Alaska, Utah and Wyoming are provided funding to bolster research capability and address pressing state concerns

Three projects aimed at creating world-class research resources and making them available to the academic community recently received $60 million from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Representing a consortium of regional institutions, each award recipient will receive $20 million over a five year period in Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 awards to bolster science and engineering academic research infrastructure. The awards will go to three states: Alaska, Utah and Wyoming.

Tom Moran/Alaska EPSCoR
Alaska EPSCoR-supported University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Mary-Cathrine Leewis prepares a sample of soil for testing. Leewis is studying bioremediation techniques for contaminated soils in Alaska. Tom Moran/Alaska EPSCoR  

"These RII awards provide resources to fortify the physical, human and cyber infrastructure that lays the groundwork for competitive research," said Denise Barnes, acting head of NSF's EPSCoR program. "Each project is statewide in scope and rich in complexity. Each blends the research talent of individual researchers, institutions and organizations with the development of a diverse, STEM-enabled workforce necessary to enhance and sustain research competitiveness and catalyze knowledge-based economic development."

A brief description of the projects and the lead institutions for the three awards are below.

ALASKA - The University of Alaska (UA) Fairbanks

The Alaska Adapting to Changing Environments (Alaska ACE) project, Alaska's fourth RII Track-1 award, will examine how the pronounced changes in environmental and natural processes affect and are affected by the adaptation strategies of Alaskan communities.

Three place-based studies in the southeast, south-central and northern regions of Alaska seek to evaluate vulnerabilities, resilience and adaptive capacities of Alaskan communities to regional changes in landscape and water resources. Research will take place at the three main campuses of the University of Alaska (UA) in the urban centers of Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau. In addition, research will take place in 13 satellite campuses in rural areas across Alaska, a Tribal College, and at several learning centers in small communities around the state.

Alaska ACE will advance interdisciplinary research and translate research results into visualization tools useful for researchers, local communities, resource managers and policy makers. The project team will also examine extrapolation of the models of community resilience and adaptation to other regions of the nation and world. The program will train and educate a diverse set of students across Alaska, including Native Alaskans, and strengthen partnerships with local communities, businesses, government and non-government organizations.

UTAH - Utah State University (USU)

The iUTAH project --innovative Urban Transitions and Arid-region Hydro-sustainability--is Utah EPSCoR's first RII Track-1 award. The project considers one of the most important problems facing the western United States: the problem of current and future water provision under climate change coupled with increasing demand for water on account of urbanization. The research examines the fundamental interactions and dynamic feedbacks among hydroclimate and the ecological and human aspects of urban and montane landscapes.

Participants in the project include researchers from seven institutions of higher education: Utah State University, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Utah Valley University and Westminster College of Salt Lake City, as well as participants from business, government and the citizenry of Utah.

iUTAH will identify how physical and human systems interact to affect water supply, demand and management. Investments in instrumentation, data collection, modeling and professional expertise support the exploration and evaluation of alternative water futures for Utah.

WYOMING - University of Wyoming (UW)

This RII Track-1 award--the single largest grant in the history of the University of Wyoming--will fund compelling research addressing a pressing regional need: understanding water sources and distribution in the arid Mountain West. This funding seeks to enhance Wyoming's scientific research capability by enabling a better understanding the mechanisms by which water is transformed from precipitation (snow and rain) into river flow, groundwater recharge or soil moisture and how these mechanisms respond to natural and human-made changes.

The research will involve Wyoming's community colleges, the Wind River Tribal College, the Arapaho Ranch, Jackson State University in Mississippi and several federal, state and private business partners.

This project focuses on developing a multidisciplinary center for a comprehensive research program linking surface and subsurface watershed hydrology, geophysics, remote sensing and computational modeling, boosted by UW's association with the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center that is nearing completion and slated to come on line later this year.

The project supports water research in areas of key importance to Wyoming, generating products and tools of use to water resource managers charged with allocating scarce resources and forecasting water deliveries in an environment of profound hydrological change. Also included is a vigorous mentoring and recruitment effort to attract Native American, Hispanic, African-American and female students, along with persons with disabilities, to the state's science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce.