Sermet Selected as a Recipient for the Iowa Water Center’s Research Grant Competition

Ames, Iowa – The Iowa Water Center (IWC) annually administers a statewide grant competition known as the IWC Graduate Student Research Competition.

The purpose of this funding is to help graduate students to complete additional research objectives beyond the scope of their current work, with an emphasis on submitting their research to peer-reviewed publications.

Yusuf Sermet is one of the recipients, along with three other graduate students in Iowa. Each recipient will receive funding for various different research studies.

Sermet’s research predominately focuses on next-generation environmental knowledge generation and communication, as well as affordable water monitoring devices and applications.

Accuracy and reliability are two necessary components when it comes to the monitoring of our water resources. Current monitoring practices are accurate, however the cost to apply these systems on a large scale are restrictively expensive. This inspired Sermet to create a cost-friendly solution. Sermet’s research project created a water level measurement methodology that only relies on prevalent sensors, commonly found on smartphones. This allows for the camera-based embedded system to measure water levels, detect objects on the water surface (e.g. debris, boats, trees) and supply annotated data for hydrological processes, such as surface water modeling and streamflow estimation.

Get to know Yusuf Sermet, a PhD student at the University of Iowa.

Sermet first learned about the IWC when he participated in the annual Iowa Water Conference in 2016. He, along with his research group, took part in the student poster presentation and won second place that year. Sermet shared that, through this opportunity, he was able to learn from Iowa’s most prevalent researchers, professionals, stakeholders and peers in the field.

“Since then, I followed IWC’s activities and opportunities closely,” said Sermet. “With my advisor, who is the director of the Hydroinformatics Lab at the University of Iowa, Professor Ibrahim Demir, we felt that our research proposal on affordable stage sensors fit perfectly to IWC’s mission and vision, and will hopefully be useful to Iowans to prepare for future floods.”

Sermet grew up in Izmir, Turkey, where he received his undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering. After his junior year in his undergraduate studies, Sermet joined Professor Demir in the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa for a summer internship. He is currently working toward his PhD in electrical and computer engineering through the University of Iowa, where he is able to continue working as a researcher in this center. During his PhD, Sermet has been given the opportunity to work on creating artificial intelligence solutions for environmental and climate issues. When asked what his favorite part of the research process is, Sermet answered,

“What I like about the research process is the excitement of taking on new challenges, audaciously brainstorming ideas and innovating novel solutions.”

According to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), the United States currently has 2.7 million streams and associated watersheds with poorly monitored network of only 8,300 sensors. Sermet stated that the federal and state governments in the United States use stage sensors can range in cost from $3,000-$30,000, with an additional expense of anywhere between $1,000-$10,000 in annual maintenance costs.

“These expensive sensor prices cause challenges for effective data coverage, which is crucial for natural disaster mitigation, water resource management and climate change,” Sermet said. “This data scarcity led us to come up with a novel approach that will allow the development of next-generation stream sensors within the cost range of $100-$400.”

When Sermet takes a break from his lab research work, he enjoys playing basketball, going to different concerts and movies and discovering new places. Sermet mentioned that most of these hobbies were put on pause due to COVID-19, so he has recently picked up the art of cooking. He likes to create Mediterranean dishes in particular.

The well-being of people and our communities inspired Sermet to complete his research proposal on affordable monitoring practices. Sermet shared that, over the last 40 years, water related natural hazards, such as floods and droughts, have killed more than 3,500 people in the United States and have caused over $350 billion in damage. Water resources support a plethora of daily-life necessities, including providing safe water for consumption, recreation, irrigation and power generation. Sermet explained that, because of the dire need for safe water, it is vital to have a reliable, water resource monitoring system in order to diminish the loss of life and property that water related disasters can create. It is his hope that with his completed research, this goal can become a reality.

Building Youth Leadership Capacity Through Project-Based Learning

“ The world needs people who can lead others to make a change for the better if anything is gonna change for the better.”

This is a reflection from a Davenport North High School junior, one of the first students to experience environmental science education through a pilot program called “The Watershed Project,” sponsored by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and administered by the Iowa Water Center (IWC).

