Graduate Research

Evaluation of APEX for Simulating the Effects of Tillage Practices in tropical Soils

Laura E. Wilson. M.S. Thesis Spring 2019
Advisor: Dr. John J. Ramirez-Avila

Tillage practices on agricultural fields have an impact on not only the amount of soil erosion from the fields, but also on the hydrologic and other environmental characteristics of the land. This erosion takes away soil that is necessary for sustainable agriculture, and the sediment and nutrient removal from the fields can pollute surrounding waterbodies. The Llanos Orientales of Colombia used to be a region of extended savannas and native fragile ecosystems dedicated to extended cattle ranch that has been transitioning to crop production. Agricultural expansion in this area, involving mechanization, could importantly accelerate the degradation of soils, limiting the development of sustainable agricultural systems. As a first step to understand long term effects of different tillage practices on new agricultural areas in the region, this study aims to evaluate the performance of the Agricultural Policy Environmental eXtender (APEX) model to simulate runoff, soil erosion and crop yield from fields under conventional tillage, reduced tillage, and no tillage in the Llanos Orientales of Colombia. Calibrated APEX model predictions were compared against measured runoff, soil loss and crop yield data from row crop plots established in the Experimental Station la Libertad in Colombia under conventional, reduced and no-tillage management. APEX satisfactorily predicted runoff (Nash Sutcliffe Efficiency NSE>0.53, Percent Bias - [PBIAS] < 21%) and crop yield for all three tillage systems (NSE>0.82, [PBIAS] <15%), but was not successful in predicting soil loss from the studied plots. Unsuccessful results were related to model limitations to predict erosion (USLE equations), but also to any uncertainty attributed to issues in the data collection. A calibrated APEX model could be used to predict runoff and crop yield responses under different management practices in the Llanos Orientales of Colombia, but needs improvements for prediction of soil erosion in tropical soils.

Application of Terrestrial Laser Scanning in Identifying Deformation in Thin Arch Dams

Bryan Herring. M.S. Thesis Spring 2019
Advisor: Dr. John J. Ramirez-Avila

Dams are relatively simple hydraulic structures that provide vital services to communities in the United States (U.S.). However, many of the dams in the (U.S.) have surpassed their design life. Dams experience structural deformation from external threats. Traditional surveying techniques provide limited information on deformation in pre-determined areas of a structure, but the collection effort can often be lengthy. In this research, different instruments used for change detection were reviewed and Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS), also known as ground-based Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), was selected as the most probable method to accurately evaluate deformation in dams. TLS is a remote sensing instrument that uses light to form a pulsed laser to measure ranges to variable targets, and provides the ability to measure displacement with high accuracy using dense point clouds. Deformation is identified by measuring changes in point clouds generated by TLS. The accuracy of TLS to identify deformation was tested on a thin arch dam at the Big Black Test site in Vicksburg, Mississippi, using the TLS system, RIEGL VZ-400, for data collection and for registering scan positons between a pre-test condition and a post-test condition. Final data analysis was performed using Microstation TopoDOT TM Wall Monitoring Tool.

Hydraulic assessment of notched river training structures on a portion of the Lower Mississippi River using the Adaptive Hydraulics model.

Edmund Howe. M.S. Thesis Spring 2017
Advisor: Dr. John J. Ramirez-Avila

River training structures are widely used to create and maintain navigable waterways, to restore rivers and channels in a more stable condition, to promote environmental benefits, and to protect people and infrastructure from damages or floods. Few historical datasets on the changes and impacts in secondary waterbodies resulting from notched river training structures are available for the Lower Mississippi River. Access to the notched training structures on the Lower Mississippi River remains difficult and inhibits data collection for monitoring efforts. This increases the need for alternative methods such as numerical models for assessing the performance of the notched training structures. A quasi-three-dimensional Adaptive Hydraulics model was assembled and used to provide a hydraulic assessment of seven notched river training structures in the Lower Mississippi River. The hydraulic assessment of the notches included assessing the impacts to navigation, the long-term trends, and the potential for aquatic wildlife habitat diversity.

Sensitivity analysis using the Latin Hypercube-OAT Method for the Conservational Channel Evaluation and Pollutant Transport System (CONCEPTS) Model.

Kubra Celik. M.S. Thesis Fall 2016.
Advisor: Dr. John J. Ramirez-Avila

Streambank erosion is a major problem and a major known source of sediment in impaired streams. Stream deterioration is mainly due to the excess sediment in the United States. Many models have been developed to predict streambank erosion and sediment transport in the streams. Determining the most sensitive soil-specific parameters of the CONCEPTS Model for Goodwin Creek, MS was the focus of the study. The Latin Hypercube One-factor-At-a-Time (LH-OAT) method was used to complete the sensitivity analysis on soil-specific parameters in CONCEPTS. Overall results demonstrate that erodibility and critical shear stress parameters should be determined very carefully and realistic to determine streambank erosion and sediment transport rate more accurately. This sensitivity analysis also shows the minimum effects of suction angle and cohesion on results. In this case, making an assumption in a literal range, or safely ignoring them should not cause a big variation on CONCEPTS results.

Sensitivity analysis and parameter estimation for the APEX model on runoff, sediments and phosphorus.

Yi Jiang. Ph.D. Dissertation Fall 2016.
Advisor: Dr. Dennis D. Truax
Co-Advisor: Dr. John J. Ramirez-Avila

Sensitivity analysis is essential for the hydrologic models to help gain insight into model’s behavior, and assess the model structure and conceptualization. Parameter estimation in the distributed hydrologic models is difficult due to the high-dimensional parameter spaces. Sensitivity analysis identified the influential and non-influential parameters in the modeling process, thus it will benefit the calibration process.

This study identified, applied and evaluated two sensitivity analysis methods for the APEX model. The screening methods, the Morris method, and LH-OAT method, were implemented in the experimental site in North Carolina for modeling runoff, sediment loss, TP and DP losses. At the beginning of the application, the run number evaluation was conducted for the Morris method. The result suggested that 2760 runs were sufficient for 45 input parameters to get reliable sensitivity result.

Sensitivity result for the five management scenarios in the study site indicated that the Morris method and LH-OAT method provided similar results on the sensitivity of the input parameters, except the difference on the importance of PARM2, PARM8, PARM12, PARM15, PARM20, PARM49, PARM76, PARM81, PARM84, and PARM85. The results for the five management scenarios indicated the very influential parameters were consistent in most cases, such as PARM23, PARM34, and PARM84. The “sensitive” parameters had good overlaps between different scenarios. In addition, little variation was observed in the importance of the sensitive parameters in the different scenarios, such as PARM26.

The optimization process with the most influential parameters from sensitivity analysis showed great improvement on the APEX modeling performance in all scenarios by the objective functions, PI1, NSE, and GLUE.

Methodology development for the measurement and analysis of sediment oxygen demands and nutrient releases.

Luis A. Laurens Vallejo. Fall 2016.
Advisor: Dr. James L. Martin

Sediment oxygen demand (SOD) and nutrients releases from the bottom sediments of a water body are important parameters to be included in studies of water quality processes. Two methods to measure SOD, in situ and at laboratory, were applied at Eckie’s Pond on late spring of 2015. Based upon preliminary results, which showed greater values for the in situ method, some modifications of procedures and equipment were made to improve the measurements. Another set of measurements were made on June of 2016, however their results were not conclusive to establish a correlation between these methodologies. As a result of this research, three standard operating procedures (SOP) have been established to measure SOD at shallow waters, first in situ, second at laboratory, and a third SOP to analyze nutrients and metals by using a spectrophotometer.