Research Programs

Weather and Climate

ENSO Application Center

Researchers at WERI are involved in a cooperative project with the University of Hawaii and the Pacific Basin Development Council (PBDC) to study the effects of a climatic condition called El Niño on the weather of our part of the Western Pacific.

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Climate History Program

Stalagmites from tropical caves can reveal clues to the amounts and sources of prehistoric rainfall, especially if the relationship is known between the chemistry of modern calcite layers and the dripwater from which they precipitate. Over the past decade, WERI researchers and collaborators from the Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University, have identified and mapped a number of accessible caves that contain promising stalagmite records from which the pre-historical climate record of the Western Pacific might be reconstructed Collaborating researchers at the Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas-Austin, have already measured stable oxygen isotope ratios and trace elements in a stalagmite from northern Guam, for which the geochemical record spans 28,000 years. Patterns in the geochemical parameters are consistent with others found in the Pacific, and suggest a large hydrological change in the Western Pacific during the Early-to-Mid Holocene, about 5,000-9,000 years before present. Additional insights gained from this and related ongoing collaborative projects will enable WERI and its collaborators to continue this line of research to determine more recent as well as longer-term climate patterns with higher resolution.

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Constitutive Modeling of Glacial Till

This is a collaborative project between WERI hydrogeologist Dr. John Jenson, Dr. Chandrakant Desai of University of Arizona's Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, Dr. Anders Carlson of University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Geosciences, and Dr. Peter Clark of Oregon State University's Department of Geosciences. The objective is to develop and apply the Disturbed State Concept (DSC) model of material deformation and interface behavior, developed by Dr. Desai, to the mechanics of ice sheet movement over layers of "soft" subglacial sediment. This is an interdisciplinary effort that combines elements and insights from hydrogeology, glacial geology, and geotechnical and materials engineering, utilizing innovative techniques in geotechnical testing and finite-element modeling. Design and interpretation of laboratory experiments is constrained by observations from on-site field studies of the tested materials. The ultimate objective is to provide a useful constitutive model of subglacial till for models of ice-sheet behavior that incorporate a layer of unlithified sediment, at high basal water pressure, beneath the ice sheet.

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Surface Water and Watersheds

Watershed Management Program

In his 1998 State of the Union Address, President Clinton announced a major new national Clean Water Initiative, the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP). This initiative aims to achieve clean waters by encouraging federal and nonfederal agencies, other organizations and interested citizens to work in a collaborative manner to restore our highest priority watersheds. WERI researchers have undertaken several projects for developing a watershed management strategy for Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia.

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Soil Erosion Monitoring and Mitigation Program

Surface runoff and sediment losses from soil erosion are major contributors to reduction in surface water quality and subsequent degradation of the coral reefs in Guam and the other islands in Western Pacific. The Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) is presently pumping 4 million gallons per day from Ugum River in Southern Guam to the treatment facility. In recent years the GWA has faced an increasingly difficult task of keeping the plant operating at full capacity when the river is running with high turbidity rates. This highly turbid water has increased operational costs and along with poor operation and maintenance practices has led to premature failure of many components of the treatment plant system. Water that passes the Ugum treatment plant intakes eventually makes its way to the outlet of the river and into the estuary and reef environment. The negative impact of sediment loading on the aquatic environment of Guam is the degradation of coral reef, as well as negative impacts on fish populations and the tourism industry.

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Rooftop Rain Catchment Sizing

The two major sources of water supply in the atoll islands and many rural areas of the high islands of the Federated States of Micronesia (F.S.M.) are rooftop rainfall catchment systems (RRCS) and shallow groundwater sources. The rain catchment systems are best suited for supplying drinking water needs. Other water demands are best met from groundwater sources. An ideal water supply system would have the components of the RRCS and the groundwater components sized in such a manner to meet the needs of the individual family that owns the system.

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Groundwater and Aquifers

Groundwater Research

Fifteen years of interdisciplinary hydrogeological work on island groundwater resources Groundwater research at WERI, begun in 1994, initially focused on numerical modeling of the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer, with the aim of obtaining more accurate estimates of recharge and vadose flow. Concurrent field studies of the coastal zone, aimed at improving our understanding of aquifer discharge, grew into a comprehensive study of the karst features of Guam, the nearby islands of Saipan, Tinian, Aguijan, and Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands, and eventually the remote island of Fais, in the Federated States of Micronesia. These studies have culminated in development of the Carbonate Island Karst Model, which provides the basis for more accuate conceptual models of island and coastal aquifers in geologically young limestones. Hydrogeological studies on Guam in the meantime have included the patterns and trends of saltwater contamination in the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer, and dye trace studies to gain better understanding of the modes of groundwater flow and interaction with coastal waters. Most recently, the modeling program was extended to the atoll island aquifers of the Caroline Island atolls.

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Atoll Hydrologic Modelling

Prolonged droughts in the western Pacific region, such as those associated with ENSO events, can leave island residents dependent on groundwater or imported water. WERI researchers have developed an accurate and practical model of atoll aquifer response to rainfall for use by personnel in FSM state water resources agencies, as well as by instructors from the College of Micronesia and island high schools. Workshops on the application and interpretation of the model will be delivered on Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap during the summer of 2009. Uses may include forecasting the effects of changes in rainfall on islands affected by significant natural events such ENSO-driven droughts, tropical storms, or wash-over events. A second objective is to establish an ongoing technical support relationship between the authors and end-users so that there will be a continuing dialogue to support continued successful use and application of the model in the FSM. Improving water resource availability and sustainability on small island communities promotes economic and social stability, as well as preserving the preferred way of life for many current and future residents of the FSM. Inclusion of island science educators in the training provides for improved long-term education of students as well as the public at large on island hydrology and sustainable water resources management.

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Water Quality Production and Distribution

Pollution Monitoring and Assessment Program

Although the islands of the western Pacific are relatively isolated from pollutants generated by the industrialized nations of the world, many are experiencing self imposed environmental degradation as a result of increased population growth and commercial development. Past and present military activities have also contributed significantly to disturbances in environmental quality on several islands, particularly Guam and Saipan. While some research has been directed towards evaluating the extent of such disturbance on terrestrial communities, relatively little attention has been directed towards identifying the impact of key contaminants, like heavy metals, PCBs and PAHs on the coastal waters of these island's and their marine resources traditionally harvested for food by local inhabitants.

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Water Resources Management and GIS

GIS Program

Geospatial technologies such as geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing are being used by WERI scientists to examine water resources and environmental issues on Guam. Specific areas of interest include watershed management, water distribution, environmental modeling and analysis, modeling and analysis of water quality and quantity, land cover change detection, natural resources management, climate change, hydrological modeling, and soil erosion modeling.

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