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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.

Research News


Critical Zone Profiles - Meet the people doing CZO science (IML CZO)

28 Nov 2015 - Get a sense of the people and the work. Several members of the Intensively Managed Landscapes (IML) CZO are profiled here.


FIML Art-Science Rendition of IMLCZO

04 Nov 2015 - This video portrays an artistic rendition of Critical Zone Observatory for Intensively Managed Landscapes (


IML-CZO Offers Short Course on Organic Matter

25 Aug 2015 - The Role of Runoff and Erosion on Soil Carbon Stocks: From Soilscapes to Landscapes instrument training short course Oct 20-21, Purdue University

Critical Zone Profile - ANDREW STUMPF (Quaternary geologist, senior investigator)

28 Nov 2015 - Associate Quaternary Geologist, Illinois State Geological Survey; Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Critical Zone Profile - LAURA KEEFER (fluvial geomorphologist, senior investigator)

28 Nov 2015 - Head of Surface Water Hydrology & Hydraulics, Illinois State Water Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Did Dust Bowl’s ravages end in the 1940s? New study says no

13 Nov 2015 - A new study has shown that soil quality actually continued to decline until the 1980s and even now isn't back to pre-Dust Bowl levels.

IMLCZO Director Praveen Kumar Featured in International Innovation

14 May 2015 - Researchers in the University of Illinois’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering are studying vulnerability across the Earth’s surface.

Using a CZO network to explore the architecture, dynamics and evolution of the Critical Zone

03 Nov 2014 - The US CZO National Office has organized a webinar on December 8, 2014 at 11AM - 12:30 PM ET.

More News >

Example Publications


The evolution and state of interdisciplinary hyporheic research. Ward, A. (2015): WIREs Water 2015


Information Theoretic Measures to Infer Feedback Dynamics in Coupled Logistic Networks. Goodwell, A., Kumar, P. (2015): Entropy 2015, 17, 7468-7492


Historical changes in channel network extent and channel planform in an intensively managed landscape: Natural versus human-induced effects. Rhoads, B.L., Lewis, Q.W., and Andresen, W. (2015): Geomorphology


GPU-based high-performance computing for integrated surface–sub-surface flow modeling. Le, P.V.V., Kumar, P., Valocchi, A.J., and Dang, H.-V. (2015): Environmental Modelling & Software


Hydrocomplexity: Addressing Water Security and Emergent Environmental Risks. Kumar, P. (2015): Water Resources Research, 51: pp12


Chapter 2 – The Role of Critical Zone Observatories in Critical Zone Science. White T., Brantley S., Banwart S., Chorover J., Dietrich W., Derry L., Lohse K., Anderson S., Aufdendkampe A., Bales R., Kumar P., Richter D., McDowell B. (2015): Developments in Earth Surface Processes 19: 15–78 Cross-CZO National


Enhanced Vadose Zone Nitrogen Removal by Poplar During Dormancy. Ausland, H., Ward, A., Licht, L., and Just, C (2015): International Journal of Phytoremediation


On the Feasibility of Characterizing Soil Properties From AVIRIS Data. Dutta, D., Goodwell, A.E., Kumar, P., Garvey, J.E., Darmody, R.G., Berretta, D.P., and Greenberg, J.A. (2015): IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing


Coupled reversion and stream-hyporheic exchange processes increase environmental persistence of trenbolone metabolites. Ward, A.S., Cwiertny, D.M., Kolodziej, E.P., and Brehm, C.C. (2015): Nature Communications


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


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

A Model for Knickpoint Migration in First- and Second-order Streams. Bressan, F., Papanicolaou, A.N., and Abban, B. (2014): Geophysical Research Letters, 41, 4987–4996

Prediction of Saturated Hydraulic Conductivity Dynamics in an Iowan Agriculture Watershed. Elhakeem, M., Papanicolaou, A.N., Wilson, C., and Chang, Y. (2014): International Journal of Biological, Veterinary, Agricultural, and Food Engineering

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

More Publications >