OSU researcher making most of available water for bioenergy production
Adaptability is the name of the game for agricultural producers in the state of Oklahoma. Recently, adopting various practices to deal with drought conditions has been of the utmost importance.
However, as the state continues efforts to develop a bioenergy industry as well, researchers at Oklahoma State University have been trying to help with some solutions.
“The mission of my research program is to help people better understand and appreciate the soil, the soil water balance and the surface energy balance so that we can more wisely manage and conserve the land and water with which we have been entrusted,” said Tyson Ochsner, assistant professor of applied soil physics in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
He believes existing agricultural data holds answers to many of the drought-related questions faced by Oklahomans.
“Our primary research focus is on multi-scale soil moisture monitoring and improved utilization of soil moisture data in agriculture, meteorology, environmental modeling and drought adaptation,” he said.
As a faculty member of OSU’s Biobased Products and Energy Center, Ochsner and his team are studying the potential two-way interactions between bioenergy cropping systems and water resources.
“Our research examines how bioenergy crop productivity is constrained by water availability and also how water use by bioenergy cropping systems may impact watershed hydrology,” he said. “We use a device called a neutron probe to monitor soil water content in the root zone under various bioenergy cropping systems.”
This neutron probe allows researchers to see the rate at which the crops are depleting the soil moisture and the specific depths from which the moisture is being withdrawn as the season progresses.
“We also measure other water balance components including interception of rainfall by the vegetation and residue and evaporation of water from the soil surface itself,” Ochsner said. “These loss pathways are important in understanding the system level water use efficiency of bioenergy cropping systems.”
The Department of Energy and United States Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Research and Development Initiative funds this research. As the state develops into a major player in the bioenergy world, this research could prove vital to its success.
“Our work would inform the development of that industry, highlighting strategies to design and place bioenergy cropping systems in a manner that makes optimal use of available precipitation while minimizing negative impacts on water availability for other uses,” Ochsner said.