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Research in Dr. Drohan's group is currently focused on understanding anthropogenic and climate change imprinting on soil genesis and subsequent land use at multiple scales of the critical zone.  Both factors have a lasting effect on the creation of a soil, biogeochemcial cycling, and soil function.  One could argue that anthropogenic and climate change imprinting have an equivalent, lasting effect on the survival of humans.

Anthropogenic imprinting on soil and ecosystem function: This group of projects is focused on examining human imprinting on soils across a variety of land uses.

Changing landscapes, changing soils.  Several projects in the laboratory are investigating physical and biogeochemical changes in marginal, mineland and urban/suburban soils due to shifts in land use.  Our most recent work is addressing soil water movement and soil organic carbon flux with shifting land use and landscape age.  We are also investigating soil suitability for stormwater recharge in suburban/urban environments.  Many of these topics fall within the realm of site remediation and will be an important priority of suburban/urban center revitalization, sustainability and the stabilization of local economies.

Current Projects and Funding:
  1. Site-specific hillslope hydrologic flow path identification using coupled pedon analysis and geophysics. (USDA-NRCS; USDA-AFRI).
  2. Effects of shale-gas gas extraction on  ecosystems: assessment, monitoring, and remediation (Heinz Foundation, PA-DCNR).
  3. Assessing landscape change due to Marcellus shale drilling operations and devising landscape remediation strategies to minimize site impacts (Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research). Completed.
  4. Quantifying soil change across MLRAs 127 and 140 for the identification of Ecological Sites and the development of State and Transition Models (USDA-NRCS).
  5. Enhancing Soil Survey information to identify environmentally sensitive wet landscapes in the Connewago and Octoraro Creek Watesheds, PA (USDA-NRCS).
  6. Greenhouse gas life cycle analysis of biochar effects
    on marginal land conversion to switchgrass production (USDA-NIFA).
  7. Urban Soil Survey and hydrologic characterization of vacant land in Cleveland, Ohio for sustainable use (US-EPA).
  8. Urban soil characterization of vacant Land in Pittsburgh, PA.
  9. Soil dynamic property characteristics in an acid mine drainage “Kill Zone”, Sylvan Grove, PA.
  10. Manipulating host- and mate-finding behavior of plum curculio: Development of a multi-life stage management strategy for a key fruit pest (USDA-SCRI). 

Atmospheric deposition fate and transport.  Dr. Drohan's laboratory and Dr. Elizabeth Boyer's laboratory are collaborating on an effort to advance understanding of the extent and degree of mercury accumulation in soils and watersheds across Pennsylvania, an area receiving some of the heaviest loads of atmospheric mercury deposition in the country. Our research combines soil mercury loading models with atmospheric loading models in an attempt to predict soils and watersheds at risk to mercury export.

Current Projects:

  1. Predicting total mercury in Pennsylvania soils in order to predict potential stream Hg loading (PA-WRRC).
  2. Ideintifying Pennsylvania watersheds at risk to Hg accumulation (PA-WRRC).
  3. A hydropedological perspective of mercury distribution in soils of the Black Moshannon Lake drainage basin (PSU-Seed Grant).

Climate change imprinting on soil and ecosystems This group of projects is examining climate change imprinting on soils by studying the effect of eolian additions and glacial/periglacial climate change on soil development.

Glacial/periglacial landscape dynamics. We are documenting the extent of loess additions to soils in the conterminous United States and developing models of soil genesis tied to landscape dynamics associated with glacial recession. Loess additions to soils have played an important role in modifying soils following glaciation, and thus have influenced ecosystem development.

Current Projects:

  1. Extent and thickness of Last Glacial eolian deposits in the conterminous U.S.
  2. Characterisitcs of Last Glacial eolian deposits in Pennsylvania soils.
  3. Characterization of periglacial landforms in the Ridge and Valley Province using seismic refraction and GPR.

Subaqueous soil genesis. With climate change, water tables and sea-level fluctuation will lead to former sub-aerial soils becoming submerged (a subaqueous soil or later legacy sediment).  Present research on subaqueous soils in estuarine environments suggests such soils could be valued in the billions of dollars due to the direct and indirect benefits they provide in carbon sequestration, habitat support, flood and water quality protection. Our research is focused on assessing carbon sequestration in freshwater subaqueous soils and legacy sediments, and in determining the fate and transport of pollutants in watersheds from the well drained, to hydric, to subaqueous soil.

Current Projects:

  1. Genesis of freshwater subaqueous soils in an Appalachian Plateau impoundment (PSU Seed Grant). Completed
  2. Regional characteristics of Pennsylvania freshwater subaqueous soils. 
  3. Rapid pedogenic changes in subaqueous soils following drainage and flooding of an impoundment.