U.Va. Environmental Scientists Hold Workshop in China

July 7, 2010 — University of Virginia environmental scientists recently led an international workshop at Nanchang University in China, focusing on Poyang Lake, the largest freshwater lake in China.

The workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation's Environmental Engineering Program, focused on the development of joint environmental and engineering research projects between researchers in the United States and China. It was co-led by U.Va. professor of environmental sciences David E. Smith and Shaw L. Yu, U.Va. professor emeritus of environmental engineering.

The workshop grew out of a 2007 visit to U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts & Sciences' Department of Environmental Sciences by Wen-Bin Zhou, president of Nanchang University, the largest university in east-central China with 80,000 full-time students. Zhou toured U.Va. facilities and attended presentations on integrated data collection activities by researchers with U.Va.'s Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research project.

Fed by the Gan and Xiu rivers, Poyang Lake varies widely in area during its annual cycle, making it an interesting subject for study. Driven by monsoon flooding, it grows from 1,000 square kilometers in the dry season to more than 4,400 square kilometers, roughly the size of the Delmarva Peninsula. During its winter dry season, the lake is a major destination for cranes and other migratory birds. While relatively clean, the lake is increasingly stressed by industrialization and urbanization. The Chinese government also is considering a new dam project to increase water levels during dry periods.

Workshop participants visited the lake, which currently is above flood stage from heavy rains that have displaced more than 20,000 people.

Smith gave presentations on the U.Va. Chesapeake Bay Game, which is an interactive computer game developed at U.Va. that simulates conditions on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, and how human decisions affect the health of the ecosystem. Such a tool, customized to other ecosystems, could be useful to other nations for understanding how policy decisions affect local natural environments.

Yu presented research on the use of green engineering practices to improve water quality. U.Va. environmental scientist John Porter discussed environmental information management and the use of wireless sensor networks – technology used by U.Va. researchers on Virginia's Eastern Shore and at other sites. U.Va. environmental scientist Mathew Reidenbach presented research on how nutrients are transported in aquatic systems.

Other workshop participants included representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers from the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Auburn University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Hawaii and a large number of Chinese engineers and researchers.