Sept. 12, 2008, was a big day for Idaho’s public universities.
Flanked by the research vice presidents from Idaho State, Boise State and University of Idaho, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch announced a $15 million federal grant to study Idaho’s changing climate.
The five-year grant was awarded through the National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or NSF EPSCoR. Titled “Idaho Research Infrastructure Improvement: Water Resources in a Changing Climate,” the project stressed collaboration between the three universities while drawing on the strengths of researchers within each institution.
Four and a half years after the project’s inception, ISU continues to play a key role in carrying out the grant with ISU geosciences research professor, Nancy Glenn, Ph.D., leading the project statewide.
Glenn says the grant has brought $4.4 million to the university since 2008 while strengthening partnerships with BSU and U of I.
“One of the most exciting achievements has been meeting the long-term goal of increasing research infrastructure in the ISU College of Science and Engineering, especially in disciplines of economic and societal concern,” said Glenn, who heads ISU’s Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory.
The NSF EPSCoR project focuses on how a changing climate affects water resources and potentially impacts Idaho’s resource-based economy. Projects in which ISU faculty have participated include modeling future water availability and how ecosystems in the Salmon River Basin will be affected by changing climate, along with associated shifts in fire frequency and intensity, and insect infestations. Other faculty have investigated how past and current climate change relates to sockeye salmon returns to high elevation lakes like those in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho.
Three new faculty members in the biological sciences and geosciences departments have been hired as part of the grant and a closely related project, enhancing ISU’s teaching and research profile.
Biological sciences and ecology associate professor Colden Baxter, Ph.D., who serves as ISU’s lead scientist on the NSF EPSCoR project, highlights the importance of the new faculty additions in hydrology, watershed ecology and geotechnology.
“The new faculty has filled key gaps in expertise needed by ISU, and by the state as a whole, to meet the research, educational and technological challenges of understanding and responding to changes in our water resources,” he said.
The NSF EPSCoR project has trained numerous undergraduate and graduate students in research and outreach activities, provided start-up and facilities augmentation for faculty campus wide, helped jump-start existing junior faculty, and placed ISU in the national and international research and outreach spotlight.
ISU now has new state-of-the-art instrumentation for the chemical analysis of water and soils located in ISU’s Center for Ecological Research and Education, a flume facility for studies of water and sediment processes in streams, and improved cyberinfrastructure that more tightly links science and education efforts across the region, noted Glenn.
“Every aspect of the project’s outcomes – the new faculty, students, research, and instrumentation – addresses pertinent issues in Idaho while providing world-class education opportunities,” said Glenn.