Interdisciplinary Water Resources Research
The research track is an excellent opportunity for students to gain professional research skills with the support of world class experts in a variety of water related fields. Students bring their own research interests and, together with an advisor, go through the steps of developing a research question, mapping out the research plan, carrying out that plan, and assessing results. The track is available to both PhD students and masters students alike.
- Meetings: R-track WSSS students are required to regularly attend WSSS meetings.
- Courses: R-track WSSS students are required to complete three WSSS-approved courses. Speak to one of our Steering Committee members or our graduate intern with any questions about which courses are approved for WSSS credit.
- Advising: Students in the R-track of the WSSS program are required to meet with one member of the WSSS Steering Committee as early as possible during the fall semesters of their first and second years in the WSSS program to discuss course selection, research direction, and key challenges and opportunities.
- Research Project: R-track WSSS students are required to undertake a significant interdisciplinary water resources research project, culminating in a completed thesis, capstone project, directed study, or dissertation by the time of graduation from the WSSS program.
- Publication: R-track WSSS students are required to submit their water-based research manuscript to a refereed research journal for publication. Significant effort to make the manuscript publishable is emphasized, although acceptance into the journal is not required.
- Presentation: R-track WSSS students are required to present their water-based research at a significant national or international conference or at the annual WSSS symposium. Partial funding in support of such a conference presentation may be provided by the WSSS program.
Look at excellent research projects that have come from previous WSSS research-track students.
Potential Research Topic:
Students enrolled in the research (R) track of the program and our WSSS Research Fellows will complete independent research in one or more of these areas. In view of the interdisciplinary mission of the WSSS program, we recognize that these areas are deeply connected to one another, and research projects often support the goals of two or more topics.
(1) Water, Climate, and Environmental Change
Water supply, instream flows, river and coastal flood management, waste assimilation, and other uses are affected by long-term climate and environmental change and by the adaptation policies to respond to their impacts. Some current and recent research includes:
- The impacts of climate change on flow regimes in the United States and elsewhere, and indicators of the impacts of climate change.
- The adaptation of metropolitan water supply and other infrastructure to climate change.
- The impacts of uncertain population growth, climate change, and transboundary issues on water supply in the Middle East.
- The use of remote sensing to study the influence of socio-economic activities on the environment.
- Distinguishing natural fluctuations in precipitation from anthropogenic or external effects.
- Socio-economic impacts of sea level rise and increased river flooding in the northeastern United States.
- Managing impacts of climate variability and change on socio-economic and biophysical activities in New England.
(2) Water and Public Health
Water and public health are intimately related, and integrative scientific, economic and policy analyses are routinely made in public health. In the fall of 2004, the WSSS program received a $1 million, 5 year grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund Ph.D. students in the area of Water and Health. Some current and recent research includes:
- The linkage between climate variability and change, and endemic and epidemic diseases in the United States.
- Relationships among watershed ecosystems, animal life, and human health, particularly by examining heavy metals in the environment and the sharing of water supplies.
- Integrative system-wide studies in the developed and developing world which link precipitation, streamflow, climate, ecosystem integrity, agricultural chemical and animal pathogen contamination, food security, socio-economic characteristics, and health in the populations drinking the water.
- The explicit incorporation of health and livelihood objectives into large scale water resources planning in Africa and other regions.
- Sources of arsenic in Bangladesh and the relationship between arsenic poisoning and susceptibility to other waterborne diseases in Bangladesh.
- Using improved water resources operational management and design to help control schistosomiasis, malaria, and other water-related diseases in African watersheds.
- Study on enteric viruses, bacteria and protozoa by the Medical and Veterinary Schools.
(3) Water Pollution and Remediation Science
Because of the complexity of the interactions of biophysical factors influencing groundwater, surface water, and sediment pollution and remediation, research must include multidisciplinary scientific approaches. Examples of multidisciplinary research efforts and projects include:
- Research at the Tufts Integrated Multiphase Environmental Systems (IMPES) laboratory includes efficient recovery of entrapped DNAPL mass from contaminated source zones, quantification of uncertainty in field-scale contaminant mass flux estimates, microbial transport and contaminant transformation in subsurface media, and the use of permeable reactive barriers for the removal of heavy metals from ground water.
- The surface water modeling group conducts research to build computer models of the complex hydraulic, chemical, and biological processes that govern the fate and transport of surface water pollutants. For example, they are developing user-friendly software to support management of rivers and streams subject to such threats as oxygen depletion, excessive plant growth and bacterial contamination.
- Modeling and exploitation of bioemulsifier systems to promote bioremediation and to improve the overall quality of contaminated groundwater and soils.
- Urban watershed remediation, including study of arsenic cycling in lakes, fluorescent fingerprinting of organic contamination in water, and field sampling and laboratory experiments to deepen understanding of the mechanisms controlling contaminant fate and transport.
(4) Watershed Management
Human activity creates an unavoidable impact on watersheds, including lakes and rivers that may be hidden in the urban environment. Tools for balancing the needs of human and natural systems are key to long-term sustainability of watersheds. Examples of current or recent research include:
- Decision Support Systems (DSS) to manage watershed nutrient loads in urban watersheds, supply and demand in stressed watersheds, and septage.
New algorithms to estimate and model precipitation, soil and hydraulic properties, and evapotranspiration using multi-sensor remote sensing data and novel modeling techniques.
- The integration of environmental justice and sustainable communities into DSSs.
- The importance of vernal pools and upland forests for amphibians.
- The restoration of urban river channels to enhance animal habitat while simultaneously improving flood carrying capacity and instream flow characteristics.
- Watershed management in Central America to protect coastal resources and coral reefs.
(5) Water, Food and Livelihood Security
Water availability, access, and use affect agricultural production, other income-generating activities, and household livelihood security. Risks to these elements of water security can be reduced. Research efforts include:
- The Feinstein International Center at Tufts studies livelihoods at risk in crisis-affected and marginalized communities. It aims to understand the interplay of biophysical, socio-economic, and conflict-induced stresses, famine, and forced-displacement.
- Water resources play a large role in understanding these relationships.
- Increasing the use of seasonal climate forecasting in different regions of the world to minimize livelihood vulnerability
- Relationships between water insecurity, environmental stresses, livelihoods, poverty, and sustainability in developing countries.
- Promotion of health and hygiene interventions and the study of their impact on health and social well-being of women and children.
- Research on how immigrant farmers from South Asia and Africa re-engage in farming in metro Boston.
(6) Water and National and International Security
Because its strong importance to all human activities, water requires special protection from targeted human threats. Here we have strong research programs in the specific areas of sensor development, basic science in human pathogens, and policy analysis. Those efforts include:
- Development of fiber optical chemical sensors to continuously measure concentration changes of various components of biological and environmental samples. This is a major area of investigation at Tufts.
- Study of ways to detect, identify, and treat diseases terrorists could use to pollute the nation’s food and water supply. Tufts is one of six centers designated within the Food and Waterborne Disease Integrated Research Network (FWD IRN) as part of a seven-year contract from the National Institutes of Health. The research focuses on 13 microorganisms—including salmonella, E. coli O157H7, tularemia, and the Norwalk virus—that could be used to infect large numbers of people and animals.
- Research into water as source of cooperation at both the local and transboundary scales. Because water is such a vital resource, negotiation over its allocation actually can bring together apparent adversaries to not only resolve water issues but also to cooperate on other environmental, social, economic, political and security matters.