Developing and promoting water-, nutrient-, and climate-smart technologies to help agricultural systems adapt to climate and societal changes

Project Summary

Recent extreme weather events provide insight into future challenges for agricultural systems across parts of the US due to increasing climate variability. Growing irrigation demand, significant declines in groundwater levels across the High Plains, and inefficient use of fertilizers leading to nitrate leaching, N2O emission, and pollution of surface water are threats to the U.S. corn-soybean-wheat systems and the industries and ecosystems that depend on them. We are: i) developing and improving management strategies for a water-, nutrient-, and climate-smart agriculture; ii) creating and disseminating decision-support tools to help farmers use “Big Data” (e.g., yield maps and UAV sensors) to adapt to climate variability and increase their resiliency; iii) evaluating the economics of smart agriculture technologies and practices.

Our research integrates and experimentally tests a novel suite of biophysical and socioeconomic systems models to quantify interactions between climate, hydrology, and socioeconomic drivers of agricultural practices across the Upper Midwest and High Plains regions. Research, education, and extension activities in this project are providing accurate information for practical use by the general public, students, farmers, and decision makers to enable sustainable adaptation to and mitigation of temperature extremes, drought, and flooding. We are improving and deploying crop system models to evaluate a wide range of management options to optimize crop productivity while reducing water, N, and C footprints across spatial scales under a changing climate.

This work is being conducted in collaboration with Project Lead Investigator Bruno Basso.

Supported By

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Investigating the Influences of Septic Systems on Near-Shore Water Quality and Swimmer’s Itch in Higgins Lake, MI

Aerial image of Higgins Lake showing shelf area (lighter blue).

Higgins Lake is Michigan’s 10th largest inland lake, and one of its deepest. Despite its long history of clean water, Higgins Lake is experiencing changes in water quality, underwater vegetation, invasive species, and Swimmer’s Itch. Many of these changes impact the shallow region near shore, in the area called the shelf. The current water quality monitoring program focuses on the deeper areas of Higgins Lake. These measurements are not always the same in the shallower regions of the lake.

The area surrounding Higgins Lake includes two state parks, >1300 riparian landowners and thousands of residents in the surrounding townships. In 1996, a USGS study of Higgins Lake reported a link between residential density and lower water quality due to nutrient contamination. The majority of the shoreline of Higgins Lake is populated by septic-served homes. These septic systems may act as a major source of near-shore nutrient contamination, especially during high occupancy times, such as summer. Continue reading “Investigating the Influences of Septic Systems on Near-Shore Water Quality and Swimmer’s Itch in Higgins Lake, MI”

Exploring Dynamic Interactions Between Surface Water and Groundwater

The interaction between groundwater and that on the surface is not understood well. Its aspects are both complex and in want of better ways to measure such things as stream flow. There is a need for newer methods to be found in order that we can more fully understand these systems and help maintain them.

Through looking at both the Au Sable and Manistee River basins’ headwaters, our objective of this project is to develop methods to increase our knowledge of temperature, stream flow rates, groundwater recharge rates, etc. in these areas. In a two year span, forty gages are to be installed in both the headwaters of the Manistee and the Au Sable rivers. Though the state does have groundwater assessment tools out there, the system is not focused on the headwaters. We are creating a much denser network to narrow in on these specific places in the river system to add to the overall knowledge of rivers. Continue reading “Exploring Dynamic Interactions Between Surface Water and Groundwater”

Ecohydrologic Evaluation of the Higgins Lake-Level Control Structure

Higgins Lake and its outflow, the Cut River

Looking at Higgins Lake in Roscommon County, this project is analyzing the implications of a control structure dam on both the lake itself and the Cut River. Effects of erosion have been found and yet little study has been done on the structure’s role in the environment. This could play a large effect on not only the lake and river wildlife, but the economy and environment of the surrounding human population as well. The Higgins Lake Property Owners Association (HLPOA) made these possible implications and their concerns clear when they brought this issue to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s (MDNRE) Fisheries Division.

