Friday, July 10, 2015

Water for life: the study of the network of interactions in the hydrological cycle and their effects

I wrote several time what I do. The following is the translation is the synthesis I prepared recently for high school students, hoping to fascinate them and drive them to the study of hydrology.  

My research consists in determining hydrological fluxes, from the sky to the earth, and again to the sky. In its flow, water sculpts earth surface, feeds life, sustains the ecosystems complexity, and is at the core of many economic activities.  The quantification of  water fluxes  is not trivial at all. It requires the use of sophisticated mathematics and implies a great variety of measures. By myself I make computer models. 

It would be a mistake to believe that the physical/mathematica details  of the hydrological cycle are known. All the hydrological cycle is ignited by sun’s radiation  which provides  the energy transformed in the hydrosphere in other forms and never trivially, by very complex dissipative structures.
Among  these: river networks, “lines” which cover (drain)  entire surfaces; vegetation, and plants which eat photons to fix carbon in their structures (from atmospheric C02) and produce oxygen  (from H20) using photosynthesis. My research focus in following water interactions through models.

With my collaborators, I developed two models: GEOtop and Jgrass-NewAGE.  
The first is a hyper-resolution model: it partitions a catchment with a grid cells of a few meters side and on this grid mathematically treats radiation, infiltration, evaporation, transpiration, rain and snow fall, snow metamorphism, soil freezing, and runoff production. All this complexity is not an end in itself, but is deemed necessary to understand local hydrological phenomena as soil moisture distribution, or shallow landslides triggering.
The second model instead tries to give answers at catchment scale, averaging out hydrological quantities, but without loosing the necessary and relevant information.  JGrass-NewAGE is used to understand what happens in medium rivers, as Adige, to large river basins, as Blue Nile: it also helps in understanding how hydrology affects and is affected by the climate crisis. 
Informatics has an important role in my research. JGrass-NewAGE,  more than a model is a modelling system, based on sophisticated informatics suitably developed to build environmental models and to make easier the interactions among researchers. 

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