Research Facilities

World-class analytical and computing facilities support the Earth and Atmospheric Science Department's teaching and research programmes. Learn more about these research facilities below.


Affordable Housing Solutions Laboratory

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL) empowers citizens to innovate, co-create and develop effective local affordable housing solutions.

Using a community-based participatory approach and an equity-centered community design, we work in partnership with a diverse group of housing stakeholders to collectively generate and scale up transformational housing solutions suited to the specific needs of individuals, families and neighbourhoods in Edmonton.

Social innovation labs are spaces (not always physical) for people to come together and work on complex social challenges and come up with innovative solutions. They involve diverse stakeholders, especially those with lived experience; they are experimental (trying out new things, learning from mistakes as well as successes); and they look at problems through a systems lens to try and identify and address the root causes.

The AHSL is a civic social innovation lab, meaning that in addition to the above, our work is focused locally and is reliant on citizen participation that reflects truly diverse understandings of housing affordability and adequacy in Edmonton.

We are a space to clearly and collectively identify our local housing capacity and affordability problems, as well as co-develop creative and well-matched solutions for the public benefit. Our work is grounded in a community-based action approach and an equity-centered community design framework.

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Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis

Location: CCIS L2-305

The aim of the Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis (CCIM) is to provide Canadian and international researchers in academia, government, and industry with access to leading-edge instrumentation and research expertise in geochemistry and geochronology. CCIM is dedicated principally to research on mineral and energy resources.


CCIM encompasses 315 m2 of state-of-the-art clean room laboratories and 430 m2 of instrument space, housing:
  • Canada's only multi-collector high resolution ion microprobe;
  • six inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometers (including multicollector types);
  • one solid state and two gas (excimer) UV laser systems;
  • and six thermal ionization mass spectrometers, including the only multi-ion counting TIMS in Canada.

The CCIM team uses unique analytical instruments and lab facilities, and develops special techniques to analyse the smallest ('micro') quantities of minerals for a range of isotopes. Isotopes are powerful tracers of geological processes and history, and CCIM is here to unlock their potential in your rocks and minerals.


Established in 2008 as a University of Alberta academic centre through amalgamation of existing and planned isotope facilities, CCIM has since attracted over $28M in infrastructure investments from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Alberta Innovates (AI), the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) program, and the University of Alberta.

The Centre is also supported by extensive sample preparation and characterization facilities and machine shops.

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Canadian Ice Core Lab

Representing more than 10,000 years of evidence of changes to our climate in 1.4 kilometres of ice core samples, the Canadian Ice Core Lab (CICL) collection at the University of Alberta represents invaluable potential for researchers around the world to answer critical climate change questions. With a well-established reputation for research excellence in the Canadian north, researchers from the University of Alberta have spent decades getting to the bottom of what is happening at the top of the Earth, a region increasingly recognized for its valuable water, mineral, and energy resources. The CICL facility consists of a -36C ice core archive storage room, -25C freezer lab with ice physical processing and imaging capabilities, and a room-temperature ice core analysis lab housing a Picarro L2140-i oxygen isotope analyzer, Dionex ICS 5000 ion chromatograph, Horiba Aqualog UV-800-C Spectrofluorometer, Beckman Coulter Multisizer 4e, Zeiss petrographic microscope, and more.

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Centre for Earth Observation Sciences

Earth Observation Science plays a key role in

  • monitoring environmental changes,
  • resource management, and
  • formulating sustainable development policies.

Basic and applied research initiatives support our ability to

  • assess and monitor changes in biodiversity;
  • monitor and assess effects of forest fires;
  • enhance mineral and mining exploration;
  • monitor snow cover and land ice;
  • produce maps of land cover; and
  • provide information and support to Alberta's natural resource industries and public sector agencies that provide stewardship, set policy, and identify long-term strategy.

