DRI News & Communications

Desert Research Institute hosts annual soil conference in Las Vegas

Scientists to discuss areas of research related to environmental concerns 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 28, 2012

LAS VEGAS – Two dozen scientists will gather at the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas for an informal discussion on cutting edge soil-related research in the United States as part of the W2188 Multi-State Research Project. The conference title this year is “Characterizing Mass and Energy Transport at Different Vadose Zone Scales,” where the discussion topics will range from the role of desert soils for climate change to groundwater contamination. 

Markus Berli and Navin Twarakavi, two DRI scientists, will be hosting the conference at DRI. Berli says the conference is a chance for scientists to gather in an informal setting to discuss new ideas and develop solutions to real world problems related to soil, agriculture and the environment. 

“The great part about this conference is having world-leading experts together in one room for three days in an informal setting to exchange ideas and provide a scientific point of view,” Berli said. 

The keynote speaker this year is Dr. Bridget Scanlon, the Program Director and Senior Research Scientist for the Sustainable Water Resource Program in the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Scanlon’s field studies have led to influential discoveries in areas such as groundwater recharge in semiarid and arid regions, and analysis of impacts of climate variability on groundwater recharge. 

Dr. Tyson Ochsner, a scientist from Oklahoma State University and this year’s chair, says the ongoing research discussions will focus on something called the “vadose zone,” which is the zone from the land surface all the way down to the groundwater table. 

“If good quality groundwater is not too deep, it is more likely communities will use this water both for municipal and agriculture use,” Ochsner said. The vadose zone is significant he says because it acts as a “bridge” between the land surface and the groundwater table. In turn, this means it controls the groundwater quantity and quality both for water consumption such as for communities or agricultural use. 

Groundwater can only be used for consumption at the rate which it regenerates or replenishes itself. For soils in Southern Nevada, Ochsner says this regeneration rate can take decades to a hundred years or more as a result of the dry climate. For this reason, he says it makes sense the dominant water source for Southern Nevada is surface water in Lake Mead. 

Ochsner says the informal setting at this conference will give the researchers a chance to share ideas and solutions in a productive fashion. “It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas in an informal setting to improve research and ideas.”

The conference will take place at DRI Jan. 2-4 and Dr. Scanlon will speak on Thursday morning. These annual meetings are part of a larger research discussion in this field and are led by a community of scientists who specialize in the discipline of soil physics and vadose zone hydrology. 

The W2188 project meetings have taken place at DRI for about a decade and the annual meeting has occurred for more than 50 years, making it the longest multi-state project of this type in the U.S. 

**Media interviews will be available upon request**

About the Desert Research Institute: DRI, the nonprofit research campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education, strives to be the world leader in environmental sciences through the application of knowledge and technologies to improve people’s lives throughout Nevada and the world. 

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