USGS 104b and 104g grants awarded in 2023

USGS awards 104G funding to a Nebraska research team

Each year, USGS holds a nationally competitive grant application for 104g funding. 104g awards are asked to tackle projects that align with the national research priorities of the USGS. In 2023, only 11 projects were awarded throughout the country. Nebraska received funding for one of these 11 104g awards.

  • Release, adsorption, and biotransformation of biosolid-borne PFAS at the water-sediment interface in agricultural watersheds. Xu Li. $278,969

The Nebraska Water Center provides 104b funding for 5 Nebraska-based research projects

Each year, the Nebraska Water Center provides grant funding for research through the U.S. Geologic Survey’s 104b program.  104b awards are geared towards early-career faculty who are conducting research in Nebraska that has unique applications both within and outside of the state.  In 2023, a total of $95,460.74 was awarded.  

Awards were granted to the following five projects:

  • Fire and Lakes, by Jessica Corman and Daniel Gschwentner ($29,841)
    • Grasslands are the most frequently burnt biome, however much of what is known about the impacts of fires on aquatic ecosystems comes from mountain regions. In montane ecosystems, wildland fires can have immediate and lasting impacts on lakes and streams, such as decreased water clarity, increased nutrient concentrations, and negatively impacted water quality. However, little is known of the impacts of fire on lakes in grassland ecosystems, where minimal topographical relief may accentuate ash impacts. We propose to study how grassland fires affect lake ecosystems by 1) determining the impacts of wildfires on lake productivity, 2) assessing food web impacts of wildfire ash inputs to lakes, and 3) evaluating the proximity of historical and contemporary wildfires in grasslands to lakes. We will conduct manipulative experiments to determine the effect of fire on lake ecosystem processes and food webs, and analyze spatial data sets on fire occurrence to determine fire proximity to lakes in grasslands. Our study will generate novel insights into how fires shape the flow of resources and energy in grassland lake ecosystems and will aid management of aquatic ecosystems under changing fire regimes. Further, this work will provide necessary insights and data to develop future proposals to the US Geological Survey, the US Department of Agriculture, and/or the National Science Foundation.
  • Synergistic effect of biochar and biosolids to limit nitrate leaching beneath cropland, by Arindam Malakar and Michael Kaiser ($10,000)
    • This project aims to develop sustainable agroecosystem services and mitigate nitrogen loss beneath the root zone by applying biochar and/or biosolids to agricultural soil in an urban-rural transition zone using no-till and cover crop practices. The study focuses on the synergistic effects of biochar and biosolids in enhancing nitrogen use efficiency and reducing nitrate loss, thereby safeguarding groundwater quality. The project also aims to reduce municipalities' carbon footprint, enhance production, and lower fertilizer usage. By setting up a long-term field experiment in the urban-agricultural landscape of Lincoln, Nebraska, the project intends to provide effective soil management strategies that can improve soil health, water efficiency, and soil organic carbon storage without compromising agricultural yield. The study's relevance lies in addressing the challenges posed by population growth, intensive agricultural practices, soil degradation, and water quality depletion. Through the USGS104b project supported for the first year, the study will identify the preliminary synergistic impact of biochar-biosolid addition to agricultural soil on minimizing nutrient (specifically nitrate) loss and quantifying the changes to soil abiotic and biotic redox processes leading to mobilization, if any, of geogenic arsenic in the soil-water system.
  • Managing irrigated cropping systems for drought resilience and vadose zone nitrate control: field evaluations and modeling, by Abia Katimbo, Sahila Beegum, Daran Rudnick, Arindam Malakar, Hope Njuki Nakabuye, and Nicolas Cafaro La Menza ($29,962)
    • Improving the resilience of irrigated cropping systems to drought and making them climate-smart while supporting sustainable use of groundwater and fertilizers is necessary for better environmental stewardship. While collective management of irrigation and nitrogen applications can enhance crop productivity and profitability, it is essential to use these resources efficiently to reduce groundwater depletion and to prevent nitrate leaching which deteriorates water quality. Poor management of irrigation and nitrogen fertilizers has led to high nitrate concentrations in domestic wells in Nebraska, posing a severe health risk to the citizens. Additionally, some regions are now experiencing limited well capacities from high groundwater declines due to over-pumping and over-irrigating on their fields, leading to a limited water supply to grow a cash crop. Improved management practices need to replace current producer's practices to ensure better use of resources, build resilience to severe drought, and protect the environment. Studies have shown that using cover crops can enhance efficient use of irrigation and nitrogen through water conservation and reduced nitrogen requirements by natural nitrogen recycling. However, a knowledge gap still exists regarding the benefits of combining cover crops with best management practices in irrigated cropping systems (continuous or rotational corn and soybeans) in a semi-arid region such as Western Nebraska, which warrants investigation. This will be achieved by setting up experiments at research fields focusing on growth-stage based management strategies as well as on two producer fields where common practices will be compared to other scenarios of management practices using the 2DSOIL-crop modeling. This grant will not only provide training opportunities to graduate and undergraduate students but will also facilitate data collection to gather enough preliminary data to apply for extramural grants, such as USGS 104g and USDA-NIFA.
  • Growing groundwater science, by Chris Huber, Daniel Snow, and Dick Ehrman ($14,358.74)
    • Domestic well water is vulnerable to contamination from anthropogenic and geogenic contaminants such as nitrate and arsenic. Few are regularly tested, even fewer are tested for the presence of arsenic species. A growing youth-led citizen and community science program promises to elevate the issue of domestic well water quality and provide additional motivation for regular well water quality testing in Nebraska. Undergraduate students at a 4-year southeast Nebraska university will be trained in well water testing, and work with a local high school to properly sample and test domestic wells from the surrounding area. Students will learn how hydrogeology and land use all affect domestic well water quality, and communicate results to local stakeholders. Highschool students will compare their measurements to the conventional laboratory measurements, while undergraduate students will compare arsenic test kit results to advanced instrumental methods and evaluate hazards associated with consumption of untreated well water.  This project will build on USGS research aimed at understanding temporal and regional changes in US drinking water supplies.        
  • Metal oxide precipitate on irrigation center pivots as a non-invasive screening tool for redox sensitive trace metals in groundwater, by Jeffrey Westrop ($11,299)
    • Regular groundwater sampling and analysis is key for identifying areas at risk of contamination. However, sampling and analysis is a time-consuming process, so the ability to screen rapidly and efficiently for potential groundwater quality issues would be advantageous. A recent study demonstrated that the presence of “rust”, metal oxide coatings formed when iron or other metal rich groundwater sprays onto the surface of the pivot, could be used to identify areas with low groundwater nitrate, suggesting the potential for using the presence or absence of "rust" to quickly assess groundwater quality over larger areas with less sampling of groundwater. The proposed research will determine if the presence or absence of pivot rust can be used to screen for other groundwater contaminants, particularly trace metals. Groundwater will be sampled from agricultural wells associated with center pivots at several sites. The concentrations of trace metals between sites with and without pivot rust will be compared. The results of this study may be used to leverage observations of pivot rust as a rapid screening tool for groundwater chemistry that may be applied to agricultural systems in Nebraska and globally.