These research initiatives give us the ability to play a role in environmental risk mitigation through research that allows us to:

  • forecast ice jam floods during the break-up of river ice,
  • estimate snow water equivalent for modeling of watershed hydrology, and
    assess soil moisture conditions
There are three areas of science and technology that define current and future advances in these domains:
  • remote sensing, primarily through spectral and hyperspectral imaging, exploits the fact that most materials reflect light in diagnostic ways;
  • intelligent image analysis, aimed at shape and motion analysis, segmentation, physics-based modeling and animation, and image based rendering; and
  • spatio-temporal data management approaches for the co-analysis of imagery with data collected from networks of very small sensors spread over large areas of interest (e.g., forests). Both basic and applied research initiatives in these areas are well advanced at the University of Alberta.

Centre for Earth Observation Sciences investigators are part of a wide-ranging, international network of research initiatives, funded by provincial, national, and international agencies.

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Climate Adaptation and Resilience Lab (CARL)

Situated in the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP), work through CARL explores environmental resilience, and examines decision dynamics around motivational factors and extent of local planning for disaster risk reduction. Specifically, we are interested in localized environmental impacts and how they affect critical infrastructure and the built form, how this relates to planning decisions, and what this means for community well-being and safety. Research is primarily driven by key actor and local stakeholder engagement, as well as analysis of strategic planning documents. Our aim is the (co-) production of policy relevant knowledge/ outcomes, and translating theory into practice in a useful, locally informed way.

Theme 1: Climate change adaptation policy/ planning

Grounded in urban/regional planning, the overall objective of research under this theme is to explore interactions at the community scale and to understand, from a local perspective, what climate change means for those living in the communities. This involves exploring the nuanced relationship between climate impacts (eg. weak shore-fast ice, permafrost thaw, erosion, flooding, wildfire), infrastructure (eg. seawalls, roads, utilities, assets) and the built form (eg. land use, zoning), and examining governance structures around adaptation and the processes of dealing with it. For instance, what are the key climate stressors (impacts), how do these manifest on a local scale? Are local government actions anticipatory and embedded in strategic policy? Is political buy-in for action strong? What are the enabling and constraining factors? This theme is explored in Arctic communities and coastal communities in British Columbia and the Maritime provinces. 


Thematic Network on Local-scale Planning, Climate Change and Resilience (UArctic)

Theme 2: Planning/ design for resilience and community wellbeing

Research under this theme explores ways in which planners and professionals within allied design disciplines (eg. landscape architects) can proactively plan and design open space to support community resilience. A distinct focus of this theme relates to planning/ designing for seismicity, with particular attention to the role of multi-functionality, networks, site location and suitability, size and function, site elements, and social resilience. 

Current Projects

Topic: Regional planning and climate change governance/ adaptation (coastal)
Focus: Nanaimo Regional District, BC and Cape Breton Regional Municipality, NS

Topic: Local-scale climate change impacts and adaptation (remote northern community)
Focus: Dawson City, YK

Topic: Planning and Education - Are planners prepared for climate change adaptation
Focus: Municipal scale, across Canada (16 municipalities)

Topic: Arctic resilience/ planning
Focus: Planning governance

Faculty Advisor: Dr. S. Jeff Birchall

De Beers Laboratory of Diamond Research

The laboratory is equipped for the study of diamonds and their syngenetic mineral inclusions.
Equipment includes several high powered stereo and petrographic microscopes, a conventional
and a digital photomicrographic system, polishing equipment for inclusion preparation, a
diamond polishing wheel (scaife), and micro-FTIR (Thermo-Nicolet Nexus spectrometer and
Continuum infrared microscope).

Faculty Advisor: Thomas Stachel - Diamond Research Group

Environmental Economic Geology Laboratory

(1) A 1000-ft2 PC1 (Physical Containment Level 1) laboratory, consisting of two rooms that are set up for work on mineral behaviour, geomicrobiology and aqueous geochemistry.
(2) An environmental powder X-ray diffractometer laboratory (photos to be posted). We have a Bruker D8 Advance PXRD for dedicated use by our group and collaborators. This instrument is customized for (a) high throughput data acquisition using a 105-position sample changer robot and (b) in situ XRD experiments under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity using an Anton-Paar CHC+ (Cryo and Humidity Chamber).

