A FAMU-FSU College of Engineering researcher is exploring how the changes people make to the land through farming and development affect the planet’s climate.
Gang Chen, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, received a $1.18 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine the larger question of how to keep the Earth sustainable for generations to come.
“For example, how does deforestation affect the amount of rain in an area? How can you adapt areas that are prone to flood? These are major challenges,” Chen said.
Researchers hope answering questions like these may also aid a long-term goal of the project, which is to enhance the resilience of the food supply chain, while minimizing negative environmental, social and economic impacts.
To tackle this problem, Chen will lead a team of experts throughout the country, including Aavudai Anandhi Swamy, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological system engineering at Florida A&M University. He will also work with environmental engineers, agricultural and biological system engineers, chemists, economists and forestry experts to collectively address this complex issue.
To conduct a study like this, researchers use data such as water quantity and quality, air quality, soil property, soil usage, climate (such as weather and precipitation) and hydrology measures from many federal agencies, like the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service.
The wealth of data from the study should prove helpful for water managers, farmers, agricultural producers and many other stakeholders.
“The result of our preliminary research found that there was a lot of data available,” Chen said. “But few studies looked at the vulnerability aspects of this problem — whether the agricultural system will be impacted to the level that it may lose resilience in response to events such as climate change. So we are focusing on vulnerabilities using specific models.”
Chen is the project’s principal investigator. He will oversee the entire project and will collect and manipulate water quantity and water and air quality data using watershed models. The results of his work will serve as input for Swamy’s vulnerability model. The final results from the vulnerability model will guide decision making.
Swamy has established several models to expose whether an agricultural system is stressed. As an agricultural and biological system engineer, she works with water and plants and looks at how they adapt to change. She has developed two conceptual models for developing adaptation strategies for agriculture and for assessing changes in water resources.
The issues are complicated, Chen said. For example, sometimes the needs of farmers to produce food are at odds with good environmental policy.
“Finding solutions and balance in a problem like this can be very difficult to solve,” Chen said. “When we give our assessments we want our metrics to consider the whole picture.”