Continue reading “Ecohydrologic Evaluation of the Higgins Lake-Level Control Structure”

Forecasting and Evaluating Vulnerability of Watersheds to Climate Change, Extreme Events, and Algal Blooms

Six Word Summary:

Extreme Events Change Nutrient Delivery, Blooms

Furthering steps taken by a past EPA Grant, this project is looking at predicting harmful algal blooms using remote sensing, hydrologic models, and landscape features. With current extreme events, such as droughts and storms, caused by climate change, we want to assess how they will impact both water quality and algal blooms management. Looking into the relationship between extreme events and water quality, we hope to increase the variety of tools at our disposal. This will in turn help us to not only better understand this relationship, but also allow us to have a better knowledge of the impacts on water quality and algal blooms by different extreme events. Continue reading “Forecasting and Evaluating Vulnerability of Watersheds to Climate Change, Extreme Events, and Algal Blooms”

NASA Wetland Gauges

Since 2011, MSU has been collecting data from a network of 14 stream and wetland gauges spanning over 500 miles of Great Lakes coastline to try and understand the dynamic relationship between nutrients and landscape features where surface and groundwaters intersect. Furthermore, we are using the presence of Phragmites at some of the gauge sites to take a close look at how this invasive species may be impacting the ecosystem and driving nutrient exchange.

This project is funded by NASA, in collaboration with the University of Michigan and Michigan Tech Research Institute.

Wisconsin Flow Gauges

The field sites in Wisconsin are part of a project to research the groundwater quality and quantity implications of biofuel crop production.  Two watersheds, one agricultural and one forested, have approximately 17 sites each where stream discharge measurements, water samples, and basic chemical measurements are taken twice annually.  Three of the sites in the agricultural watershed also have stream gauges installed that continuously record temperature and pressure using data loggers. This work is being conducted along with partners at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

We would like to acknowledge the USGS for funding this research.

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake is at the headwaters of a system of rivers and lakes in the heart of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Residents and users of the Higgins Lake and Cut River system are keenly aware of the value of their resources, and are concerned about protecting the water quality, ecological integrity, and recreational use of the Higgins Lake and Cut River. Researchers at MSU and UM are investigating the sensitivity of the lake to future change, in an attempt to limit future negative impacts to homeowners and others who rely on the lake for its recreational opportunities and natural beauty.

We would like to thank the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources and the Higgins Lake Foundation for their support of our work in the Higgins Lake and Cut River system.

CLASS: Coupled Landscape, Atmospheric, and Socioeconomic Systems (High Plains Aquifer)

Large portions of the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer (henceforth, HPA) complex, underlying approximately 450,000 km2 from Texas to South Dakota, are experiencing fundamentally unsustainable groundwater withdrawals due to large scale irrigation [McMahon 2000]. Since pumping began in earnest in the 1930’s [Weeks et al. 1988], storage in the HPA, the largest aquifer in North America [Jackson et al. 2001], has declined by 333 km3 [McGuire 2009]. Despite rapid water table drawdown and near depletion of some portions of the aquifer [McGuire 2009], irrigated acreage continues to expand [NASS 2007, 2002, 1997]. Underlying natural and socioeconomic drivers of this expansion are heterogeneous in time and space, driven by changes in climate, product demand (due to biofuels development, global population expansion, etc.), energy costs, and other factors [i.e. Peterson and Bernardo 2003]. Although a range of management and policy actions could help move this region toward sustainability, such efforts are complicated by a diverse range of state laws and regulations, economic drivers and agricultural production systems, variable soil productivity and aquifer storage, and forecast changes in temperature and precipitation [e.g., Ashley and Smith 1999; McGuire et al. 2003; Sophocleous 2010].

Continue reading “CLASS: Coupled Landscape, Atmospheric, and Socioeconomic Systems (High Plains Aquifer)”

Nutrient Management Models to Constrain Harmful Algal Blooms

Targeted watersheds

Developing management strategies to minimize algal blooms requires detailed knowledge about the landscape factors that drive them. We will use over 35 years of Landsat imagery to map nearshore algal bloom intensity and extent at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. These will be related to watershed nutrient and sediment exports predicted using advanced watershed models at both sub-basin and Great Lakes Basin scales. We will then establish nutrient thresholds for specific HAB risks, identify sources of nutrients on the landscape, and prioritize restoration strategies.







Predicting the Impacts of Climate Change on Agricultural Yields and Water Resources in the Maumee River Watershed

Projected changes in 21st century climate will drive adaptive management strategies in agricultural production systems, both of which will significantly impact water resources in the Great Lakes region. These strategies will likely include selection of alternate crops, shifting planting and harvest times, double-cropping in previously single-cropped areas, and increasing use of irrigation. Evaluating how such strategies might simultaneously impact yields and water resources at the basin-scale will help guide decision makers toward effective adaptation strategies and inform the development of decision support systems to further address inherent tradeoffs.

