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Montana NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Project Strategic Plan (2018-2023)
Consortium for Research in Environmental Sciences (CREWS)

Montana NSF EPSCoR’s vision for the CREWS project is a network of interdisciplinary science that addresses Montana water quality issues while supporting linked economic activities, and to showcase these efforts as a national model of collaboration and positive societal impact.

The CREWS project’s mission is to build competitive research and education capacity that brings together collaborative teams of interdisciplinary scholars from the Montana University System and Tribal College partners to address water-quality issues in Montana and connect those efforts to the national research priorities.

Research Thrust 1: Metal contamination and nutrient enrichment in the Upper Clark Fork River (UCFR): subsidies, stressors, and river productivity

Goal 1.1: Address how nutrients and metals act as subsidies and stressors in the context of river productivity, algal blooms, and ecological integrity along a contaminated river, the Upper Clark Fork River (UCFR).

Objective 1.1.a. Understand how interactions between nutrient and metals influence river food webs and alter the relationships between metabolism and material retention by addressing the potential for nutrient subsidies to promote bloom dilution.

Objective 1.1.b: Understand how metal size spectrum (sediment, nanoparticle, dissolved) influences contaminant propagation across trophic levels.

Objective 1.1.c: Determine how the contaminant character of nutrients and metals influences the efficacy of technical solutions employed to improve water quality.

Research Thrust 2: Origin and fate of NO3- and organic contaminants in groundwater affected by agricultural intensification: Judith River Watershed (JRW)

Goal 1.2: Understand how intensive agriculture interacts with natural hydrologic dynamics to control NO3- and applied organics in soil, aquifer, riparian, and stream systems of the Judith River Watershed (JRW).

Objective 1.2.a: Develop foundational datasets relevant to contaminant source, transport and reactivity in JRW environmental waters.

Objective 1.2.b: Characterize key molecular mechanisms responsible for NO3- and synthetic organic transformation and persistence in environmental water systems.

Objective 1.2.c: Build understanding of the linkage between hydrologic and biogeochemical pathways of chemical flux among characteristic process domains.

Research Thrust 3: Impaired Water in Energy Extraction Landscapes: Powder River Basin (PRB)

Goal 1.3: Understand how actions associated with energy development alter groundwater-surface water (GW-SW) exchange pathways and influences on hydrochemical and biological properties of water quality in a representative watershed, the Powder River Basin (PRB).

Objective 1.3.a: Identify and quantify those chemical conditions that control rates of SO42- formation and removal in aqueous solutions associated with extraction waste products and engineered materials through laboratory-based studies guided by findings from field-based inventory sampling.

Objective 1.3.b: Establish GW-SW relationships that impact SO42- concentrations in recipient aquatic systems.

Objective 1.3.c: Address how SO42- reacts with other aqueous phase species under aerated and anoxic conditions with a focus on arsenic-based solutes and assess how newly formed, biologically harmful, thio-arsenical species move through watersheds impacted by energy extraction activities.

Research Thrust 4: Systems Ecology and Earth Sciences (SEES) - Disciplinary Synthesis 

Goal 1.4: Employ a systems approach across the terrestrial-aquatic continuum to address how sources, fates, and transport times of C and N are influenced by the interactions between contaminants and nutrient supply.

Objective 1.4.a: Develop theoretical basis for how changing nutrient availability and contaminant abundance alters the influences of transport and transformation along advective flow paths.

Objective 1.4.b: Characterize the roles of transport time and reaction rates in determining retention efficiency along flow paths ranging from soils to rivers.

Objective 1.4.c: Distinguish how contaminants alter the balance between transport times and reaction rates over time and space within and among component flow paths.

Research Thrust 5: Molecular Engineering and Environmental Science (MEES) - Disciplinary Synthesis

Goal 1.5: Identify how surface interactions control the transformation, persistence and transport of contaminants and nutrients in natural water systems.

Objective 1.5.a: Resolve how nutrient, metal, and synthetic organic (NMSO) contaminants impact biofilm formation and function in natural and engineered systems.

Objective 1.5.b: Identify how NMSO contaminants segregate into different size fractions and how these size fractions influence movement through environmental waters.

Objective 1.5.c: Understand the photocatalytic activity of inorganic surfaces characteristic of watersheds and engineered systems.

Research Thrust 6: Environmental Signals, Synoptics and Sensors (ESSS) - Disciplinary Synthesis 

Goal 1.6: Couple advanced informatics and newly developed sensor technologies to enhance understanding of contaminant distribution in impaired water and its influence on ecosystem function.

Objective 1.6.a: Understand the informatics tools necessary to infer metabolic environmental processes from multivariate data sets increasingly available from enhanced sensor and data logger technologies.

Objective 1.6.b: Adapt hyperspectral optical sensors to unmanned aircraft that will reduce data costs and thus provide an unparalleled perspective on biological controls of surface water quality.

Objective 1.6.c: Quantify dissolved organic C (DOC) accurately and with the temporal resolution appropriate for assessing ecosystem processes.

Research Thrust 7: Natural Resource Social Science (NRSS) - Disciplinary Synthesis 

Goal 1.7: Evaluate contaminants and water quality as a ‘wicked problem’ by quantifying specific and combined influences of social trust, governance processes, and social-ecological system properties on perceived community resilience.

Objective 1.7.a: Evaluate relationships between social trust, experiences of water quality degradation, and community resilience.

Objective 1.7.b: Understand which biophysical properties, associated remediation technologies, and pedagogies of water quality promote community resilience.