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Call for abstracts for 2019 Iowa Water Conference now open

19 IWC wordmark tag

The Iowa Water Conference Planning Committee is proud to announce that the theme for the 2019 Iowa Water Conference is, “Back to Basics: Land, Water, People.” This theme is inspired by the need for our communities to look back on our history with the landscape and focus on the basics when it comes to building resilient communities.

We invite water professionals, researchers, and graduate students to submit presentation abstracts centered around the theme. The State of Iowa has the most altered landscape in the nation. Increasingly, we look for solutions to our water management issues that bring us closer to nature and back to Iowa’s natural environmental processes. From restoring prairies and wetlands on agricultural landscapes to green infrastructure that couple natural and engineered systems, we are building a future through a respectful look to our state’s history. By getting “back to basics,” we are focusing on the entire ecosystem, with water as the connector.

The call for presentations, including instructions for submission, can be found here.

The call is open from August 15 – September 30.

Questions can be directed to Hanna Bates, Program Coordinator for the Iowa Water Center at

Long-term crop rotation and tillage effects on soil greenhouse gas emissions and crop production Illinois, USA (Research Summary)

Post submitted by Tianna Griffin, the Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant

A recent article by Behnke et al. (2018) evaluates the long-term effects of crop rotation and tillage practices on yield and greenhouse gas emission for corn (C), soybeans (S), and wheat (W). The rotations were CCC, CS, CSW, SSS, SC, WCS, with each rotation representing one year. Each rotation had a tilled (T) and no-till (NT) treatment. The study was conducted using a 15-year time span at the Northwestern Illinois Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center.

Behnke, et al’s research evaluated tillage practices and crop rotation on yield, greenhouse gas emission, and soil available Nitrogen (N). Behnke et al. hypothesized that crop rotations where less N fertilizer is used would result in lower greenhouse gas emissions, specifically nitrous oxide (N2O). They predicted that chisel tillage would cause an increase in N2O and CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions caused by mineralization of decomposing residues (Behnke, et al 2018). From 2012-2015, greenhouse gas emissions were taken weekly during a period of four growing seasons. The data was grouped into three sets of sampling months: March-May, June-August, and September-November. Putting the data into groups allowed for analysis of seasonality on greenhouse gas emission. Soil samples were also taken from the 2013-2015 growing year to evaluate N concentrations.

A main finding of the study was that there wasn’t a significant difference on greenhouse gas emissions between continuous corn with tillage and continuous corn with no till. They found that there was a significant benefit of chisel tillage to corn and soybean yield in increasing organic matter and residue, but there was no increase of N2O and CO2 in the soil found in the study. Because corn typically benefits from high amounts of N, they observed that corn being part of a rotation was able to lower the amount of N2O in the soil. An important part of the research was that N2O emissions were higher at times of fertilizer application. During fertilizer application is when pollution (water and air) is more likely to occur. When fertilizer is applied in excess, plants don’t take up all of it; what is not taken up by the plant is volatilized (when a chemical converts to a liquid or gas) and/or runs off the field. Yields were higher with a diverse crop rotation, such as CS or CSW. Having a diverse cropping system also provides resiliency in yield during suboptimal weather conditions.

Agricultural practices are responsible for a lot of the pollution that occurs in the United States. According to Behnke et al. (2018), greenhouse gases emissions due to agricultural practices in the Unites States makes up 9% of the emitted greenhouse gases. Of that 9%, 81% is CO2, 11% is NH4 (methane), and 6% is N2O. Long-term research like this study can help evaluate ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions as well as determine the effects of some agricultural practices on greenhouse gas emissions as well as on improving yields. This research may lead to more long-term research on agricultural practices.


Tianna Griffin was the Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant. She recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in agronomy with emphasis in agroecology and and a minor in horticulture with an emphasis in fruit and vegetable production.

