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The Sangamon River in Central Illinois flows through farmland, as well as more urban areas.

The central hypothesis for the IML-CZO is that, through human modification, the critical zone of IMLs has passed a tipping point (or threshold) and has changed from being a transformer of material flux, with high nutrient, water, and sediment storage, to being a transporter. This change threatens the resilience of the landscape to accommodate future impacts associated with ongoing human activity, including climate change and bioenergy crop production. The vulnerability of the IMLs increases as these human activities intensify, compromising the sustainability of key critical-zone services on which ecological systems and human populations depend. Understanding and quantifying shifts in the response of the critical zone to human development remains a challenge, and current assessments are at best qualitative.

The IML-CZO will first examine how:

  1. Glacial legacy effects of surficial geologic materials influence the CZ response to human impacts by establishing baseline conditions of soil resilience, as well as landscape and soil evolution trajectories and rates (Theme A).
  2. Intensive cultivation, in conjunction with increased bioenergy crop adoption and prevalent freeze-thaw cycles, transforms Soil Organic Matter (SOM), which in turn affects soil structure, nutrient cycling, and ecosystem services (Theme B).
  3. Anthropogenic alteration of the hydrological landscape with engineered drainage infrastructure, such as tiles, regulates the migration and fate of water fluxes and Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) and nutrients (Theme C).
  4. Channelization introduces human agency as a flux in sediment budgets, resulting in altered regimes of sediment production and storage, as well as drastic morphodynamic changes that sculpt the landscape of the IML-CZO (Theme D).

Researchers will next capture the connectivity of contemporary hydrological, geomorphological, and biogeochemical processes along different flow paths by quantifying the stores and residence times of water, SOM, DOC, and sediment.

Spring lures farmers and researchers alike out into the fields.

The Sangamon River in Central Illinois flows through farmland, as well as more urban areas.

Spring lures farmers and researchers alike out into the fields.


IML-CZO Research: Breaking New Ground

The IML-CZO focuses on the Midwest, which is one of the most intensively managed landscapes in the world.

Example Publications


Spatial variability of saturated hydraulic conductivity at the hillslope scale: Understanding the role of land management and erosional effect. Papanicolaou, A.N., Elhakeem, M., Wilson, C.G., Burras, C.L., West, L.T., Lin, H., Clark, B., and Oneal, B.E. (2015): Geoderma


A field comparison of multiple techniques to quantify groundwater–surface-water interactions. Gonzalez-Pinzon, R., Ward, A., Hatch, C., Wlostowski, A., Singha, K., Gooseff, M., Haggerty, R., Harvey, J., Cirpka, O., and Brock J. (2014): Freshwater Science


Threshold Dynamics in Soil Carbon Storage for Bioenergy Crops. Woo, D.K., Quijano, J.C., Kumar, P., Chaoka, S., Bernacchi, C.J. (2014): Environmental Science & Technology


A stability analysis of semi-cohesive streambanks with CONCEPTS: Couple field and laboratory investigations to quantify the onset of fluvial erosion and mass failure. Sutarto, T.E., Papanicolaou, A.N., Wilson, C.G., and Langendoen, E. (2014): Journal of Hydraulic Engineering-ASCE


Power law scaling of topographic depressions and their hydrologic connectivity. Phong, V. V. Le and Praveen Kumar, P. (2014): Geophysical Research Letters


Emergent and divergent resilience behavior in catastrophic shift systems. Srinivasan, V. and Kumar, P. (2014): Ecological Modelling


Simultaneous improvement in productivity, water use, and albedo through crop structural modification. Drewry, D.T., Kumar, P., and Long, S.P. (2014): Global Change Biology

Antecedent Moisture Controls on Stream Nitrate Flux in an Agricultural Watershed. Davis. C.A., Ward, A.S., Burgin, A.J., Loecke, T.D., Riveros-Iregui, D.A., Schnoebelen, D.J., Just, C.L., Thomas, S.A., Weber, L.J., St. Clair, M.A. (2014): Journal of Environmental Quality

Passive regulation of soil biogeochemical cycling by root water transport. Quijano, J. C., P. Kumar, and D. Drewry (2013): Water Resources Research 49(6): 3729–3746,

Wepp: Model use, calibration, validation. Flanagan, D.C., Frankenberger, J.R., and Ascough, J.C. (2012): Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Quantifying and partitioning fine sediment loads in an intensively agricultural headwater system. Wilson, C.G., Papanicolaou, A.N., and Denn, K.D. (2012): Journal of Soil and Sediments

Climatic and biotic controls on silt production and accumulation of loess. Bettis, E.A. (2012): Nature Education Knowledge

Competitive and mutualistic dependencies in multispecies vegetation dynamics enabled by hydraulic redistribution. Quijano, J. C., P. Kumar, and D. Drewry, A. Goldstein, and L. Misson (2012): Water Resources Research 48(5): 1-22

A graphical user interface for numerical modeling of acclimation responses of vegetation to climate change. Le, P., P. Kumar, D. Drewry, and J. Quijano (2012): Computers & Geosciences 49(0): 91-101

More Publications >