The EEGL maintains a large suite of equipment for use in the laboratory, the field, and at synchrotron light sources. Some of the larger and fairly unique items of equipment are described below as are some of our favourite laboratory essentials. Our facility is exceptionally well equipped for laboratory-based experiments under controlled environmental conditions. We also maintain a range of field equipment for sedimentology, water sampling and analysis in both mining environments and natural landscapes.

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Fluid Inclusion Laboratory

The Fluid Inclusion Laboratory is located in Room 3-01F of the Earth Sciences Building. It is equipped with three different fluid inclusion stages and two dedicated Olympus microscopes, as well as two reflected/ransmitted light Olympus BX60 microscopes with 35mm and digital photomicrographic capabilities.

The main fluid inclusion microthermometry installation consists of a Linkam THMSG600 heating/freezing stage mounted on an Olympus BX50 microscope with a 40X SLCPlan long-working distance fluorite objective lens, 2X image magnifier, and video camera and printer. This stage is suitable for heating work to 600°C, and freezing work to -196°C; temperature is controlled to within 0.1°C by a TP93 programmable controller.

A second Olympus BX60 microscope is fitted with infrared-transparent optical components, and can be mounted with either a Linkam FTIR heating/freezing stage for study of fluid inclusions in infrared light, or a TS1500 high-temperature stage for heating work up to 1500°C. The stages are controlled by a TMS94 programmable controller. An Electrophysics 7290A Micronviewer infrared camera provides images of fluid inclusions present in minerals transparent to infrared light but opaque to normal visible light. Such minerals include sphalerite, wolframite, tetrahedrite, tennantite, molybdenite, hematite, and pyrite. The high-temperature stage enables study of fluid and melt inclusions from magmatic hydrothermal ore deposits and igneous rocks.

Glacier Hydrochemistry Laboratory

The Glacier Hydrochemistry Chemistry Laboratory is located in 2-250 in the CCIS Building. The laboratory consists of a walk-in freezer equipped for the cutting and viewing of ice cores, and a semi-clean analytical facility dedicated to the analysis of major ions and total organic carbon on samples of snow, glacier ice, and glacial meltwater in which solute concentrations are typically very low. The laboratory houses a HEPA filtered laminar flow hood and fume hood, Dionex 500 and 600 ion chromatographs (dedicated to analysis of cations and anions respectively) and a Shimadzu TOC5000a organic carbon analyzer with solids module. It is also equipped with an autoclave and balances. Data produced in the laboratory are used in investigations of glacier mass balance, weathering processes, carbon cycling and contaminant behaviour in Arctic and alpine glacier systems. We also have a dedicated clean (Class 1000) laboratory with a Class 100 clean cold room and a separate walk-in ice core storage facility.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Martin Sharp

High Temperature Planetary Petrology Laboratory

The High Temperature Planetary Petrology Laboratory, located in ESB B-14, is run by Dr. Chris Herd. The facility operates three one-atmosphere, CO/CO2 gas mixing furnaces in total: two GERO furnaces with a maximum temperature of 1700 °C; and one Deltech furnace with a maximum temperature of 1600 °C. Oxygen fugacity is controlled by an external ZrO2 sensor located in a reference furnace; a configuration which allows for greater efficiency in experimental setup. The furnaces can be used to simulate the conditions of formation of planetary basalts and other igneous rock types, investigate minor/trace element partitioning, carry out diffusion experiments, or for mineral synthesis.

Recent experimental investigations include the crystal morphology of impact shock melt pockets in martian meteorites, the behaviour of Co and Ni partitioning in planetary basalts, and the cooling rate of mesostasis in nakhlite meteorites.

