May 18, 2011 by Trina Wafle, National Research Center for Coal and Energy
Morgantown, W.Va. — A West Virginia University assistant professor’s curiosity about the causes for damaging
floods has attracted a key research award from a major national consortium of research universities.
Nicolas Zegre is a second-year assistant professor in the Davis College of Forestry, Natural Resources and Design. His work studying forest and catchment hydrology was recently recognized with a 2011 Ralph E. Powe Jr. Faculty Enhancement Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
The ORAU award provides seed money for research by junior faculty at ORAU member institutions with the goal of enriching their research and professional growth. The award is also intended to enable additional funding opportunities for future research. WVU has been a member of ORAU since 1957.
ORAU is a 98-member consortium of major Ph.D.–granting academic institutions that works to cultivate collaborative partnerships enhancing scientific research. The consortium has a strategic partnership with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Zegre explained that he is searching for specific causes of flooding by tracking the length of time that rainfall is retained by a selected watershed in southern West Virginia where a major flood occurred in 2001.
“From a chemistry point of view, each rainfall event has a unique isotopic signature of oxygen and hydrogen,” Zegre said. “The ratios are like fingerprints.”
By analyzing those unique isotopic signatures Zegre can determine how long it takes a specific rainfall to reach specific point in the watershed.
“We collect samples of rain and test them to find the ratios,” Zegre said. “Then we sample the water downstream in the watershed and analyze for the ratios. When the ratios match, I can determine how long it has taken for the rainfall to reach that point.”
Zegre’s research began under a one-year National Science Foundation award. The new Powe Award will enable him to carry the activity forward.
He expects to have preliminary results later this summer.
Joe McNeel, director of WVU’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, feels the award recognizes that Zegre “is doing some very interesting research in the field of hydrology. His work will be very important to the people and environment of West Virginia.”
Curt Peterson, WVU vice president for research and economic development, said Zegre’s research complements activities of the University’s Advanced Energy Initiative by increasing the understanding of how watersheds work.
“It is critical to know as much as we can about the way energy-related extraction activities impact the way watersheds handle rain runoff,” he said. “This work increases that knowledge base so responsible decisions can be made.”
“Dr. Zegre has a promising career ahead of him,” said Richard Bajura WVU’S ORAU Councilor and the director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at WVU. Bajura credits former NRCCE member Dr. Frank Saus for advising Zegre on his successful Powe application.
ORAU is providing $5,000 while WVU’s Office of Research and NRCCE both are providing matching funds that bring the total award to $10,000.
CONTACT: Trina Karolchik Wafle, (304) 293-6038