Tracking water from plants to people
Princeton engineers are helping farmers and herders who live in a semi-arid region of Kenya develop sustainable land management practices. Led by Kelly Caylor, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, the researchers are studying how water shapes the environment and society and are establishing an observatory to track the movements of water through the air, rivers and soil. “Water is a scarce resource in this part of Africa,” said Caylor. “It’s important that we understand the hydrology so people can keep using these landscapes.”
This spring the National Science Foundation awarded Caylor a $1.5 million Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant to use laser-based sensors to study how vegetation in the region transports water from the soil into the atmosphere. The lasers allow the researchers to determine how much water in the air evaporates directly from the soil and how much evaporates from the leaves of plants. “We plan to set up an observatory that can track this for years,” he said. “This allows us to use new technologies to study the how the ecology—the role of plants specifically—relates to the hydrology, the movement of water.