Why I am Getting into Soil and Water

Post submitted by Lindsay Brown, recent graduate from Iowa State University and member of Iowa State’s Soil and Water Conservation Club (SWCC)

My name is Lindsay Brown and I have recently graduated Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology and Environmental Science. I joined the Soil and Water Conservation Club (SWCC) in the fall semester of 2016 and it has provided me with vast amounts of knowledge surrounding the topic of soil and water conservation. Over the years I have heard many presentations from graduate students, professors and other professionals working in the field. The presentations range from land management and conservation to farming practices. Hearing from these various professionals has allowed me to diversify my knowledge about these topics and develop a better understanding on how conservation efforts can be implemented and managed. The SWCC does not only meet every other week and listen to presentations, but we also sell, assemble and present Groundwater Flow Models. These models visually represent how water moves throughout the ground. This visualization can help students, farmers, faculty, or really anyone to realize the importance of water movement on the surface and underground and how understanding its movement can lead to specific water management practices. The Groundwater Flow Models are sold and distributed nationally and internationally and the profits go toward club funds, which allows us to go on trips and attend conferences for professional experience.

The SWCC also has an annual publication called Getting into Soil and Water that is put together by the publication committee. Getting into Soil and Water is a publication that is composed of a variety of articles related to soil and water about local and international subjects written by professionals from various backgrounds. I have been an editor for this publication since August of 2016 and have learned a lot about the editing process, leadership skills, and how to communicate efficiently and effectively with my peers, authors and sponsors. At the beginning of the year, the publication committee discusses and brainstorms different possibilities for themes the publication could follow. After the theme is discussed and we’ve reached a consensus, authors are then contacted to see if they would like to write an article in the publication. After all the articles are retrieved, the editing process begins. Each article is edited many times by each member of the committee and compiled into a cohesive publication. Once the publications are printed, they are distributed to people all around the state of Iowa. Through my experience of being an editor, I learned how to delegate effectively and to recognize the value each person brings to a team in achieving a larger goal. Being an editor also gave me experience running meetings, helped me to develop confidence voicing my opinions in a group setting and allowed me to share ideas with my peers in the publication committee. All of these experiences will be useful for my future career goals and aspirations.

Since graduation I have moved to Minneapolis and now have an internship with the University of Minnesota partnered with the City of Woodbury leading a water conservation project. My future career goals are to work with environmental consulting to decrease environmental degradation and improve the health of communities and ecosystems. Being a part of the SWCC and the Getting into Soil and Water publication committee as an editor, has provided me with multiple years of experience learning about conservation practices as well as practical communication skills. I would definitely recommend students to get involved in student organizations like the SWCC on campus, because it provides you with lifelong practical skills for your future career.

Lindsay Brown is leading a water conservation project with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science from Iowa State University. She is currently looking for full-time employment doing environmental consulting in the Twin Cities area.


Reflecting on the Iowa Water Center

Tianna Griffin (left) at the 2018 Iowa Water Conference

[Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Tianna for all of her hard work while at the Iowa Water Center. We wish her the best on her next endeavors!]

Post submitted by Tianna Griffin, the Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant

As my time with the Iowa Water Center comes to an end, I would like to reflect on my experience. I have enjoyed working with and getting to know Hanna, Melissa, and Rick. I have learned skills that will stick with me on my future endeavors. Starting at IWC I had goals to learn more about water related issues and to improve my writing skills, and I was able to accomplish both of those.

Working at IWC was different than any job that I had. Prior to IWC, most of my job experience was working with plants directly. As Special Projects Assistant, I spent a lot of time on a computer doing various projects related to water issues. One of my favorite yet most challenging projects was summarizing scientific articles. I am glad to have gained this skill because it helped me to figure out how to read more challenging literature, process the information and summarize it.

Working at IWC I learned a lot about watersheds and what people are doing to improve Iowa’s waters. Getting a glimpse from behind the scenes on the communication and challenges that goes into making a change in Iowa’s waters was by far my favorite part of my job. I admire the different ways that IWC does to educate, communicate, and organize with other organizations to make a difference. My time at IWC has opened my eyes to the issues and challenges Iowa faces with water. As my experiences grow, I hope to one day make a difference with issues that face water and/or agriculture like IWC.

Now that I have graduated, I will be moving on to work at a greenhouse in North Carolina as an Assistant Greenhouse Grower where I will work with ornamentals. I can only hope to continue to gain new knowledge and experiences to find my niche.



Tianna Griffin was the Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant. She recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in agronomy with emphasis in agroecology and and a minor in horticulture with an emphasis in fruit and vegetable production.