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Hydrogeology Laboratory

The Hydrogeology Group has a variety of computing platforms for numerical simulation, data processing and graphics visualization. Group dedicated machines include an IBM RS/6000 (dual processor) and two Sun Ultra workstations and about ten PCs. Computing software includes a combination of commercially available and academic research programs as needed for specific projects. These include:

  • Numerical Models: Argus-SUTRA, Basin2, BasinMOD, Flonet/trans, FRAC3DVS, GMS, InHM, Mike SHE, Rift-2D, SWANFLOW, Visual MODFLOW and VapourT;
  • Petroleum Databases: Accumap, GeoOffice;
  • Graphics & Visualization: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, AutoCad, Corel Draw and Tecplot; and
  • Mapping: ArcView, Surfer

Field Equipment:

For field-based projects, the Hydrogeology Group has a collection of meteorological instruments, vapour concentration devices, and thermistor strings. There are three field PCs, a handheld GPS and a shallow soil corer. We also have a comprehensive suite of instruments for well-head sampling from petroleum wells.

We also use additional equipment owned in cooperation and/or available from a web of collaborators within the University: neutron and density probes (Renewable Resources), motorized portable auger drill (Civil Engineering), surface water monitoring instrumentation (Biological Sciences) and a differential GPS (Geophysics). These departments also house a large number of other specialized instruments and expertise that we have access to on a project specific basis.

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Ben Rostron

Micropaleontology Laboratory

The Micropaleontology Lab is located in ESB 1-11A. The lab has state of the art microscopy and imaging equipment facilitating departmental research projects by students and faculty. A Mettler Toledo MX5 Balance on an anti-vibration table is also housed in the lab.

The lab has two Zeiss Axio Imager A1 transmitted light compound microscopes capable of polarizing, differential interference contrast (DIC), and phase contrast viewing. DIC is becoming the standard for viewing relatively transparent biological specimens and makes specimens appear 3D. The Axiovision software, associated with the microscope, documents what settings the microscope is set at when images are taken, e.g., objective power, focal depth, etc. Calibrated scale bars and annotations can be added while processing images. One of the scopes has a teaching tube attachment allowing a specimen to be viewed simultaneously by two people.

Ocean/Climate Modelling Laboratory

The Ocean/Climate Modelling Lab is located in Room 3-101 in the Tory Building. The atmospheric sciences group has developed a computational laboratory devoted to the investigation of atmospheric and oceanic climate as well as related geophysical fluid dynamical problems. At the heart of the lab are two high performance computational systems: a fully expandable Silicon Graphics Origin2000 multi-cpu server with 195MHz R10000 microprocessors; and a HP/COMPAQ M-Series rack with 2 833MHz and 3 600 MHz Alphaserver DS series cpus. An extensive archiving and backup system is used to store for analysis the output data from numerical integrations performed on these machines. Advanced graphical imaging techniques are employed to visualize the complex three-dimensional flows of the simulated atmosphere and oceans.

To support the use of the high performance workstations, the laboratory contains a suite of modern Pentium IV PCs for connecting to the workstations, as well as for local analysis and reporting tasks. A multi-media machine provides access to a scanner, a cd-burner and graphical software. Output support is provided through a colour laser printer and a Tektronic Phaser 850 solid ink colour printer.

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Andrew Bush and Dr. Paul Myers

Permafrost ArChive Science (PACS) Lab
The Permafrost ArChive Science (PACS) Lab contains ~750m of permafrost core materials and can store up to ~2.5 km of core. These materials come from Canada's northern territories and Alaska, including the oldest dated ice samples in the northern Hemisphere, dating back more than 700,000 years. These materials form the basis for understanding the engineering properties of permafrost, and past and future environmental changes in northern Canada. The PACS Lab includes outstanding analytical infrastructure including a frozen core processing facility with technical staff, dedicated industrial CT scanner, multi-sensor core logger, stable isotope analyzer for waters, particle size analyzer, dedicated clean labs for ancient DNA processing of permafrost materials from the archive.
Physical Geography Laboratory

The Physical Geography Lab is located in 3-80 in the Tory Building. This lab is a teaching facility for the department, but it also contains facilities for the analysis of grain-size properties of the coarser fractions of sediments and soils (by wet and dry sieving). The lab houses a range of instruments and equipment for routine analysis of water a nd sediment chemistry (e.g., spectrophotometers, titration equipment, pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen meters). The lab is used by graduate students, and by undergraduates taking courses in geomorphology and biogeography.

