Summer Undergraduate Research Mentored Experience

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Dr. Ivonne Santiago

Department of Civil Engineering

Natural zeolite as soil amendment to control salinity and moisture content in sandy soil

Preferred major field of study or minimum required skills

Microsoft Word and Excel, basic chemistry and statistics.

Scholarly significance/intellectual merit

Irrigation waters generally contain appreciable quantities of salts and crops extract water from the soil while leaving most of the salt behind. Unless leached away (continuously or intermittently), such salts sooner or later begin to hinder crop growth. In the El Paso area, like much of the arid southwestern United States, decreased supply of surface water has resulted in increased use of groundwater to supplement the drought-impaired surface water supply, which in turn has resulted in a groundwater overdraft, significant drops in groundwater levels, and a rise of brackish water levels. This means that more wells have been drilled and the wells have to be drilled deeper to find good quality water, which means higher energy costs. We are proposing to evaluate the use of natural zeolite as soil amendment to control salinity of the irrigation water and retain moisture in the soil. This proposal will provide a feasible and sustainable alternative for agricultural applications.

Research question(s)

The research questions drive the experimental design of the components:

  1. What is the capacity of the zeolite to absorb salinity from solutions containing salts normally found in water supplies used in agricultural applications in the El Paso
  2. What is the capacity of the zeolite to retain moisture?

Methods/techniques/instruments to be learned/utilized

Student will perform kinetic and equilibrium batch studies and will learn how to analyze isotherm data, will learn to design experiments, and perform basic statistical analysis techniques using Minitab software. Student will learn to use analytical equipment consisting of basic pH, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity measurements, as well as an ion analyzer and a soil moisture meter.