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   from the issue of November 17, 2005

Drought research draws $7.4 million


More than $7 million in new federal funding will finance further refinement of UNL-based Web tools that help agricultural producers and others nationwide to monitor drought impacts and manage related risks.

GRANT AWARD - Don Wilhite, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, discusses a new grant from the U.S. Department of...
 GRANT AWARD - Don Wilhite, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, discusses a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will support work by UNL climatologists and computer scientists to develop tools for farmers to manage drought risk. Steve Goddard, assistant professor of computer science and co-investigator on the grant, looks on. The funding was announced on East Campus Nov. 10. Photo by Brett Hampton/IANR.

One partnership agreement, $6.4 million, will fund an effort by climatologists and computer scientists to bring cutting-edge computer science technologies to producers' age-old decision-making processes.

The other cooperative agreement, for $1 million, will support continued work on a tool that uses satellite technology and climate information to detect vegetation stress on the ground for a much more detailed view of drought's scope and potential impact.

The three-year partnership is between the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency, UNL's Department of Computer Science and Engineering and the UNL-based National Drought Mitigation Center.

"We're excited and proud to have this opportunity to significantly expand our research on drought mitigation tools, an area in which we have long been the leaders," said Prem Paul, UNL's vice chancellor for research. "This is work that serves both Nebraskans and the global community.

"In bringing together the expertise of climatologists and computer scientists, it's also an excellent illustration of how interdisciplinary research enables UNL to do its best work."

The agreements give the drought center a prominent role in developing a set of decision-support tools for agricultural producers to improve drought impact assessments and in developing a Web-based electronic drought atlas.

In its first 10 years, the National Drought Mitigation Center focused on helping governments in the U.S. and around the world better understand drought as the world's costliest natural disaster and the importance of improved monitoring and preparedness to help reduce the damage it causes. That challenge continues, but the projects toward which the new agreements are targeted to develop better decision-support tools to help agricultural producers better cope with drought.

"This has been an evolution for us," said Don Wilhite, the center's director. "We have made tremendous strides in building awareness of the need for improved drought monitoring, mitigation and preparedness, but there is much additional work that needs to be done."

The new agreements will enable the drought center to hire additional research scientists and technical specialists, nearly doubling the size of its staff, which now numbers 10.

Similarly, the Laboratory for Advanced Research Computing expects to hire at least three more programmers, four graduate research assistants and a post-doctoral researcher.

Goddard said UNL computer scientists and climatologists started working together on drought monitoring and mitigation in 1998 with an initial investment of $1 million from the state of Nebraska for geospatial analysis and decision support systems.

Additional grants followed from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including a $1.2 million grant announced earlier this fall from the Risk Management Agency.

The research led to development of a weather data collection infrastructure with a particular focus on drought.

The project, titled the National Agricultural Decision Support System, provides a hands-on tool for farmers at

The additional funding will enable researchers to expand and improve the system.

Researchers will also continue to enhance other tools such as the Drought Impact Reporter, a new system developed by the NDMC that tracks drought's impact across the United States.



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