Radiogenic Isotope Facility

Location: ESB 1-03

The Radiogenic Isotope Facility (RIF) in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta features several Class 100 cleanroom (including Class 10 workstations) laboratories used for the chemical separation of various elements prior to mass spectrometer analysis. The mass spectrometer laboratory houses two thermal ionization (solid source) instruments-a Vacuum Generators VG354 and a Micromass Sector54. The facility has recently installed a NuPlasma Multi-Collector ICP Mass Spectrometer equipped with a New Wave Research UP-213 laser ablation system.

The RIF offers analyses in a wide range of isotope systems, including U-Pb geochronology on minerals such as zircon, titanite, monazite and baddeleyite, as well as Cd, Rb-Sr, Sm-Nd, Lu-Hf, Pb-Pb, and Re-Os analyses of rocks, minerals, ores and other samples. In addition, current research projects involving in-situ analyses using the laser ablation-MC-ICP-MS configuration include: Hf isotopic characterization and U-Pb dating of detrital zircon populations, Sr isotopic investigations of fossilized teeth and mantle (e.g. clinopyroxene) and magmatic minerals (e.g. perovskite), and common Pb studies of various low abundance Pb (< 1 ppm) minerals. Usage of the RIF includes local, national, and international scientific collaborators, government agencies, and commercial users.

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Robert A. Creaser and Dr. Larry M. Heaman

Rock Crushing and Mineral Separation Laboratory

The Rock Crushing and Mineral Separation Lab is located in B-05 in the Earth Sciences Building. It provides the following equipment: three rock saws (8", 14", 24"), 2 jaw crushers and a disc mill. For powdering samples prior to geochemical analysis, agate, ceramic, carbide and steel swing mills are available; and for mineral separation a Wilfley shaker table and two Frantz isodynamic separators can be used.

Graduate students must receive training before being allowed to access the equipment. The lab is only available during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm., Monday through Friday. Weekend access is not available.

Technician: Mark Labbe

Sedimentary Research Laboratory

The Sedimentary Research Lab is located in Tory 3-116. There are three computers in the lab, two printers (B&W: laser jet Hewlett Packard, and color: Minolta, laser), plus a petrographic microscope with a digital camera for taking photographs of thin sections (both Nikon). There is also equipment for magnetostratigraphy: an AF demagnetizer and a spin magnetometer.

Research techniques include outcrop and core sedimentology coupled with subsurface methods involving interpretation and correlation of well log and seismic data.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Octavian Catuneanu

Selfrag Laboratory

The SELFRAG Laboratory uses a high voltage pulse power fragmentation system to disaggregate samples along individual grain boundaries to produce high quality mineral separates maximizing the yield of intact grains. The SELFRAG Laboratory was established with support from ISOMASS Scientific Inc. and is ISOMASS's demonstration SELFRAG laboratory in Western Canada.

Faculty Advisor: Graham Pearson

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Spectral Imaging Facility

The Spectral Imaging Facility encompasses a suite of instrument providing basic data for the support of remote sensing investigations.

Imaging Spectrometers

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Alberta Advanced Education and Technology in conjunction with funding from private industry have enabled the purchase of two spectral imaging systems designed for imaging boxes of drill core but also use for a variety of other samples. The SisuROCK system has its own light source, and spans the 400-2500nm spectral range at a nominal spectral resolution of 8nm. These properties imply that key spectral features of minerals (e.g. iron oxide, clay, amphibole) can be captured. With this imaging capability, targets (e.g. silicate minerals, oxides, bitumen, water) can be examined in the context of their surroundings (e.g. spatial associations, distribution), allowing for the examination of meters of core per minute. SisuROCK is a unique imaging system in many respects: 1) it is an imager which can be configured for rapid core scanning or for detailed textural and spectral investigations, and 2) it can scan 25 feet of core in less than a minute. A second imaging system provides spectral imagery over 30 bands spanning the long wave infrared spectrum of 8-12 mm. Combined with SisuRock this system results in a unique geological spectral imaging capability in Canada.

