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How trees manage water in arid environments

Water scarcity is slowly becoming a fact of life in increasingly large areas.

The summer of 2006 was the second warmest in the continental United States since records began in 1895, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Moderate to extreme drought conditions were evident in about 40 percent of the country.

When Constance Brown moved from Arizona to Indiana two years ago, she was struck by a major difference: people in Indiana don't think about water every day the way people in Arizona do.

The difference shows up in many ways. In Arizona, Brown said, if you drop a piece of ice on the kitchen floor and ignore it, in a few minutes it will be gone -- melted and then evaporated. In Indiana, if you drop a piece of ice on the floor and ignore it, the water will just stay there until it's wiped up.

In Arizona, she said, if you need a particular garment on short notice and it's in the laundry, you can wash it by hand and hang it outside. It will be dry in 15 minutes. Not in Indiana.

In semi-arid environments such as the southwestern United States, humidity is so low that water is scarce to begin with and hard to hold onto when there is a rare cloudburst. Rain that collects in puddles is quickly sucked up by evaporation into the dry air. Most of the rest runs off before it can soak into the ground. Maintaining an adequate supply of water is a constant challenge, and water management is a top priority.

One way to make better use of scarce water resources would be to retain more of the water that falls during a heavy rain. To accomplish this, better understanding is needed about how water behaves in the environment. Brown, a micrometeorologist in the Atmospheric Science Program of Indiana University's Department of Geography, is one of the scientists working to provide this understanding. Her research is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation.

In a forthcoming paper in the Jour
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Contact: Hal Kibbey
hkibbey@indiana.edu
812-855-0074
Indiana University
3-Jan-2007


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