Traditionally scientific aspects related to terrestrial environments were limited to the agricultural environment, with research focused primarily on agricultural productivity and on water resources from the harvesting point of view. In the recent years this field was expanded towards more environmental aspects such as prevention, monitoring, and remediation of pollution, plant and animal ecology, and more.
We live in a period when the most crucial resources, such as water, soil and air, that have always been taken for granted, are imperiled. Sustainable use of these resources should be based on a scientific understanding of the relevant patterns and processes in the environment. Many environmental and ecological phenomena are spatially structured, and their study requires spatially explicit approaches in all research components, including experimental design, statistical analysis and predictive modeling. Our research interests are very diverse; examples include development of environmental surrogates for biodiversity, analysis of possible relations between air pollution and excess cancer incidence, constructing optimal channel management protocol, to balance hydraulic and ecological considerations, monitoring vegetation response to climate change and other topics.
Plant photosynthesis is the primary source of food and fibre for a rapidly increasing human population in a changing global environment. In addition, it helps stabilize global carbon dioxide levels. Plant growth and associated photosynthesis are restricted by common environmental stresses such as drought or the presence excess salinity in soil and water sources. Teaching and research that provide knowledge of the primary roles of plants in agricultural or natural environments and potential effects of environmental change, are essential for scientists and engineers associated with agricultural and environmental activities. Research in the plant physiology laboratory concerns the understanding and manipulation of mechanisms by which plant growth responds to environmental change. The experimental approach uses model crop plants such as maize seedlings grown in regulated environments. Techniques in use include psychrometry and pressure bombs for investigating plant water relations and custom built assemblies for simultaneous determination of root hydraulic conductance in multiple samples. In addition, we are using confocal laser scanning microscopy and molecular biological techniques to probe xylem transport of proteins and roles of cell wall metabolism in growth regulation. Recent work focuses on the overlooked impact on water availability to plant roots of the ubiquitous colloidal particles found in fresh and recycled waters
Surface Hydrology, Subsurface Hydrology and Soil Physics
Research in the fields of surface hydrology, subsurface hydrology and soil physics include all the variety of research types, including pure theoretical studies, laboratory based studies, and field experimental studies. Most studies include a combination of at least two of those research types. Laboratory based studies focus primarily at understanding pore scale processes, focusing at unsaturated porous media, where current studies include the understanding of pore evaporation processes, the influence of microbial activities on hydraulic properties of porous media, and the electrical signature of non aqueous phase liquid (NAPL). These studies include a significant share of development of computational models, often numerical. Field based studies address larger scale problems related to major hydrological or agricultural problems. Current projects include quantitative analysis of snow dynamics in non arctic environments, implementation of geophysical tools for understanding root and field water and solute dynamics, and study of the role of soil heterogeneity in water flow and solute fate and transport processes. Pure theoretical studies address primarily computational developments for subsurface modeling, where current projects include the development of several geophysical inversion algorithms, and development of several alternatives for modeling flow and transport at saturated and unsaturated environments such as the analytic element method, angular pore network, and more. Research in this field is supported by major funding agencies such as BARD and ISF, as well as by local agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the Water Authority.
Soil and Environmental Chemistry
The activity of the soil and environmental chemistry group focuses on investigation of physico-chemical processes occurring mainly in soils and streams and stream sediments with special emphasis on soil, water and gaseous pollution caused by fertilization, agrochemicals and use of reclaimed wastewater. These are based on laboratory, lysimeter and field studies which are combined with numerical modeling and efforts to improve and develop analytical methods and monitoring tools (FTIR spectroscopy, EEM, Isotopes). Examples of main fields studies are: i. environmentally friendly application of fertilizers (emphasis on nitrogen) with focus on controlled release fertilizers (CRFs); Use of inhibitors, application agro-techniques and “precision fertilization/delivery” to reduce losses and improve efficiency; ii. Nitrogen transformations in the rhizosphere and environmental systems with focus on measuring and numerical modeling of N-dynamics in soils; Long term effects of irrigation with reclaimed effluent; Use of advanced 15N isotope based techniques, modeling N-dynamics with special emphasis on “Microsites” and “Reactions in Aggregates”; Investigation and modeling of N transformations in polluted stream sediments with special emphasis on gaseous emissions such N2O and efforts to distinguish between sources of N2O formation. iii. Sensors and methods for dynamic monitoring of nutrients and pollutants with focus on fiber-optics sensors for in-situ and real time nitrate determination in environmental systems by FTIR/ATR; Development of the modified isotope pairing technique (MIPT) for investigation Ndynamics in stream sediments with special emphasis on determining sources and fluxes of N2O; Combined use of FTIR spectroscopy with isotope measurements to quantify N-transformations in soils and sediments; Dynamics of P transformations in soils irrigated with reclaimed wastewater as elucidated by oxygen isotopic composition of phosphate.