The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 months ago

Auburn University researcher, team present new methods of drought forecasting


With his research team, Sanjiv Kumar, assistant professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, co-authored a breakthrough study on drought forecasting published March 12 in Climate and Atmospheric Science, a partner publication to the journal Nature.

In the paper, “Seasonal to multi-year soil moisture drought forecasting,” researchers sought to find out whether they could accurately forecast soil moisture conditions at long lead times – from the next season to a few years out – and identify the mechanisms underlying that possibility.

Kumar said advanced long lead time in predicting soil moisture will greatly improve drought early-warning efforts for agriculture and natural ecosystems. The research is based on the latest advances in earth system modelling, as well as an improved understanding among researchers of land surface processes that influence soil moisture behavior on long time scales.


He said these new findings will benefit agricultural and water resources as well as wildfire planning to mitigate the impacts of drought on society, including economic losses in the billions of dollars and intense stress to the productivity of ecosystems.

Kumar has done seminal work in the past few years to discover and develop a scientific basis for the potential for skillful soil moisture predictability, said Imtiaz Rangwala, one of the study’s co-authors.

Kumar’s previous work includes leading the group of researchers that in 2019 discovered soil-moisture re-emergence, a phenomenon that will likely have a profound impact on climate predictability science.

“That body of work, in culmination with this paper, provides a strong foundation for future research in soil moisture forecasting,” said Rangwala, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the climate science lead at the North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said Kumar’s ongoing work with fellow researchers has led to an ever-growing list of potential benefits.

“Dr. Kumar’s compelling new research builds on his previous work,” Alavalapati said. “These findings could have an enormous positive impact on drought predictability, leading to improved early-warning systems. This, in turn, will have a profound impact on people who experience drought in different parts of the world every year.”

The research team included Musa Esit, a visiting scientist who worked with Kumar on the research; Ashutosh Pandey, a former graduate student; David Lawrence from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado; and Stephen Yeager of NCAR.

While advancing the capacity for drought early warning was a major motivation for this study, the work has implications to address other water and land management issues, Rangwala said.

“Better information on soil moisture conditions is highly sought-after among communities who manage our land and water resources, but it has historically been among the most challenging variables to get accurate information on. Forecasting soil moisture accurately has been even a greater challenge,” Rangwala said.

“Currently, we cannot forecast precipitation with any skill beyond two weeks. That’s a pretty hard physical limit on our drought-predicting skills. But our research shows the potential to skillfully forecast soil moisture several months out, particularly for regions in the central and western U.S., where there is even some skill to predict soil moisture conditions over multiple years.”

The next step for this research, Kumar and his collaborators said, is to apply the principles of this discovery to develop tools to forecast soil moisture at local scales, where it can directly benefit users in agricultural planning, including the planting of drought-tolerant varieties and irrigation management.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Auburn University researchers examine impact of feral swine in Alabama to decrease devastation

(Auburn University/Contributed)

A new project co-led by Auburn University researchers addresses previously unexplored questions about the increasing number and distribution in Alabama of feral swine – animals that cause more than $50 million a year in damage to agriculture in the state. The research focuses on measuring the reduction in damage caused by the animals during the implementation of the Alabama Feral Swine Control Pilot Program (FSCP).

Through a $450,000 grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, professors Mark Smith, Graeme Lockaby and Stephen Ditchkoff of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences are heading the monitoring and evaluation component of the FSCP, a cooperative effort led by the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee.

Project partners in this coordinated effort include the USDA Wildlife ServicesAlabama Association of Conservation Districts, Alabama Agriculture and Conservation Development Commission, Alabama Farmers FederationAlabama Wildlife FederationAlabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University and the University of West Alabama.


The program emanated from the National Feral Swine Control Pilot Program established by the 2018 Farm Bill. Smith said the research and extension objectives of the grant from the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee are twofold.

“First, the principal investigators and several graduate students will focus on measuring the reduction in damage caused by wild pigs on agricultural land during removal operations on select watersheds in the Alabama counties of Baldwin, Escambia, Henry, Houston and Sumter,” Smith said.

The Alabama state office of the USDA Wildlife Services will lead on-the-ground support to conduct wild pig removal. In addition, qualifying landowners will have access to substantial cost-shares on high-tech trapping equipment through the Conservation Incentives Program administered by the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee to further reduce feral swine numbers.

To meet this objective, Elizabeth Bradley, a doctoral student under the direction of Lockaby in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, will draw comparisons in water quality in several watersheds within the project area before and after wild pigs have been removed.

Working with Smith, graduate student Arielle Fay will use a drone to measure changes in damage throughout the growing season to determine how wild pigs ravage crops.

