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ASU geophysicists measure success of water management programs in Tucson

October 17, 2017

Satellite data provide closer look at water storage success both above, below ground

In 1980, the city of Tucson and the Arizona Department of Water Resources began an ambitious plan to replenish Tucson’s depleted aquifers. By 2004, the city had implemented water conservation practices among its residents and had begun using Colorado River water to recharge its aquifers. By 2015, Tucson was able to show a significant increase in water storage in the city’s aquifers, a vital element to this thriving city. 

Arizona State University geophysicists Megan Miller and Manoochehr Shirzaei, of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, along with Donald Argus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, were intrigued by Tucson’s water storage success and wanted to take a closer look at what was happening both above and below ground. 

“We chose the Tucson area because the groundwater management and conservation challenges there offer lessons for many other cities in the Southwest with similar predicaments,” Miller said. “Tucson was also of special interest because, contrary to what would be expected, its aquifer levels did not dramatically decrease during a period of drought.” 

To study the area, the researchers used satellite radar data from the Envisat and RADARSAT-2 satellites from 2004 to 2015. Using this data, the researchers tracked land subsidence and measured how much the land fell, rose or stayed the same over time. They then compared the satellite-derived subsidence data to measurements from global positioning systems, land thickness studies and well levels. 

The results of their study, recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, showed that following Tucson’s water conservation and management efforts, not only did the land subside less, there was also a decrease in the loss of storage volume in the aquifer.

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Left image: Vertical land motion (mm/yr) in the Tucson metropolitan area observed using Envisat InSAR 2004–2010. This image depicts, through satellite data, how fast the land in the area of study was moving downward from 2004-2010, during which the Tucson area aquifer experienced storage volume loss. Right image: Vertical land motion (mm/yr) observed using RADARSAT-2InSAR 2010–2015. This image depicts how fast the land was moving downward during a significantly slower period when volume loss had been minimized as a result of groundwater management and conservation efforts. Credit: Megan Miller/Manoochehr Shirzaei

So far, artificial recharge efforts in Tucson have banked the equivalent of at least 45 years of groundwater withdrawals needed for residents of the area. When combined with impressive conservation efforts, Tucson has been able to minimize land subsidence, halt the depletion of the aquifer storage, and store water for the future. 

The researchers hope that understanding how Tucson succeeded in storing water for the future may help other Southwestern cities.

“Knowing how the aquifer system responds can help public-policy makers decide what to do in the case of a water shortage,” Miller said. “In particular, knowledge of an aquifer’s elastic properties would allow authorities to determine how much fresh water can be extracted without causing permanent damage to the aquifer system.”

Top photo: Tucson skyline. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager , School of Earth and Space Exploration


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Study Abroad planning scholarship provides pathway for first-gen students

October 17, 2017

Family members, loved ones and friends gathered last month to celebrate the third cohort of the Study Abroad Planning Scholars. These scholars are first-generation Arizona State University students who were invited to apply for a scholarship designated just for them during their second semester of freshman year. Students demonstrating high financial need and that they’re the first in their families to go to college were invited to apply.

“We developed the Planning Scholars scholarship program because we identified that not enough of our ASU first-generation students were studying abroad,” said Adam Henry, director of the Study Abroad Office. “After reviewing the research literature on first-generation students studying abroad, we also created the program around a model of support, and helping participants identify their particular support needs before, during and after their study abroad experience.”

Since its inception in 2015, the Planning Scholarship has supported more than 150 first-generation students. 

“We launched the program with committed funding for the first three years. We are thrilled that we now have additional funding for another three years. Every three years equates to $420,000 in scholarship monies,” Henry said. 

Half of these recipients have already gone abroad, are currently abroad or will be going on programs next semester to nearly 30 different countries across the globe.

Students already putting their scholarships to good use

Two such students in this cohort are studying abroad in spring 2018. Political science major Bartia Cooper will be studying in South Korea at Yonsei University. She plans on graduate school after finishing her bachelor’s degree.

“I need to make myself the best possible candidate (as anyone should want to be). Not only having study abroad experience, but being able to say I got to immerse myself in the culture I’m studying will show my dedication to my field and provide me with an extra leg over competition, both for graduate school and for future careers,” she said.

Olivia Boyd has her sights on getting her Doctor in Nursing Practice as a long-term goal. Gaining cultural competence skills is her goal with her semester abroad in England on an exchange program with the University of Birmingham.

“When offered the chance to do a study abroad, my first concern, and only hesitation, was finances,” Boyd said. “It seemed to be an amazing opportunity, and one that many of my graduated friends had regretted not taking. As I was researching scholarships, the Planning Scholars award caught my eye as it described exactly me — I am a first-generation college student, I had already applied to my desired university I would be studying abroad in, I fit the GPA requirement and I received the financial need requirement. It seemed to be a perfect fit.” 

The September reception kicked off a series of workshops to foster a sense of community among recipients and to personally meet the students’ differing needs as the first in their family to study abroad. Study Abroad Office staff serve as mentors to guide students on the process on things such as program selection, budget management, travel logistics, navigating culture shock and more.

Study abroad made a reality with Planning Scholars award

Keeping up with his studies while embarking on an adventure is what drew kinesiology major Jonathanael Gonzalez to want to study abroad.

“In five years I see myself in my second year of dental school putting that work in and also working with the community to fix health disparities and hopefully enjoying life to the fullest,” Gonzalez said. “Studying abroad can help me see how privileged this country is and being able to step out can then widen my view of the world to appreciate all the little things that are taken for granted every day.” 

Genetics and Spanish literature double major Amalie Strange didn’t think studying abroad was possible before receiving this scholarship. 

“Whenever I used to think of studying abroad, it was always through a dream-like lens,” Strange said. “It never felt like a tangible reality until I learned about the Planning Scholars award. It would be extremely difficult for my family and me to gather all of the funds necessary to send me on a study abroad program.” 

When asked about her family’s reaction, Strange discussed how proud her family is.

“I am the first to go to college, so I’m very happy that I can be a role model for my younger brother and sister. Both of them have aspirations of attending college, and they frequently ask me about my experiences at ASU,” she said.

Once awarded, students have the next five semesters to use their scholarship on a Study Abroad Office-facilitated program. This allows them time to weigh their program options, align them with their professional, academic and personal goals and to budget accordingly.

Top photo: The third cohort of the Planning Scholars pictured with Study Abroad Office advisers Abby Dalpra and Carmen Pitz.

Carrie Herrera Niesen

Manager, Marketing & Publicity , Study Abroad Office