A Good Research Atmosphere
Climatology grad student studies future soil erosion with an eye on helping farmers
By Tara Roberts
Paige Farrell uses models of the future to help farmers prepare today.
Farrell, a graduate student in the University of Idaho Department of Geography, analyzes climate scenarios to understand how soil erosion may respond to changes in temperature and precipitation.
Her work for the 2014 College of Science Expo focuses on farmland around Moscow, and she’ll soon expand her study area across the Inland Northwest for her master’s thesis.
“In this area in particular, it’s really important for stakeholders and farmers to understand what’s going to happen,” Farrell says. “We try to get it out there in the most unbiased and factual scientific way possible.”
Farrell’s research so far shows that a predicted temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius by midcentury, along with increased and more severe precipitation events, will significantly increase soil loss from erosion on the Palouse.
However, farmers and landowners can understand these potential changes and adjust their practices to help reduce soil loss. For example, Farrell’s research has also shown that no-till farming in future conditions will result in less soil loss than conventional tilling practices.
In addition to expanding her study area, Farrell also plans to work with longer-range climate models, extending from 2041 to 2070. And while she doesn’t expect any surprising results, she does hope to build a platform of valuable analysis that other researchers can expand on.
Farrell says she enjoys climatology research because it looks at a combination of systems and the effects they have on each other.
“The relationship between the earth and the atmosphere and climate I find really interesting. It’s not just restricted to land processes or atmospheric processes.”
Farrell also has enjoyed the opportunity to work with expert researchers at UI. Her adviser, associate geography professor John Abatzoglou, is among the leading climatologists studying the Northwest.
Her research also is part of the Regional Approaches to Climate Change for Pacific Northwest Agriculture project, or REACCH, a multi-state research project that aims to help Northwest cereals producers become more sustainable and build resiliency in a changing climate.
Farrell will present her research at REACCH’s conference in March, which she says provides a good opportunity for farmers and stakeholders to interact with researchers and learn about their work. She also has presented at the Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference and in December will present at the American Geophysical Union conference.
After she graduates in May, Farrell hopes get back into field work – particularly in oceanography – where she can apply the analytical expertise she’s developed in her research at UI.
“I’d kind of like to get back on a boat,” she says. “I’ve gained a lot of skills that would crossover to that area.”