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Groundwater Modeling Breakthrough

from University of Wyoming

Calculating the movement of water in the vadose zone — the unsaturated soil between the water table and the ground surface — is critical to everything from estimating return flows and aquifer recharge to better managing irrigation and predicting floods. Since 1931, vadose-zone water movement has been calculated using Lorenzo Richards' "Richards equation (RE)." But RE is extremely difficult to solve and sometimes is unsolvable, requiring massive computing power to apply it. This created a lifelong challenge for University of Wyoming Professor Fred Ogden, who began working on an RE replacement in 1994, as a postdoctoral researcher. Last fall, Ogden and his research team did it: They discovered an elegant new equation that equals the RE in accuracy while greatly reducing the computing power needed to run it. The finding will greatly improve the reliability and functionality for hundreds of important water models and trigger a new surge in data collection. more

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