W&L Professor Receives Two-Year Grant from the USDA Forest Service to Perform Data Analysis and Modeling on Water Quality Robert Humston will assess over 30 years of data collected by the U.S. Forest Service within the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests.
Robert Humston, John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology at Washington and Lee University, has been selected to receive a $10,500 two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service to study stream water quality in the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests.
Humston’s research project, “Forest Stream Data Analysis and Modeling,” involves analyzing more than 30 years of stream water quality data that the U.S. Forest Service has collected in the two popular national forests that exist primarily in the western portion of Virginia. The dataset focuses on physical, chemical and biological measures of the water quality collected throughout the forests, and includes data on stream temperature, water chemistry (such as P.H. levels) and macroinvertebrate communities in the streams.
“They have asked me to provide a synoptic review of the data and describe any trends in these streams over that period,” said Humston. “A key objective is to look for changes that could be resulting from adjustments in management practices, land use, climate, etc. Likewise, it is intended to support proactive management of these ecosystems by identifying areas that might be trending toward low-quality conditions.”
Humston plans to begin the project in the spring of 2024 and is hopeful to use a sabbatical leave for the 2024-25 academic year to complete the work. He will work closely with the USDA Forest Service biologists to frame the data analysis, while conducting his own analytical work with assistance from W&L students.
“I love data analysis projects, so I am excited about working with the Forest Service biologists to dig into this massive dataset,” said Humston. “It will allow me to expand my own skills, incorporating fairly new statistical modeling approaches such as spatial statistical modeling on stream networks to predict water quality in areas that are not sampled. This will open opportunities for our students, and it will be great to support and contribute towards the agency’s efforts to conserve and manage our amazing forest and ecosystems in Virginia.”
Humston has been a member of the W&L faculty since 2008, conducting numerous research projects involving Virginia watersheds. He holds bachelor’s degrees in biology and English from Bowdoin College, and a doctorate in marine biology and fisheries from the University of Miami.
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