We propose to apply a newly-developed coupled crop-growth and hydrologic model SALUS-ILHM, to simulate scenarios of climate change impacts on crop yields and water resources across the Maumee River Watershed (MRW) in Southeast Michigan, Northeast Indiana, and Northwest Ohio. Continue reading “Predicting the Impacts of Climate Change on Agricultural Yields and Water Resources in the Maumee River Watershed”

USACE: Upland Sediment Production and Delivery in the Great Lakes Region under Climate Change

The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division (LRD) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates and maintains the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes Navigation System (GLNS) consisting of 139 projects (63 commercial and 76 shallow-draft), including three lock complexes, 104 miles of navigation structures, and over 600 miles of maintained navigation channels. The GLNS is a complex deepwater navigation system stretching 1,600 miles through all five Great Lake and connecting channels from Duluth, Minnesota to Ogdensburg, New York. In 2006, approximately 173 million tons of commodities were transported to and from U.S. ports located on the waterways of the Great Lakes system. It is a non-linear system on interdependent locks, ports, harbors, navigational channels, dredged material disposal facilities, and navigation structures. The GLNS provides an estimated transportation rate savings benefit of $3.6 billion per year. Waterborne commerce is the most environmentally friendly and safest form of transportation of bulk commodities, producing lower emissions as well as lower damages to property and a reduction in fatal and non-fatal injuries when compared to transportation by truck or rail. A recent study concluded that pollution abatement savings resulting from the continued usage of the GLNS exceed $350 million annually.

In contrast to the Western U.S., many climate change models predict increased precipitation in the Great Lakes region.  This increased precipitation (and runoff), coupled with warmer temperatures, has the potential to significantly affect sediment production and transport in Great Lakes rivers, increasing the loadings to federal harbors that already have a large dredging backlog.  Additionally, a number of future climate scenarios predict lower water levels in the Great Lakes, which would further exacerbate the impacts on harbors.  This project will look at two federal harbors in the Great Lakes and their watersheds in order to examine potential impacts.  The information gained from this work is expected to allow the Corps to make qualitative comparisons with current dredging requirements at most of the federal harbors in the Great Lakes.

Continue reading “USACE: Upland Sediment Production and Delivery in the Great Lakes Region under Climate Change”

USGS Wisconsin: Implications of Climate Change and Biofuel Development for Great Lakes Regional Water

Many questions remain unanswered about the sustainability of water resources in the Great Lakes Region with impending climate change and major land use changes associated with intensive biofuel production. Significant areas of prime farmland and marginal land set aside in conservation programs across the Great Lakes Basin are being targeted for biofuel crop production systems (Robertson et al., 2008; Kim et al., 2009).

The associated land cover/management changes will have unknown, but potentially significant, impacts on the quantity and quality of groundwater recharge. This recharge is the primary source of water to streams, lakes, and wetlands across the region. Additionally, Midwestern climate is predicted to change significantly in the coming decades with warmer temperatures, as well as higher precipitation and evapotranspiration, potentially leading to a net soil moisture deficit along with more frequent flooding (USGCRP, 2009). Working in conjunction with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), researchers from the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison, Michigan State University (MSU), Ball State University (BSU) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will conduct a collaborative multi-scale effort to:

  • 1) expand ongoing field monitoring effort to collect a detailed data set of collocated, surface and subsurface water and nutrient fluxes and above- and below-ground biomass for a variety of model biofuel feedstock cropping systems,
  • 2) use our data set along with regional water quality and quantity data, provided in part by USGS, to further develop, parameterize and validate a new biogeophysical hydrology model,
  • 3) use our model to explore the implications of coupled climate change and biofuel-based land-use changes for Great Lakes Basin water quantity and quality, and
  • 4) perform a side-by-side comparison between a new landscape hydrology code and a USGS hydrology model.

Continue reading “USGS Wisconsin: Implications of Climate Change and Biofuel Development for Great Lakes Regional Water”

Multi-scale Monitoring and Modeling of Land Use and Climate Change Impacts on the Terrestrial Hydrologic Cycle: Implications for the Great Lakes Basin

Vadose‐zone soil moisture is an important driver of processes in agricultural, hydrological, ecological, and climate systems, yet the detailed nature of plant water use across ranges of scales is often poorly characterized. With projected changes in climate and land use (including afforestation, urbanization, agricultural intensification, and biofuels production) there is a critical need to understand the likely impacts on the hydrologic cycle and ecosystem health. Important hydrological and biophysical processes are not adequately characterized with point estimates, and models of rootwater uptake are generally unable to accurately predict such changes. Our objectives are to: 1) quantify multi‐scale dynamics of vegetation‐water interactions across different land cover types to improve predictive capabilities of hydrologic models, and 2) explore the impacts of land use and climate changes on watershed‐ to Great Lakes Basin‐scale hydrologic fluxes.