Point Spectrometers

The Lab Facility also includes two portable point (non imaging) spectrometers that can be taken to the field: an ASD (Analytical Spectral Devices) Spectrometer and a FTIR (Agilent Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer).

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Benoit Rivard

Stable Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory

The Stable Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory has two isotope-ratio mass spectrometers (a Thermo MAT 253 and a Thermo Delta V Plus) equipped by a GasBench II system, a FLASH HT Plus Elemental Analyzer, a GC IsoLink, and custom-made off-line preparation and extraction manifolds that enable the analyses of isotopic compositions of a variety solid, liquid and gaseous samples, such as:

  • 15N/14N of silicate (at nanomole N2 level),
  • 15N/14N (and 18O/16O) of dissolved inorganic nitrogen,
  • 13C/12C and 15N/14N of organic matter and organic-rich rocks,
  • 13C/12C and 18O/16O of carbonate minerals and dissolved inorganic carbon,
  • 13C/12C and D/H of hydrocarbons,
  • 34S/32S of sulfide minerals, and
  • 34S/32S and 18O/16O of sulfate.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Long Li

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Stable Isotope Laboratory

The Stable Isotope Research Lab is located in 2-02 Earth Sciences Building. It is well equipped with eight extraction and preparation lines for analyzing oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon isotope ratios in carbonates, waters, silicates, and solid, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. It also houses a laser fluorination system. Isotope ratio analysis are done on a Finnigan Mat 252 mass spectrometer equipped with both a dual inlet multi-port as well as continuous flow GC-C-CF-IRMS system.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs

Technician: Olga Levner

Structural Geology Laboratory

The Structural Geology Laboratory is located on the 4th floor of the Earth Science Building (4-10). It is used for the analysis of samples, maps and geophysical data from deformed sedimentary basins. It contains fixed and mobile computing facilities including field computers, a two-monitor PC with digitizing tablet, running seismic workstation software, Arc/GIS, and other programs for geophysical and structural analysis and interpretation. Also, a flatbed scanner attached to a power Macintosh is available, with both computer platforms able to share files through network connections. The Lab also contains Nikon petrographic microscope facilities with a digital camera. Standard field instruments are available for collecting orientation data and GPS locations.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. John Waldron

U-Pb Geochronology Facility

The U-Pb Geochronology Facility conducts dating of a wide variety of U-bearing minerals (zircon, baddeleyite, monazite, titanite, rutile, carbonate, bioapatite) using conventional (TIMS) and in situ (LA-ICPMS, SIMS) methods. The facility is operated as open-access and hosts numerous researchers, graduate students and post doctoral fellows each year from both Canadian and international universities. Visiting personnel receive hands-on training and projects are completed in a timely manner. The facility also manages research requests from external organizations (e.g., geological surveys, industry).

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Larry M. Heaman

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Watershed Science and Modelling Laboratory

Watershed Science and Modelling Laboratory (WSML) offers Windows-based high- performance computing machines, with over 800 cores that allow processing of large-scale eco- hydro-geologic models through a user-friendly scheme by applying Parallel Processing programs.

Up and running in February 2017, the WSML was designed in collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Information Services &amp; Technology (IST) department. Beginning with consultations to learn of the unique needs of the WSML team in September, IST supported the lab build through hardware recommendations, liaising with vendors, hardware procurement, and installation within the lab. IST continues to support the endeavors of the WSML lab through standard server and operating system support. To improve the capabilities of the existing system, IST has been actively collaborating with the WSML team to develop scripts to parallelize simulations in this Windows-based multi-core system.

Overall, the WSML facilitates processing, projection, and storage of a large volume of geospatial and time series data by involving environmental models, Machine Learning Techniques, and Big data analysis to study ‘fundamental’ and ‘applied’ aspects of water quantity and quality across watersheds and to understand the interactions between water, earth, ecosystems, and humans under changing climate. The computing infrastructure and the multi-disciplinary nature of the research enables a broadening of hydrologic science through integration with other scientific disciplines.

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