Another Auburn grad student, William Green, will interview landowners within the project areas to develop whole-farm estimates of damage caused by wild pigs and estimate reductions in crop damage throughout the project area, relative to removal efforts.

Smith said the second objective is to support the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee by providing science-based technical training to landowners and producers who are participants in the Conservation Incentives Program portion of the project.

In addition, online technical training courses, equipment expos, seminars and a full slate of how-to videos are being developed to address project educational and awareness needs.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the project will have a significant impact on the state’s ability to confront the challenge these animals have long posed.

“This research will yield previously unknown data regarding the state’s feral pig population, which will lead to crucial new strategies to control their numbers and reduce the substantial damage they have created for landowners,” Alavalapati said.

Interested landowners can visit and follow the link to the Feral Swine Program, where they can enter contact information to request details about the program, or contact their county Soil and Water Conservation District office for more information.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Auburn University professor’s study finds size of urban green spaces determines biodiversity

(Lewis Scharpf Jr./Contributed)

A recent study co-authored by an Auburn University professor, using nearly two decades of data on birds inhabiting New York City parks, answers longstanding questions about how well urban green spaces function to protect biodiversity, particularly the varieties of bird species.

Professor Christopher Lepczyk of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences said the study, published in the international journal Landscape and Urban Planning, examined three major aspects of urban green spaces — isolation, shape and area — to determine which provided the strongest support for biodiversity.


The researchers found the size of an urban green space’s area — not its shape or isolation — most strongly corresponds with the richness of bird species in these spaces, both annually and seasonally.

“A long-running question in conservation has been whether the amount of area that is protected matters more than the protected area’s shape or isolation,” said Lepczyk, professor of wildlife biology and conservation. “To test these ideas, we used parks in New York City in which citizen scientists have collected a treasure trove of bird data, providing a very large number of species and parks for analysis.”

The study used data collected over an 18-year period by the citizen science group eBird.

“What we found was that how isolated a park was relative to other parks, and the park shape, were not important in describing the number of unique birds found in a given park,” he said. “Rather, the total amount of area was the most important aspect of the park.”

Lepczyk said urban green spaces are valuable stopover sites for migrating birds during spring and autumn migrations.

The new research has broad implications in the planning of new green spaces, as growing urbanization leads to increasing habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species.

“Taken as a whole, our work suggests that larger parks contain more unique birds, and thus, greater biodiversity,” he said. “For conservation and management, as we consider increasing urban green spaces, we should invest in larger spaces over smaller ones.”

Lepczyk co-authored the study with Frank A. LaSorte of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Myla F.J. Aronson of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University and Kyle G. Horton of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the findings are likely to bring about significant innovation in the development of urban green spaces.

“Dr. Lepczyk and his team have answered questions that are of vital importance to conserving wildlife and maintaining species biodiversity in urban spaces,” Alavalapati said.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 months ago

Auburn University researchers aim to fuel new markets from hurricane-ravaged timber

(Auburn University/Contributed)

A team of researchers from Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences is exploring ways to give new life to downed timber that has been decimated by hurricanes.

The body of research, coined “The Downed Timber Initiative,” aims to develop methods of retrieving fallen trees and branches that would otherwise go to waste or become fuel for wildfires, and then develop innovative products from the salvaged wood.

The research is funded by a $1.05 million federal appropriation to the U.S. Forest Service. The funds will be allocated to four Auburn research teams led by faculty members Sole Peresin, assistant professor of forest biomaterials; Tom Gallagher, the Regions Professor of Forest Operations; Brian Via, the Regions Professor of Forest Products; and Yucheng Peng, assistant professor of sustainable packaging systems. Each researcher will work with a Forest Service representative.


Graeme Lockaby, the Clinton-McClure Professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the idea began as he spoke to landowners who were facing the ravages of Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 tropical storm that made landfall Oct. 10, 2018, and obliterated hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of timber in the Southeast.

Landowners had just 30 days to extract downed timber because the region’s hot, wet climate leads to rapid decomposition. Lack of access to the wood for extraction exacerbated the dilemma. In addition, the immense volume of flattened timber in hurricane-affected areas quickly saturates the market, resulting in dropping wood prices as mill quotas overflow.

When landowners asked for solutions, Lockaby had to tell them, “At this point, there’s not very much you can do.”

That led to discussions with a group of faculty, which envisioned developing a harvesting machine component capable of extracting fallen timber and the potential for making commercially valuable products from partially decayed wood.

Lockaby said research often doesn’t translate well to the people it will benefit most. This case was an exception.

“Our work is technical. We’re passionate about it, but it’s difficult to understand if you’re not trained in a specific discipline. Oftentimes, people wonder, ‘How relevant is that? Is it going to touch my life?’” he said. “This will clearly touch people who live in those areas, especially forest landowners who depend on timber sales.”

Hurricanes break off, tangle and lay timber horizontally, Gallagher said, making harvesting difficult when using the equipment currently available. He is developing an attachment that loggers could borrow – rather than buy – to make collecting scattered timber easier.

Via is developing methods to use acoustics to measure timber strength and degradation of downed timber as a resource for making cross-laminated timber, or CLT, which is lumber glued together into three or more layers.

“Stronger timber can be sent for use in structural applications like lumber and CLT, while partially degraded timber might be salvaged into other product areas,” Via said.

Timber rated as “weak” or “degraded” by acoustics will be sent to develop other product streams, such as wood composites, nanocellulose and wood-plastic composites.

Peng will use quality wood fibers from downed timber to develop bio-based composites for value-added applications in automobiles, construction and packaging.

“The goals are to maximize the utilization of our renewable natural resources for sustainability and to get the maximum return for the landowners, lowering their loss during natural disasters,” Peng said.

Peresin will work with the USDA Forest Products Lab to process partially decayed timber into micro/nanomaterials, or CNMs, which will form the basis of an array of products that will allow harvested downed timber to penetrate large markets. Her team will upscale CNM production and design bio-based carriers for pesticides and controlled-release nutrients for soil remediation.

“The innovative research of our faculty has the potential to offer significant business and economic opportunities to the forest industry,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 months ago

Auburn professor helps lead ‘Nurdle Patrol,’ citizen science project on microplastics

(Katie Swanson/Contributed)

Kelly Dunning, an assistant professor in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, was part of a team that created and implemented a volunteer-driven citizen science project called “Nurdle Patrol,” which measured microplastic pollution across the Gulf of Mexico.

The project’s open-access findings, “Measuring plastic pellet (nurdle) abundance on shorelines throughout the Gulf of Mexico using citizen scientists: Establishing a platform for policy-relevant research,” were published earlier this year in the Bulletin of Marine Pollution.


The vast scope of volunteer interest allowed for the project’s expansion across the Gulf region, with 744 citizen scientists conducting 2,042 surveys of microplastics from the shorelines of Mahahual, Mexico, to Fort Jefferson, Texas.

Dunning said the findings are a warning about the wide prevalence of microplastics, or “nurdles” – small plastic pellets composed of the raw material of nearly everything that is made of plastic – in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the power of citizen science to bring about widespread awareness of marine pollution.

“Because of the many scales of policy implementation around microplastics – international, national, regional and local – there are significant challenges to getting all actors to work together to lessen microplastic spills into the environment,” said Dunning, whose role on the project was to analyze how citizen science informs decision-maker action, leading to policy that can reduce the amount of marine microplastic pollution.

“Private companies must act to lessen nurdle spills in production and transport phases, and local and state governments have the most power to work with companies to tighten microplastic security along the supply chain where leaks into coastal waters occur most,” she said.

The project began in 2018, when scientists at the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, led by the organization’s director, Jace Tunnell, noticed nurdles on the beaches of Corpus Christi, Texas. From there, they established the Nurdle Patrol, which was made up of citizens tasked with monitoring the presence of nurdles.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said this widescale, citizen science project will shed  light on the vast presence of plastic particles bringing about marine pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.

“By taking on the arduous task of measuring the amount of microplastic spills in the Gulf of Mexico, Dr. Dunning and her fellow researchers, including the many citizen scientists who devoted their efforts to this project, have brought about widespread awareness that is likely to lead to serious action that will not only address the current problem, but also substantially decrease microplastic spillage in the future,” Alavalapati said.

Dunning said the work could not have been done without the hard work of the citizens.

“It would have been completely impossible,” she said.

An interesting and encouraging fact about this massive research is that it originated in research done by Tunnell’s daughter, Parker.

“This started as her science fair project. So, it shows how young women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can lead to huge movements that span countries, states and communities,” Dunning said.

Tunnell agreed the scope of the study would be insurmountable without the contribution of the widespread group of volunteers.

“The extent, frequency and visibility of the project all depends on citizen scientists,” Tunnell said. “This could not be done by one single group of researchers, and it is so inspiring to work with such compassionate groups of individuals wanting to make a difference on plastics reaching the ocean.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 year ago

Auburn University, USA researchers seek to ensure resilience of Gulf species

(Auburn University/Contributed)

Two Auburn University researchers are part of a team that has launched a study on the viability of several species that dwell in the estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico and have experienced a steep population decline in recent years. The work, which seeks to strengthen the creatures’ resilience to damaging environmental factors, could play a large role in ensuring their future sustainability.

Latif Kalin, professor of hydrology in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, and Di Tian, assistant professor in crop, soil and environmental sciences in the College of Agriculture, are working on the $2.8 million study, “Building Resilience for Oysters, Blue Crabs and Spotted Seatrout to Environmental Trends and Variability.” The project is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, as part of its NOAA RESTORE program, which awarded approximately $15.6 million to research teams that are studying trends in living coastal and marine resources and the processes driving them in the Gulf of Mexico region.


“Oysters, blue crabs and spotted seatrout populations in the Gulf of Mexico have suffered substantial declines,” Kalin said. “Unfortunately, the relationship between their population trends and the environmental factors are not well understood. Through this project, we hope to disentangle this relationship and provide an end-to-end perspective from climate to watershed, to coastal hydrodynamic, to estuarine ecosystem and populations to services and economics.

“This project will facilitate cooperative ecosystem management to build the resilience of oyster, blue crab and spotted seatrout to environmental change.”

The results of the research, a partnership with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and other stakeholders, will feed into resource management and restoration planning decisions as well as efforts toward holistic ecosystem management of Mobile Bay.

“More broadly, the project’s research and outreach components will support widespread management efforts to increase coastal resource resilience to environmental trends and variability,” Kalin said.

Tian said the importance of this work cannot be overstated.

“With respect to the solution, we will create a next-generation numerical model to assess and predict these impacts,” he said. “This information will help resource managers in the Mobile Bay area and beyond to make evidence-based decisions and best management strategies for estuarine ecosystem restorations under the current and future climate.”

Lead researcher John Lehrter, a senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and an associate professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama, said he hopes the project leads to a better understanding of the way environmental variability and trends — both short-term factors such as flood and drought, and directional changes including global warming, sea-level rise and ocean acidification — will affect these important estuarine species.

Lehrter said the study will have an impact on the environment and the economy.

“Many estuarine fish and shellfish populations are imperiled or in decline due to the rapid changes that have occurred in estuaries,” he said. “For example, in 2019, the natural oyster fishery in Alabama was not opened due to a lack of oysters. This was the first time ever that the fishery was not opened. We expect that our research will identify some solutions to minimize disturbances to estuaries and to rebuild the populations of important species.” (The current season’s oyster harvest resumed recently after being shut down for more than a month.)

In addition to Kalin, Tian and Lehrter, the team includes eight researchers representing the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi State University and North Carolina State University.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Breakthrough research led by Auburn University professor fuels new product that forecasts long-term drought

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Recently published climate research led by Sanjiv Kumar, a professor in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has already provided the basis of a pioneering new outlook product that is capable of forecasting drought.

Kumar and his team published their findings in the May issue of the Journal of Climate Science.

In August, the Massachusetts-based Climate Impact Company introduced an innovative new forecasting product developed based on that research. An article and accompanying chart on the company’s website now exhibits the most likely dry or drought-prone areas in North America for meteorological autumn, or September, October and November. The article cites the soil reemergence process as its source, breaking down the science behind it.


“It is striking to see the speed at which basic climate science research can deliver a practical solution nationally and internationally — in this case, less than four months,” said Kumar, who leads Auburn University’s Climate, Water and Society, or CWS, Lab in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “This development highlights the way in which basic climate research can fuel practical solutions worldwide.”

The researchers based their pivotal findings on a process called soil reemergence. The idea is that the memory of the land lies not just at its surface, but also beneath its surface; because of that, it can serve as a predictor of future water availability.

The Climate Impact Company, a meteorological and climate consulting organization that aims to change the way industry looks at the impact of weather and climate, is using a combination of deep- and shallow-layer soil moisture deficits as the basis of its new drought outlook product.

The collaborative research included Kumar’s work at Auburn along with Matt Newman of the Boulder, Colorado-based NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, or ESRL, and his colleagues Yan Wang and Ben Livneh, also at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Kumar, who joined the Auburn faculty in 2017, began working on the project in 2016, when he was a National Research Council associate at NOAA ESRL in Boulder.

Puneet Srivastava, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Centerand an expert in water resources and climate variability problems, said Kumar and team were the first to challenge the conventional thinking that root-zone moisture anomalies last only a few months.

“They are demonstrating that greater memory, in the order of several months to over a year, in soil moisture anomalies exist in the layer immediately below the root zone, which has potential to enhance interannual-to-decadal variability in droughts,” said Srivastava, who was not involved in the study.

School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Dean Janaki Alavalapati said the rapid development of a forecast product based on Kumar’s research affirms that the findings will significantly affect climate science in the years to come.

“The findings that Dr. Kumar and his team have made in this research represent a major breakthrough in terms of the role of the land in climate predictability science,” Alavalapati said. “This could result in substantially improved predictability of drought, which could positively impact the lives of people affected by drought each year and affect the decisions of natural resource managers and policymakers.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)