Annual Report 2000: Engineering InterAction
College of Engineering / University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Effects of urbanization start to soak in

Urbanization group

Top row, from left: Matt Robertsen, grad student, geography; Ken Bradbury, Wis. Geologic and Natural History Survey; Richard Lathrop, Dept. of Natural Resources; Prof. Joy Zedler, botany and UW Arboretum; Prof. Ken Potter, CEE; Kristin Anderson, grad student, geology and geophysics. Middle row: Dawn Chapel, grad student, geology and geophysics; Prof. Jean Bahr, geology and geophysics; Suzanne Hoehne, grad student, CEE. Front row: Laura Parent, grad student, geology and geophysics; Chip Hankley, Wis. Geological and Natural History Survey; Jeff Steurer, U.S. Geological Survey. (34K JPG)

gricultural landscapes are being urbanized throughout the United States, resulting in the degradation of aquatic systems. The construction of impervious surfaces like roofs, streets and sidewalks are causing fundamental changes in watershed hydrology. As impervious surface area expands, runoff peaks and volumes increase, and water quality and ground-water levels decline. Increased runoff peaks cause channel erosion and habitat degradation. Increased erosion of soil and associated nutrients cause sedimentation and eutrophication of lakes and wetlands. Diminished groundwater levels desiccate wetlands and reduce the discharge of high-quality ground-water to springs, streams and lakes. Wetland biodiversity declines as a result. These hydrologic and ecological effects of urbanization are exacerbated in regions where groundwater is pumped for domestic use and irrigation.

The north fork of Pheasant Branch Conservancy near Madison makes an ideal subject for an interdisciplinary research effort aimed at filling critical knowledge gaps and developing analytical and modeling tools that will minimize the hydrologic and ecological effects of urbanization. Professor Ken Potter and Center for Limnology Researcher Richard Lathrop are co-principal investigators on the study which includes scientists from UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The team is evaluating alternative management practices and patterns of urbanization by considering a range of urban development issues, including storm runoff, groundwater depletion, wastewater treatment, growth of nuisance algae and wetland degradation. They are also addressing interaction among these issues and the social and political opportunities for, and constraints on, effective management.

A new path to cleaner water: Removing nitrogen from wastewater

All organisms require nitrogen to live. It is fourth in place behind oxygen, carbon and hydrogen as the most common chemical element in living tissues. But in excessive amounts, nitrogen alters ecosystems and contributes to environmental problems.

Assistant Professor Daniel Noguera is investigating the microbial ecology of aerated-anoxic biological treatment processes for removal of nitrogen from wastewater. His results will provide insight into design of processes and their use in treatment systems ultimately reducing adverse effects of excessive nitrogen discharge into environmental waters.

Most wastewater treatment systems use a three-step nitrification/denitrification process to change ammonia to nitrite, nitrite to nitrate, and nitrate to nitrogen gas. Nitrification is an aerobic process and denitrification is an anaerobic process. Noguera's team is investigating a system in which tiny amounts of oxygen are added to the anoxic step allowing nitrification and denitrification to occur simultaneously. The amount of oxygen added is so small that it is difficult to measure and is immediately absorbed by the system. Noguera is testing various hypotheses that could explain exactly how the oxygen aids the process and which organisms absorb it. The work could lead to more efficient removal of nitrogen from wastewaters.

Building a legacy of improved transportation

Bottlenecks, potholes and traffic volume are among the targets of a Wisconsin-wide research effort led by Professor Peter J. Bosscher. The Wisconsin Highway Research Program teams UW engineers with state and federal transportation offices, private industry and consultants to set a strategic course for state highways. Like most states, Wisconsin is on a collision course with rapidly rising traffic rates and highway capacity.

"In the last 15 years, traffic loads have increased per lane by about 50 percent on all state highways," Bosscher says.

The partnership's two overriding goals are to reduce driver delays in key areas and develop longer-lasting highway products without additional costs. Some specific projects include: finding new surface treatments to lengthen the life of concrete, investigating ways to reduce bumps caused by road settlement at bridges, studying accident rates caused by wet pavement and finding new surface designs to improve traction, and developing a beneficial reuse program to turn industrial waste into low-cost material for road construction.

"The question is, can we develop better materials so we only need to revisit roads for maintenance every 30 or so years?" Bosscher asks. "We hope to leave a legacy of improved materials and less required maintenance on roads."

Erhard F. Joeres, Chair
2205 Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1691

Tel: 608/262-3542
Fax: 608/262-5199


Copyright © 2000 University System Board of Regents


Published: September 2000