Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles highlighting the summer research activities of Michigan State University doctoral students, funded in part by ESPP’s Summer Research Fellowship program. To learn more about the program, go to http://www.espp.msu.edu/research/Summer_fellowship_2018-final2.pdf
Zach Curtis is in his final year of his PhD study in Environmental Engineering at MSU. This summer, he is both developing and testing different methods for modeling complex human-groundwater systems in hopes of understanding water sustainability. In particular, he hopes to understand water sustainability in Michigan and in the Great Lakes region.
His research investigates a serious yet relatively unknown problem for Michigan called “brine upwelling.” Brine upwelling is where salt water (which is unfit for human consumption and for agricultural purposes) is pushing up towards the surface and pushing out the freshwater in low-lying areas that is fit for human consumption. Salt water also has the ability to be detrimental to both the environment and the fragile ecosystems that are dependent on groundwater.
Curtis wants to be able to predict both accurate and operational changes via a simulation of a larger groundwater system due to both climate change and human activity by estimating the pumping levels at different locations, for different types of wells, and at different times in the future.
“This is actually the continuation of a previous 4 year study of groundwater sustainability in southern Michigan which included several analyses of both quantity and quality of the groundwater,” Curtis said.
Curtis’ adviser, Shu-Guang Li, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, believes that Curtis’ research is the first step in water sustainability for Michigan.
“Zach’s dissertation research represents the first, holistic, system-based investigation to characterize, across multiple scales, the integrated groundwater quantity and quality dynamics associated with the brine upwelling process.”