Grants

Stahl Awarded NSF SitS Grant

Publication Date
Mason O. Stahl headshot

$169,044; NSF Signals in the Soil (SitS)

Improving Rice Cultivation by Observing Dynamic Soil Chemical Processes from Grain to Landscape Scales
Principal Investigator: Mason Stahl, James M. Kenney Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering

Due to its prevalence and association with chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes, the United State Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified arsenic as the highest priority contaminant. Around the globe, people are exposed to high levels of naturally occurring arsenic through both their drinking water and the food they consume, including rice. Rice, which provides 20% of the world’s caloric intake, is one of the main dietary sources of arsenic. Not only is arsenic dangerous to individuals who consume it in high levels, but it is toxic to the rice crops, as well. Paddy rice fields make up 12% of all lands suitable for growing crops and as increased arsenic is absorbed into rice crops, it poses a threat to crop yield and the farming communities that rely on rice crops.

Through this collaborative, interdisciplinary project, an understanding of the environmental factors that control the amount of arsenic dissolved in rice paddy soils and subsequently absorbed into rice crops will be developed. Using real-time data from field and satellite measurements from communities in Cambodia, where arsenic levels in rice frequently exceed safe amounts, and in Texas, where arsenic levels are variable and frequently elevated, the project team will identify how rice cultivation practices and climate affect where and when arsenic is released from the soil in paddy rice fields and how this translates into absorption into the rice. These measurements will be used to help predict areas at greatest risk of arsenic in the rice crop and identify rice cultivation practices that can minimize the update of arsenic in rice crops. People throughout the world are exposed to arsenic through rice consumption, therefore this research will have an impact on global health, as well as the economy of rice farming communities.

Institutions of higher education collaborating on this project include Union College (Schenectady, NY), Columbia University (New York City, NY), San Diego State University (San Diego, CA), and International University (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). Undergraduate and graduate students from across these four diverse schools will have the opportunity to engage in all aspects of the research - from the field, where data will be collected, to the laboratory, where the data will be analyzed, processed, and interpreted.