Nicholas School’s Mukesh Kumar Receives $570,000 NSF CAREER Grant

March 12, 2015

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – Mukesh Kumar, assistant professor of hydrology and water resources at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has been awarded a five-year, $570,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program.

The grant will fund Kumar’s research to find ways to reduce the unintended harmful impacts of forest management on water supplies and ecosystem health in areas where snowmelt from forested uplands is a critical water source for downstream communities.

Seasonal snowmelt from forested uplands is the main water source for most of the western United States and other snowfall-dominated regions of the world, Kumar explains. In addition to providing melt water, these forests also provide timber, carbon storage, pollution control and a long list of other valuable goods and ecosystem services.

Managers often use practices such as mechanical thinning, gap creation or firebreak cutting to maintain the forests’ health and productivity. But these practices – though beneficial to the forest themselves – can increase snow melt and peak seasonal water flow. This can trigger increased runoff, erosion, and stream destabilization downstream, and lead to degraded water quality and ecosystem health and, in extreme cases, water shortages.

“The goal of my research is to develop an integrated model of radiation transfer, snow accumulation and melt – and the consequent hydrologic response – that will help forest and water managers find ways to strike the right balance between maximizing forest productivity and minimizing impacts on water resources,” Kumar says.

He’ll test his new model at field sites in Idaho, California and Colorado.  

Kumar’s grant (NSF #EAR 1454983) will also support an educational outreach initiative on water quality for K-12 students in North Carolina and Idaho, and will be used to develop new teaching tools for university-level courses on water quantity and quality assessment.