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Intensively managed landscapes encompass agricultural, urban, and natural environments where human modifications of the landscapes intersect with the natural legacies of the land.

Artificial surface and subsurface drainage systems in the agricultural Midwest have altered the natural patterns of water storage and residence times and the magnitudes of water flow.

Overview. Intensively managed landscapes, regions of significant land use change, serve as sources of economic prosperity. However, the intensity of land use change is responsible for unintended deterioration of our land and water environments. The Intensively Managed Landscapes-Critical Zone Observatory (IML-CZO) aims to understand the present-day dynamics of this change in the context of long-term natural coevolution of the landscape, soil, and biota. The CZO will enable us to assess the short- and long-term resilience of the crucial ecological, hydrological, and climatic “services” provided by the Critical Zone, the “skin” of the earth that extends from the treetops to the bedrock. An observational network of three sites in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota that capture the geological diversity of the low-relief, glaciated, and tile-drained landscape will allow for novel scientific and technological advances in understanding the Critical Zone. The IML-CZO will also provide leadership in developing the next generation of scientists and practitioners and in advancing management strategies aimed at reducing the vulnerability of the system to present and emerging trends in human activities.

Loess underlain by glacial outwash provides a rich, productive soil in the region.

Study Sites. The IML-CZO includes two core sites—the 3,690-km2 Upper Sangamon River Basin in Illinois and the 270-km2 Clear Creek Watershed in Iowa—and a third participating site, the 44,000-km2 Minnesota River Basin. These three sites, all characterized by low-relief landscapes with poorly drained soils, represent the broad range of physiographic variations found throughout the glaciated Midwest, and thereby provide an opportunity to advance understanding of the Critical Zone in this important region.

Focal Science Questions. Through novel measurements, analysis, and modeling, the IML-CZO Program aims to address the following questions:

  • How do different time scales of geologic evolution and anthropogenic (human) influence interact to determine the trajectory of Critical Zone structure and function?
  • How is the coevolution of biota (both vegetation and microbes) and the soil affected by intensive management?
  • How have the natural dynamic patterns of heterogeneity and connectivity across transition zones been changed by anthropogenic impacts?
  • How do these changes affect the residence times and aggregate fluxes of water, carbon, nutrients, and sediment?
Observations. Members of the IML-CZO team are using historical data, existing observational networks, new instrumentation, remote sensing, sampling and laboratory analyses, and novel sensing technologies (e.g., open source hardware and unmanned vehicles) to study a number of variables related to climate and weather, hydrology, geology, geomorphology, soils, water chemistry, biogeochemistry, ecology, and land management.

Facilities such as the Watershed Experimental Station in Amana, Iowa, operated by researchers from the University of Iowa, provide unique opportunities for Critical Zone studies.

Education and Public Engagement. A primary aim of the IML-CZO Project is to engage a broad spectrum of students at the elementary, middle school, high school and college levels and the general public. These aims will be accomplished through educational programs, student internships, professional development programs, field tours and exhibitions, speaking opportunities at public events and gatherings, and partnerships with volunteers groups and nongovernmental organizations. Partners in this effort include several state agencies in Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota, including the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (East Alton, IL), the Partnership for River Restoration and Science in the Upper Midwest, the Science Museum of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN), and the Agricultural Watershed Institute (Decatur, IL).

Partnership. The IML-CZO Program is a joint effort by a growing team of faculty and scientists from several institutions, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Iowa, Purdue University, Northwestern University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Minnesota, Utah State University, the University of Tennessee, the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the U.S. Geological Survey. For a list of individuals see Partners.

For further information please contact:

Professor Praveen Kumar (Director), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (e-mail: kumar1@illinois.edu; phone: +1-217-333-4688)

Professor Thanos Papanicolaou (Co-director),  Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Tennessee (e-mail: tpapanic@utk.edu; phone: +1-865-974-7836)

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