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Multistate Soil, Water, Environmental Physics Team earns Excellence Award from Western Association

Posted by Seth Truscott | October 6, 2021
Flury, Wu, Bary
From left, WSU scientists Markus Flury, Joan Wu, and Andy Bary were part of an award-winning, multistate team addressing the physics of soil and water in our environment.

Three Washington State University soil scientists are part of a national research team that earned recognition this fall for advancements in the physics of soil and water, and how they influence our environment.

A joint effort of scientists at more than 20 institutions, the Soil, Water, and Environmental Physics to Sustain Agriculture and Natural Resources Multistate Research Project won the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors‘ 2021 Excellence in Multistate Research Award.

The honor was presented as part of the 2021 Experiment Station Section Meeting, held Sept. 27-30, 2021, in Olympic Valley, Calif.

One of five regional consortiums, the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors plans and manages multistate research activities for 14 western U.S. states and four Pacific trust territories.

WSU scientists involved in the project include Markus Flury, professor and soil scientist in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; Joan Wu, professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering’s Land, Air, Water Resources & Environmental Engineering (LAWREE) unit; and Andrew Bary, senior scientific assistant in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at WSU Puyallup, now retired.

Preserving an important resource

For 60 years, researchers from more than two-dozen State Agricultural Experiment Stations have worked together to understand how water, energy, and nutrients interact with the soil.

Soil, Water, and Environmental Physics project members have developed new models and methods, and designed sensors and other products for agricultural and environmental monitoring at a wide range of scales. Information on soil physics and hydrology has helped design infrastructure that reduces flood risks, identified ways to safely store nuclear waste, and develop techniques that minimize dust and contaminated water drainage from mine tailings.

The project has also led to new collaborative research facilities, as well as lecture and laboratory materials used in courses nationwide. In the past five years, project members have trained more than 200 graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. Members have also played important roles in bringing together soil scientists and stakeholders through national and international networks.

Researchers at WSU played a key role in improved understanding of soil physical processes and how they affect soil health and crop production. WSU research has shown, for instance, that biochar can increase available water for plants in soils, particularly sandy soils, and absorb contaminants. The team has also developed new technologies to estimate river sediment discharge from satellite imagery.

The Multistate Research Fund, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, supports their work. These projects bring together scientists, Extension educators, and other university, federal, and industry partners to tackle high-priority issues in agriculture.