Dr. Fred Ogden makes it rain – in the middle of Panama. Ogden and his team spray around two feet of water from their contraption onto a test site over the course of an afternoon. And then they wait. Dr. Ogden’s work on this site will be used in the creation of a computer simulation, as a part of the NCAR Supercomputer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ogden and his team work with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and various universities. Ogden says: “I’m doing some of the coolest research of my life right now, and I love every moment.”
Once the sprinklers distribute water, Ogden’s team of researchers wait and see how much is taken up by plant roots and how much is run off. In some areas, all two feet of water runs off due to the lack of plants.
Generally speaking, under the surface of forested land lies a complex web of tunnels and space for the water to trickle down and eventually for the roots soak up.
Treeless environments do the opposite. Water typically runs off since soils do not retain nearly as much as wooded areas.
This theory is known as the sponge hypothesis: forests act like sponges and soak up a considerable amount of water, whereas grassy vegetative environments cannot take in as much, resulting in runoff.
Next they compare infiltration rates at various sites. Ogden tested approximately seven sites so far but hopes to complete twenty more for more data. A wide range of data from various vegetative sites will make a well-rounded computer simulator.
Cool, But Why Panama?
It can be difficult to find the connections between Wyoming and Panama, one is dry and arid (Wyoming) while the other is humid and wet (Panama).
Dr. Ogden loves working in Panama for several reasons:
- Relations between the U.S. and Panama are great – Panama likes America and our scientists (and we like Panama), which helps eliminate difficulties for research.
- Panama uses the U.S. Dollar – While this might not seem to be a huge contributing factor, it is nice to share the same currency and not worry about inflation and converting large amounts of money.
- Smithsonian Tropical Institute – The Smithsonian has rights to lots of land in rural Panama. This means American and Panamanian scientists can work on these sites and utilize the Smithsonian’s equipment and resources. The Smithsonian and the sites in Panama contain high quality data that dates back about 100 years.
- Panama’s sites are reclaimed land – Ogden’s work looks at the effects of reclamation on overall water supply and infiltration rates. The sites are former subsistence farms being reclaimed back to wooded land.
These reasons, especially the last one, make Panama an excellent research area.
Application to Wyoming and the University of Wyoming
Ogden will take his research in Panama and use it to build a computer model. This model will be able to replicate water infiltration rates in different vegetative zones. He can apply the model to reclaimed land areas in Wyoming and look at the effects on the water supply.
Weirs are used in measuring flow levels in streams. If there are low infiltration levels, the weirs should, in theory, notice the change.
The overarching goal of Ogden’s research is to look for changes over different time periods, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc. and notice patterns and differences.
Ogden’s model and simulator will work via the NWSC Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne.