UD team receives NSF grant to study dissolved organic matter in watersheds
Professors and students installing a flume on a stream in the Fairhill watershed.
Undergraduate student Suneil Seetharam (left) and graduate student Nina Finger analyze water samples in the laboratory.
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2:37 p.m., Oct. 9, 2008----The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a UD-led team of researchers a $540,000 grant to study the sources of dissolved organic matter and how it is transported in the watershed. The study will be conducted at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Maryland, a few minutes drive from UD's Newark campus.

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“The tea-like or brown color that you see in stream or lake waters is because of dissolved organic matter,” explained Shreeram Inamdar, professor of bioresources engineering.

Inamdar is leading the grant-funded research group, which includes Delphis Levia, professor of geography, and Harsh Bais, professor of plant and soil sciences. Joining them will be Myron Mitchell, professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, and Durelle Scott, professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech.

“The beauty of this team is that our expertise and our interests are very complementary,” Inamdar said. “Each of us will look at how various parts of the watershed including the vegetation, soils, wetlands and streams influence the dynamics of dissolved organic matter.”

Dissolved organic matter includes dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), and when these components mix with runoff waters, they have important environmental implications, Inamdar said, because that runoff water will eventually end up in streams, rivers or lakes, where it is collected and chlorinated to become drinking water.

If the raw water has high levels of DOC and DON when it is chlorinated, Inamdar said, it will generate what are known as disinfection byproducts, some of which are carcinogenic. DON can also contribute to eutrophication or excess growth of algae in water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay, Inamdar said.

“Thus, the better you understand the dynamics of dissolved organic nitrogen,” Inamdar said, “the better you will be able to address the pollution of water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay.”

This project will provide valuable interdisciplinary instrumentation, sampling and laboratory research experience for graduate and undergraduate students. The professors involved with the project already have started using the watershed as an educational site through class field visits and demonstrations. The researchers and their UD students also will participate in educational programs and field visits for K-8 students visiting Fair Hill Nature Center.

The study site will be affiliated with the Center for Critical Zone Research at UD and will be developed as a long-term experimental watershed. “This study will further enhance our environmental research program and will directly contribute to the University's strategic initiatives under the Path to Prominence,” Inamdar said.

Graduate and undergraduate students interested in participating in the research should e-mail Inamdar at [Inamdar@udel.edu] for more information. There is a doctoral assistantship available immediately.