Figure: ILHM simulated annual recharge for the Muskegon River Watershed

To explore the likely effects of projected changes in climate and land cover, we propose to use time‐lapse electrical resistivity imaging and a novel coupling of a fully integrated terrestrial hydrology model with a dynamic vegetation growth model to study managed and natural sites along a climate gradient across a range of soils. The intellectual merit of this research includes 1) improved knowledge and predictive capability of short‐ and long‐term processes that drive the terrestrial water cycle, 2) root‐zone moisture and root‐development data that will improve parameterization of roots in coupled land surface and climate models, and 3) quantitative information about implications of land use and climate changes across a range of scales.





Continue reading “Multi-scale Monitoring and Modeling of Land Use and Climate Change Impacts on the Terrestrial Hydrologic Cycle: Implications for the Great Lakes Basin”

NOAA Sea Grant: Quantifying the Impacts of Projected Climate Changes on the Grand Traverse Bay Region: An Adaptive Management Framework

Great Lakes coastal communities are already feeling the impacts of climate variability and change. Communities across the Grand Traverse Bay (GTB) watershed have witnessed changes in lake ice cover, seasonal precipitation, air and lake temperatures, and storm severity.

These changes have occurred against a backdrop of increasing population and urbanization across the watershed. Parallel climate and land use change drivers have altered water sediment, nutrient, toxin, and pathogen fluxes across the GTB watershed. Forecasts suggest that warming temperatures and altered precipitation patterns are likely to accelerate during the 21st century, which threatens economically and ecologically vital uses of the GTB and its contributing waters.





Continue reading “NOAA Sea Grant: Quantifying the Impacts of Projected Climate Changes on the Grand Traverse Bay Region: An Adaptive Management Framework”

LHM (formerly ILHM)

Conceptual diagram of the LHM domain

The Landscape Hydrology Model (LHM) is a new landscape hydrology simulation suite capable of very large domain, fine resolution modeling. It simulates nearly the entire terrestrial hydrologic cycle with full energy- and water-balance physically-based component modules.  LHM incorporates a host of novel components, but integrates fully with the USGS MODFLOW software, and allows existing MODFLOW simulations to run with little modification.


LHM is written primarily in MATLAB, with a number of ArcGIS interface modules written in Python.  It is coupled with MODFLOW using a pass-to-disk coupling,  which requires a slight modification of the MODFLOW source code.  Currently, the plan is to migrate fully to Python within the next year, as Python provides a much more robust development environment, and greater possibilities for GUI front end development. Continue reading “LHM (formerly ILHM)”

Sediment Loading in the Jordan River Watershed

The MSU Hydrogeology Lab has been conducting research in the Jordan River Watershed since 2006. The objective has been to understand the causes and possible solutions to sand accumulation on what had been considered previously to be a primarily gravel-bed stream. The sand is believed to be negatively impacting the fishery of the Jordan River, possibly reducing populations of brown and brook trout in one of Lower Michigan’s premier cold water streams. The work has been funded by the Friends of the Jordan River.

During the course of our research, the Lab has installed a network of stream gauging stations to continuously monitor stream flow and temperature, conducted extensive channel surveys for sediment and flow modeling, surveyed the stream channel with a variety of sophisticated instruments including an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), survey-grade Global Positioning System (GPS), and both floating and land-based Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

Continue reading “Sediment Loading in the Jordan River Watershed”

Au Sable and Manistee River Watersheds

The Au Sable and Manistee River Watersheds span the breadth of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Both watersheds contain areas that are vital to the agricultural and economic productivity of Michigan, as well as some of the best recreational opportunities that the Lower Peninsula has to offer. MSU has created a monitoring program in this area in order to better understand the complex feedbacks that occur in such a system, and to provide a baseline that can be used to understand the impact of future changes to the land and water resources in the watersheds.

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

This site includes a series of geophysical arrays situated on 10 experimental field plots. Through a collaboration with MSU’s US Department of Energy funded GLBRC located at Kellogg Biological Station, we have been able to monitor how the resistivity signature in the near-surface changes over time. Data derived from these surveys gives us the ability to model the impact that large scale land-use change in the Great Lakes Basin will have on the hydrologic cycle.


Multi-scale Monitoring and Modeling of Land Use and Climate Change Impacts on the Terrestrial Hydrologic Cycle: Implications for the Great Lakes Basin