KU Engineering professor wins NSF CAREER Award for water resources research

LAWRENCE — Research conducted by an assistant professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering at the University of Kansas that examines how humans have and will affect natural water systems was awarded a five-year, $609,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Admin Husic

Admin Husic is the recipient of an NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) award for his efforts to document and share what he describes as “dynamic connectivity: a research and educational frontier for sustainable environmental management under climate and land use uncertainty.”

Husic is working to understand how landscapes adjust as they direct water — and the sediment and nutrients that it carries — to rivers. If efforts to manage shared water resources are to be successful, he said, it will be critical to understand the role that humans play in affecting such timeless connections.

He sees two questions driving the work: “How have humans changed the landscapes around us for the worse, and how are we able to manage them for the better?”

“Water is such a basic necessity — not just for humans but for all living things on Earth,” Husic said. “However, in many places throughout the world, water is often lacking — either in its quantity or quality. I’m motivated by a desire to ensure its availability and safety for people.”

CAREER awards are considered among the NSF’s most prestigious, given annually to about 500 early-career faculty with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. NSF expects recipients’ activities to build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Husic’s work aims to bring a new, dynamic approach to traditionally qualitative, static assessments of the connectivity of hydrologic systems throughout the United States. His team will look back in time and leverage high-frequency aquatic sensors for nitrate and turbidity in more than 150 rivers, using the data to train a deep learning model. Dynamic connectivity will be expressed through mathematics, revealing dominant pathways of connection. Machine learning will link how attributes of the landscape affect river quality, and a web application will help determine the potential for using dynamic connectivity as a management tool.

“This work will provide us with a set of predictive tools that will indicate where, when and how water quality is deteriorated,” Husic said, noting that the work will attempt to answer a number of critical questions. Among them: “Can dynamic landscape connectivity be strategically managed to confer ecosystem benefits while maintaining societal demands?”

Husic, who joined the KU faculty in 2018, leads a research lab of undergraduate and graduate students developing models and systems that can be used to train the next generation of engineers and policymakers “to be good stewards,” he said, of humanity’s shared and changing human-environment systems.

“The CAREER award will act as a springboard for achieving our lab’s goals and will set us up for success — not only in the next five years, but for the decades to come as land use and climate change intensify and bring new water challenges,” Husic said.

Fri, 04/05/2024


Cody Howard

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Cody Howard

School of Engineering