.S. K-12 teachers. The research team will also examine the laboratory facilities at ORI, identify field research sites, identify appropriate in-country mentors for graduate students involved in the research, and begin preparation of a research proposal targeted for the NSF EAR Hydrologic Sciences (HS) division.
Intellectual merit: Naturally-occurring arsenic in groundwater is a global problem with serious health consequences for millions of people worldwide, yet the processes by which arsenic is mobilized from sediments are not well understood. This planning visit will coordinate future research to develop a process-level understanding of the reactions between organic matter and microorganisms in metal oxide-rich sediments that influence arsenic mobilization in groundwater. The improved understanding of dissolved organic material transformations along groundwater flow paths and flow path-related shifts in microbial community composition is extremely important for understanding (and predicting) arsenic mobilization in diverse groundwater environments. The evapotranspiration-driven groundwater flow that is characteristic of islands in the Okavango Delta provides a unique opportunity to investigate questions related to the evolution of microbial communities and associated biogeochemical processes that lead to arsenic mobilization.
Broader impacts: In addition to broadening the understanding of the scientific community understanding on the global problem of groundwater arsenic contamination, this planning visit will support two graduate students, who will have the opportunity to be involved in the project from its conception. Meetings between US scientists and teachers at Maun Senior Secondary School will build new relationships that are the basis for future educational outreach in the form of Research Experience for Teachers and Research Experience for Undergraduates.