It may often feel like we are running out of water, but it is all still here somewhere on planet Earth, we just need to figure out how tap into it. Non-rainfall water sources such as dew and fog could become a rich source of water for areas that need it most. That’s why ecohydrologist Lixin Wang of the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is studying these unconventional water sources with the hopes that they might alleviate some of the water crisis that is headed our way.
“With less future rainfall amounts predicted for these already arid environments and more people to feed around the world, it is critical that we know more about non-rainfall water use for vegetation and soil moisture dynamics,” says Wang.
There is currently no standard measurement for the amount of fog or dew that exists in a given environment. “Despite existing research highlighting the importance of non-rainfall moisture on the dryland biome,” says Wang, “we actually have little knowledge of the sources of fog and dew—clouds, surface water or groundwater—in dryland environments and how these non-rainfall sources of moisture contribute to ecosystem functions and interactions.” Scientists do not yet fully understand how plant life utilizes fog, dew, and other non-rainfall forms of water.
Wang’s multi-disciplinary expertise and drive to understand this natural process has earned him the National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant, a prestigious award that will fund Wang’s work for the next five years. His primary focus will be fieldwork in the Namib Desert of Namibia. The 1,243 mile long coastal desert receives almost no rain but does experience frequent fog. “The historic information from Namibia and the information we gather ourselves in the desert there will enable us to comprehensively assess the non-rainfall moisture effects on drylands and to better predict ecosystem responses to future climate change,” says Wang.”The long-term goal is to expand our research to global scale.” Wang’s CAREER grant will also found community outreach, youth development, and teacher training all focused on developing an understanding of our planet’s essential but still enigmatic water cycle.