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Idaho State University Gibson Jack Creek RNA study on how plants process water has implications for climate change, water management

A solar panel sits near the top of a Douglas Fir tree about 70 feet off the ground somewhere on a steep ridge near Gibson Jack Creek, miles from the nearest trailhead.

“You know those things you enjoy as a child sometimes have applications afterwards,” said John Whiting, an Idaho State University geosciences master’s student, who has accompanied a group of ISU researchers to a study site where he climbed the tree and installed the solar panel about a year ago.

“I usually do the tree climbing, because I am most comfortable with it,” Whiting continued, “I am relatively safe and I usually use a harness, but Sarah doesn’t even like watching me install them.”

He was referring to Sarah Godsey, an ISU geosciences assistant professor who is leading the study at U.S. Forest Service’s Gibson Jack Research Natural Area. In part, the study is one of the many facets of the National Science Foundations Managing Idaho’s Landscapes for Ecosystems Services (MILES) project that encompasses large regions of Idaho, focusing on the Portneuf, Boise and Coeur d’Alene River watersheds. Gibson Jack Creek is a tributary of the Portneuf River.

The solar panel, along with some batteries that work when the panel isn’t producing energy, help power a variety of sensors that are set up in surrounding trees. These trees each feature ISU-crafted sap-flow sensors (made in part by hypodermic needles that are inserted into the sides of the trees) and the site also includes sensors that measure soil moisture, temperature, relative humidity and photosynthetically-activate radiation, or how much sunlight is available for trees to use.

There are a network of data cables from all of these sensors that lead into a protected plastic box hanging on the tree, where data is collected in a data logger, which is small device researchers can connect laptop computer to and download data.

Sarah Godsey, left, an ISU geosciences assistant professor, and student Dylan Refaey working on equipment at research sites that help measure plant transpiration rates.

Sarah Godsey, left, an ISU geosciences assistant professor, and student Dylan Refaey working on equipment at research sites that help measure plant transpiration rates.

“The MILES grant covers ecosystems services, which is such a broad term, for all the benefits we get from the environment around us that we don’t pay for,” Godsey said. “In this particular part of the MILES project, we are looking at Gibson Jack and plant water use. We want to know how that can relate to stream flow and water quality.”

The researchers here are checking the water transpiration rates of the Douglas Fir trees, measuring the amount of water released by the trees into the air.

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Idaho State University Geoscientists Study Volcano Plumes

Work has Applications for Calbuco eruptions

April 28, 2015

Released by Idaho State University
Contact: Shannon Kobs Nawotniak, geosciences assistant professor, 282-4634,

POCATELLO – In the morning on April 23, Idaho State University volcanologists were setting off an artificial volcanic eruption plume in a the ISU Volcanic Simulation Laboratory; later that day, using the knowledge they collected in that lab, these scientists were analyzing Chile’s Calbuco volcano eruption, charting the plume’s characteristics.

150423_VolcanoResearch_MeganFisher_004-1ISU geosciences assistant professor Shannon Kobs Nawotniak and geosciences Ph.D. student Meghan Fisher have developed methods of understanding how volcanic eruption plumes behave, using an eruption simulation tank in the lab located in the lower level of the ISU Physical Science Building.

“This research is all about using tamed, captured, artificial plumes and to understand this process so we can understand what is happening in the real world plumes,” Nawotniak said. “Understanding how the ash is mixing with the air is critical and determines if the ash raises up into the atmosphere and becomes a hazard for aviation, or (the plume) collapses down a valley and harms people.”

Fisher and Nawotniak simulate volcano eruptions by “erupting” colored water and sometimes debris in a tank of water that has a scaled grid on its back wall, and measure and film the results. The information they’ve learned and software they have developed from the tank activities they now use to analyze video of actual volcanic eruption plumes filmed and posted on social media. Hours after Calbuco exploded yesterday, April 23, they had completed an analysis of the volcano plume using video of the eruption.

150423_VolcanoResearch_MeganFisher_006“But understanding how that mixing occurs in the lab, we can now get live data from an eruption that we can use for hazard analysis to keep people safe,” Fisher said. “I am using our tamed volcanoes to understand mixing and create tools we are applying on real volcanoes.”

Fisher, who has worked on this project three years, said it has been a fun and interesting project, helping to create the lab and analyzing test results.

“I’ve learned a lot of things, like learning about high-pressure plumbing, I never thought I’d learn earning a Ph.D.,” Fisher said.

Nawotniak described ISU’s Volcanic Simulation Laboratory as “one of the première eruption tank, simulation facility in the United States.”  She also noted that the researchers are creating a tool that will be accessible to general users and not just to scientists.

“We got into volcanology because we like things that explode,” Nawotniak joked. “It’s good to use that fascination to be able to drive research that can help with communications to keep people safe.”


ISU Receives $179,000 IGEM Grant for Project with J.R. Simplot Company to Use Unmanned Aircraft Systems Sensors to Expand Ag Market Opportunities

April 22, 2015

Released by Idaho State University
Contact: Donna Delparte, 282-4419 or

POCATELLO – Idaho State University received a $179,000 grant from the state’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) to pursue a project with the J.R. Simplot Company to use unmanned aircraft sensors (UAS) to improve agricultural field productivity and grower profitability.

“The key competitive advantages of this project are high-resolution, high-speed imaging and analysis compared to other systems,” said Donna Delparte, ISU assistant professor of geosciences.  “We will develop processes and algorithms to enhance UAS-based remote sensing data in ways that improve profitability and sustainability for growers.”

UASPhoto1IGEM’s mission is to create new enterprises and high-paying, knowledge-based economy jobs by increasing strategic areas of research and development through targeted partnerships among industry, higher education and government that leverage new and existing resources.

The official title of the project is “Expanding Precision Agriculture Market Opportunities with Unmanned Aircraft System Sensors.”

J.R Simplot Co. roles and responsibilities for the project include in-kind contributions including grower and industry relations, field scouting, soil mapping, tissue collection and sampling, and agronomic consulting.

“The J.R. Simplot Company and Idaho State University partnership plans to be at the forefront of this transformative moment in history to conduct research using UAS sensors to improve agricultural field productivity and grower profitability,” said Allan Fetters, director of technology at J.R. Simplot Company.

The ISU Department of Geosciences roles and responsibilities are in Geographic Information System (GIS), UAS and remote sensing expertise, data collection, processing and analysis.

UASPhoto2The ISU College of Technology will provide electronic and mechanical support services including the design and maintenance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), communications and control systems, development and testing of sensors, and maintenance and repair of power systems.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International claims in their 2013 report that the economic impact of the UAS industry could be $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2018 with 103,776 new jobs created by 2025. Agriculture is anticipated to be the largest growth sector. In Idaho alone there are more than 3 million acres of irrigated croplands.

“ISU can exploit its advantage in UAS and spectral image processing to accelerate development of a new system,” said Scott Rasmussen, dean of the ISU College of Technology. “Thus, ISU and Simplot have penetrated a niche area with enormous potential. Funding through IGEM will leverage our current investment to position Idaho as a national leader in UAS applications for precision agriculture.”



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