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Moffett Research Lab Research Themes and Funding


  • Urban Ecohydrology
  • Wildfire Ecohydrology and Forest Climate Resilience
  • Biophysics of Plant-Water Interactions
  • Wetland Ecohydrology and Ecogeomorphology
Urban Ecohydrology

As humans are becoming more concentrated in dense and expanding urban areas, the field of urban ecology has been identifying the new habitat niches established in the urban setting and the field of urban hydrology has been quantifying the effects of development and stormwater conveyance on rainfall and runoff impacts. The connection between these two fields has remained more of an open question, however, especially the bi-directional influence of landscaping and greenspace choices on the urban hydrological cycle, and the influence of regional hydrology on greenspace choices. Ecosystem-scale studies on plant-water interactions overwhelmingly focus on ‘simpler’ natural systems. Our research on urban ecohydrology tackles the complexity of urban systems head-on to answer such open questions as the role of plant-water interactions in total urban ecology and hydrology including surface water-groundwater fluid exchanges, the interactions between regional and urban ecology, hydrology, and social norms regarding landscaping, and the differential biophysical and social roles of landscaping and greenspace in neighborhoods of contrasting socio-economic and geological/topographic setting.


    • Quantifying climate hazards and demographic factors that could compound COVID risks on communities across the Pacific Northwest [funding: WSUV mini-grant, w/ D Singh]
    • CNH2-L-RUI-Collaborative: Undoing Legacies of Inequality in Urban Tree-Human Dynamics: From redlining to equitable and resilient urban socio-ecological systems [funding: NSF CNH2: Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems : 2010014, with co-PIs]
    • Research and education on landscape, climate, and biophysical controls of the urban water cycle amid urban warming and global change [funding: NSF CAREER: EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 1751377]
    • Managing urban tree canopy to mitigate ecological drought and urban thermal pollution above salmonid streams from concurrent climate change and urbanization [funding: USGS NW Climate Science Center]
    • Understanding Links Between Water, Nitrogen, and Greenhouse Gases in “Green” Infrastructure (Stormwater Bioretention Swales and Rain Gardens) [funding: USGS NIWR WA State, w/ J Harrison]
    • Variations in ecohydrological function with climate and urbanization [funding: WSU New Faculty Seed Grant]
    • Promoting urban FEW resource resilience via the regional food system [funding: WSU CEREO Planning Grant, w/ co-PIs]
    • Developing fundamental new knowledge of stormwater nitrogen pollution removal by unsaturated bioswales: testing novel methods and generating compelling preliminary data [funding: WSUV mini-grant, w/ J Harrison]
Wildfire Ecohydrology and Forest Climate Resilience

Landscape disturbances such as wildfire provide numerous ecosystem benefits including promoting biodiversity and overall ecosystem resilience, if regrowth can thrive with adequate resources including soil moisture. In contrast, hillslope drought can lead to pest susceptibility and ecosystem collapse. We are studying the role of soil properties, soil moisture, plant exposure and canopy biophysics and ecophysiology, as well as variability in setting, climate, and weather, in aiding persistence or regrowth of key habitats following disturbances such as wildfire, with collaborators who are experts in related ecological and fire-science fields.


    • Temperate forests on fire: the role of coupled hydrological and microbial soil drivers in tree regeneration success or failure after burning [funding: WSUV mini-grant w/ S Porter and WSU CAS Seed-grant w/ S Porter, T Cheeke, E Graham]
    • Tree ring-based diagnosis of Western redcedar dieback rates and cause(s): pest/pathogen, climate, or both? [funding: USDA – USFS – FHP – Emerging Pests, w/ H Adams, A Meddens, A Holz, A Ramirez]
    • Modeling the Hydrological Consequences of Wildfire and Climate Change in the Seasonal Temperate Headwater Catchments of the Pacific Northwest [funding: NW CASC Fellowship to PhD student Dylan Quinn]
    • Rapid data acquisition for the investigation of post-fire landslide hazards in the Pacific Northwest  [funding: GEER (Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance) Association Rapid-Response grant, w/ Roering, Kean, Rengers, Booth, Burns, Robichaud]
    • Harnessing hydraulic traits of trees to inform forest management and adaptation in the Pacific Northwest [funding: DOI – USGS – Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, w/ Ramirez, Holz]
    • Decline of Western Red Cedar: a dendroecological investigation of 21st century mortality and identification of potential climate change refugia [funding: NW CASC Fellowship to MS student Michelle Wolfgang]
    • Prescribed Fire Effects on Soil Hydraulic Properties and Ecohydrological Function [funding: DOI – BLM – JFSP Graduate Research Innovation Fellowship) to PhD student Dylan Quinn]
    • Recovery trajectories of the hillslope green water cycle after rapidly repeated wildfires [funding: NSF EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 1738228] (Collaboration w/ A Holz @ PSU; also collaborating A Ramirez, Reed Coll.)
    • Understanding how Increasing Wildfires Under Climate Change Affect Tree Regrowth and Water Availability in Forests [funding: NW CASC Fellowship to PhD student Katherine Swensen]
Biophysics of Plant-Water Interactions

