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Challenges and opportunities to modelling and measuring mass and energy exchanges at the land-atmosphere interface – interweaving experimental and modeling approaches

October 25, 2019 | 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Nedderman Hall 106 | Seminar Flyer

Seminar Speaker

Kathleen Smits, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Civil Engineering Department, The University of Texas at Arlington


Projections suggest that the extent of arid or semi-arid regions, which currently cover about ½ of the land surface will continue to expand globally, thus increasing our demand for limited water resources.  Even though decades of research have improved our understanding of mass and energy exchanges in these regions, many knowledge gaps still exist due to the complexity of the problem in field scenarios and the scarcity of field or laboratory data capable of testing and refining energy and mass transfer theories. Existing studies show numerical and experimental discrepancies in the flux behavior and soil water distribution in soils at various scales, driving us to revisit the key process representation. In this work, we investigated different physical processes that are often overlooked in models of flux exchange and how these processes may become significant in modeling arid and semi-arid environments. This presentation takes a critical look at how the shallow subsurface and the atmosphere interact, shedding light on a few key surface and subsurface processes that control water movement and availability: linkages between changes in evaporation and subsurface water, water movement in multiple directions and the role of surface structure and turbulence. The research discussed in this talk encompasses an integration of experimental investigations involving test systems under a hierarchy of scales and improved models.


Dr. Kathleen (Kate) Smits is an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. She served as a civil engineer in the U.S. Air Force from 1999-2007 and on the faculty of the U.S. Air Force Academy and later at the Colorado School of Mines from 2004- 2018.  Her research interests are focused on shallow subsurface multiphase processes affected by flux dynamics at the land/atmosphere interface.  The motivation to Smits’ research group is to answer questions applied to many current and emerging problems such as greenhouse gas emissions, evapotranspiration, agricultural yields, the remediation of contaminated soil, and the storage of renewable energy. Kate is the science communication editor of Vadose Zone Journal.  She earned her B.S. in environmental engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, M.S. in Civil Engineering Water Resources from the University of Texas, Austin, and PhD in environmental science and engineering from Colorado School of Mines.