CALS Scientist Among Two UA Faculty to Earn NSF Career Awards

Shirley Papuga at the Santa Rita Creosote Flux Tower (Photo by Mark Heitlinger)
Shirley Papuga at the Santa Rita Creosote Flux Tower (Photo by Mark Heitlinger)

Two University of Arizona scientists received the 2013 National Science Foundation Career Award, the agency's most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Shirley Papuga, assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, and Jonathan Sprinkle, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, won the awards, roughly $500,000 over five years, granted to scientists who demonstrate outstanding research, excellent education and have a particular skill at integrating both aspects.

Papuga's work in ecohydrology and land-atmosphere interactions seeks to discover more about how arid and semi-arid ecosystems work, particularly as it relates to ongoing drought and climate change.

"The problem is a lot of science that has gone into our global climate models comes from areas rich in biomass. A lot of what we know about physical processes comes from those regions," she says. "We really need to get better representation of arid and semi-arid ecosystems into these models."

Papuga has developed a simple framework that is meant to serve to design field campaigns, greenhouse experiments and computer modeling exercises to "think about climate change in terms of these projections and use the framework to study additional questions."

Designed for water-limited ecosystems, the experiments will concentrate on two layers of soil. The division between an upper layer, wetted by small rainstorms, and a lower layer, starting 20 centimeters deep, that needs large storms, is important for making hypotheses about what's impacted in specific types of rain events.

This framework will be useful in understanding the influence of potential precipitation changes associated with climate change in places that aren't just creosote-dominated uplands, but in other water-limited ecosystems that depend on specific water sources, like snow melt, as well as places that experience short term drought.

Read the rest of this June 19, 2013 UANews Article at the link below.

Date released: 
Jun 20 2013