Although most life on earth relies on the ability of green vegetation to store energy from sunlight in carbon-based molecules (splitting water and releasing oxygen in the process), there remain mysteries about the biophysical and hydraulic function of these organisms that range from the control/response of plant leaf stomata to changes in environmental conditions, to the processes that achieve refilling of vascular plant xylem after water flow has become blocked by an air bubble. Our research is teasing apart aspects of such mysteries of biophysical plant-water interactions via use of novel and cutting-edge technologies: e.g., new ways to use thermal remote sensing imagery to quantify spatial and temporal variations in stomatal control; application of micron-scale X-ray Computed Tomography (CT-scanning) to image root-water associations and root network development in 3D time-lapse; use of mechanical strain gauges to monitor canopy water interception; and measurement of branch and leaf hydraulic conductance and capacitance under different environmental and developmental conditions.


    • Improved thermal remote sensing quantification of transpiration from leaf to stand scales
    • Leaf hydraulic vulnerability, segmentation, and climate adaptation
    • Tree rainfall interception, leaf evaporation, and biophysical branch mass dynamics
    • Quantifying the flux of water isotopes to the atmosphere from spatially heterogeneous landscapes [WSUV mini-seed grant, w/ M Kramer]
Wetland Ecohydrology and Ecogeomorphology

Wetlands are often thought to function as buffers, filtering nutrient-rich terrestrial runoff and mitigating flooding and storm damages; they are also thought to serve as bioreactors to help clean waters and nurture both local and migratory fauna and food webs. However, the field evidence for the effectiveness of these hypothesized wetland functions remains sparse in many cases. While hydrological engineering and construction of wetlands is common, flow through subsurface portions of the wetlands,  surface water-groundwater exchanges, and interactions with plants in the root zone remain more of a set of black-boxes. Our research is documenting and quantifying these important processes and identifying their significance for overall wetland and watershed hydrologic, ecologic, and geomorphologic function and resilience. Likewise, certain portions of the surface waters connected to wetlands have fallen in the gap between other portions of hydrological science, such as the most-downstream freshwater portions of coastal rivers. Our research has assessed the role of these unique riverine tidal freshwater zones as link or sink for carbon, nitrogen, and pollutants between land and sea. Major field areas in the past have included coastal wetlands of San Francisco Bay and of the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coasts; our work now focuses on both lowland and montane wetlands and streams mainly in the Pacific Northwest, including effects of disturbances such as beaver reintroductions, river restoration, and fires.


    • Synergistic fire and floodplain solutions [project collaboration with the University of Nottingham and USFS]
    • Effects of ecosystem engineering by beaver on amphibians [funding: WSUV mini-grant, w/ J Piovia-Scott]
    • Interactions of fluvial delta island aggradation with organic matter deposition and coastal nutrient export [funding: ACS PRF DNI]
    • Where a river slows: investigating the oscillic freshwater zone [funding: NSF EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 1417433, w/ B Hodges, A Hardison, J McClelland @ UT-Austin and UT-MSI)
    • prior and ongoing salt marsh work including:
      • Coastal Wetland Hydroecology: Multi-scale Links Between Near-surface Hydrologic Processes and Vegetation [funding: NSF EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 0634709, PI: S Gorelick; Moffett co-author]
      • Linking hydroecologic form and function in estuary-wetland systems [funding: NSF EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 1013843, PI: S Gorelick; Moffett co-author]
Education and Pedagogy
    • Research and education on landscape, climate, and biophysical controls of the urban water cycle amid urban warming and global change [funding: NSF CAREER: EAR: Hydro. Sciences: 1751377]
    • Enrollment in Summer 2016 National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) Faculty Success Program [funding: WSU ADVANCE Leadership]
    • Partial support for research-and-lab management [funding: WSU ADVANCE Transitions]
    • Development of “Open Educational Resource” Course Materials for ENVR_SCI 102 [PSCI] ‘Natural Resources and Natural Hazards’ [WSUV OER mini-grant]
Research Infrastructure
    • Inaugural Instrumentation for Establishing the WSUV Environmental Mapping Core Facility [funding: WSUV Research Infrastructure Initiative, w/ Henderson, Strigul, Moffett, Harrsion]
    • Acquisition of a High-performance Computing Platform for Large-scale Scientific Modeling and Data Analysis [funding: WSUV Research Infrastructure Initiative, w/ 10 PIs]
    • Enhancing critical research infrastructure for water sustainability and global change science: transportation, storage and experimental facilities [funding: WSUV Research Infrastructure Initiative, w/ 12 PIs]
    • WSU Vancouver Water Instrumentation: Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer and Ion Chromatograph [funding: Murdock Foundation, w/ 5 PIs]