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SIU researcher receives grant to study extreme weather

By Kitt Fresa

One SIU researcher recently received a grant to study extreme weather and find ways to lessen its impacts.

Trenton Ford, an assistant professor of geography and environmental resources, was given a three-year, $147, 241 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections program for research on heat waves and drought.

“The work we’re trying to do is trying to rectify what the land surface can tell us to better be able to predict — and therefore mitigate against — extreme heat and drought conditions,” Ford said.

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His goal is to help figure out the role of land surface in the escalation of extreme weather events in order to predict and identify when extreme weather events will land, he said.

The research is a part of a project titled “Developing National Soil Moisture Products to Improve Drought Monitoring.”

“This research addresses the critical need to enhance the accuracy and precision of national drought monitoring products by integrating new sources of soil moisture data,” according to the project’s abstract on American Association of Geographers. “Soil moisture is a key source of information that helps to identify the onset and characterize the severity of agricultural, hydrological and socioeconomic drought.”

When the atmosphere has a circulation pattern that lends itself to “a drought, clear conditions, no precipitation, high temperatures that’s atmospherically forced,” it tends to dry out the soil quickly, Ford said.

“That soil being dried out can actually feed back to the atmosphere, persisting the initially dry warm conditions,” Ford said. “So what is initially atmospherically forced can then be persisted by the soil moisture body land surface.”

The grant money will be spent on a few different aspects of the project, he said, the main one being Ford’s salary. He said every day over the summer, he will be researching toward the project.

A graduate student will be hired and funded full time to work on the project for two years, Ford said.

Travel funds are also included, allowing Ford and the other people involved to go to conferences and present their results to other scientists. Two undergraduate researchers will be on the staff, one of which has already joined the project and has begun to analyze data.

“It’s a great project for undergraduate students because it gets them used to a research environment without just throwing them into the pool and saying ‘swim,’” Ford said.

Angelina Arcuri, the undergraduate already on the project, is a sophomore from Carpentersville studying geography and environmental resources.

“I started taking a weather class by Dr. Ford and he said if anyone was actually interested in climate to come and talk to him afterwards,” she said. “So I went to him and he said that he might have an opportunity opening.”

Arcuri is working with soil moisture active passive data, which is NASA data from satellites that measure soil moisture to determine the freeze or thaw state of the area being mapped.

“I didn’t know that I’d actually be a student employee and get paid to work on the project, so I was just going to work on the project with Dr. Ford without even getting paid, that’s how excited I was,” Arcuri said.

She said the experience she gets working on this project will be vital to her career in the future.

“I like that already this is giving me an opportunity to look at data and work with soil moisture because I’ll be going into the climate field,” Arcuri said. “So I feel like it’s really important as an undergraduate student to start working on research projects like this, because then undergraduates can get hands-on experience early before they go out either into grad school or into a job.”

Staff writer Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected]. 

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