2018 Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference

Post submitted by Tianna Griffin, the Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) 2018 Annual Conference was an event that brought families, farmers and professionals together to learn and meet new people.  It was my first time attending a conference and it won’t be my last.

The event was from January 18-20th and there were approximately 1,000 people who attended. This conference opens the opportunity for students, farmers, professors, and professionals in natural sciences to come together to learn new things and network. The conference theme was “Revival.” As the conference program stated, “At Practical Farmers, we believe that revival – of rural communities; of our soil, creeks and rivers; of opportunities for young people to set down roots where they grew up – is vital for agriculture, people and the land.” The topics presented, and the overall dynamics of the event exceeded my expectations. I didn’t know what to expect attending a conference; there were more people there than I expected, it was a family oriented event, and the set-up was conducive to interacting with others.

The event was filled with friendly and professional people. I saw many familiar and new faces. There was a wide variety of exhibitors to network with who specialized in animal feed, tillage practices, organic production, and many more. A silent auction was held, and sessions to attend ranging from, “Teaching Livestock to Eat Weeds,” “Pragmatic Approaches to Sustainability and Profitability,” “Leaving Your Legacy,” and many more. There were two sessions on Friday, and five sessions on Saturday that were 70 minutes long. The presenters were a diverse set of people who were farmers that grow row crops as well as horticultural crops. There were ISU professors, as well as professionals who had expertise in certain areas of agriculture. This was the most impressive aspect of the conference because it allowed for a variety of available sessions. It allowed me to step out of my comfort zone of attending more than just topics on horticulture crops (which is my academic minor) and attend sessions that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend.

Some sessions that I attended and enjoyed were “Ecology and Management of Iowa’s Common Vegetable Insect Pests” presented by Dr. Donald Lewis who is an ISU entomologist, “Learning from On-Farm Research: Horticulture,” presented by Carmen Black, Rob Faux, and Liz Kolbe. Black and Faux are growers who practice on-farm research. Lastly, “Using Tea Bags to Assess Soil: A Low-Cost Approach?” presented by Marshall McDaniel who is an assistant professor at ISU in agronomy. I learned many new things by attending the conference as well as got a refresher on things of which I already had knowledge. There were so many good topics being presented that I didn’t know what to choose.

I enjoyed going to the PFI Annual Conference. It was a successful event because they represent people with different backgrounds of expertise; professionals and families attended the event. Because there’s a variety of different speakers it allows for the opportunity to learn new things and meet new people. Events like the PFI Annual Conference makes the possibility of their conference theme “Revival” come true by bringing farmers and town people together. According to PFI’s conference website, by “Revival,” PFI envisions repopulating rural areas with farmers, regenerating Iowa soils by diversifying crop rotations, rejuvenating creeks and rivers, and opening opportunities for the next generation of farmers.

IMG_0176Tianna Griffin is Iowa Water Center’s Special Projects Assistant. She is pursuing an undergraduate degree in agronomy with emphasis in agroecology and minoring in horticulture with an emphasis in fruit and vegetable production.

Winter Update from the IWC Graduate Student Research Grant Program: Emily Martin

Post submitted by Emily Martin, MS Environmental Science student at Iowa State University and recipient of the Graduate Student Supplemental Research Competition

Since the last update, we switched the focus of our study to the ability of biochar to remove nitrate in comparison to a woodchip-only bioreactor. As a reminder, the original goal of the project was to evaluate the ability of woodchip bioreactors to remove phosphorous by adding biochar as a phosphate (P) amendment. In the previous update, we found in a P sorption study that none of the biochars performed well at removing P from solution.

To compare nitrate removal, we ran what is called a batch reactor test. The batch test used five liter buckets filled with 30 grams of biochar, 350 grams of Ash woodchips, and three liters of deionized water. As a control to see the real impact of adding biochar, some buckets only contained woodchips. Both the test and control buckets had three types of denitrifying microbes added: Bradyrhizobium japonicum, Pseudomonas stutzeri, and DN-8A.

One issue that can arise not only in batch tests, but also in field woodchip bioreactors is an initial flushing of nutrients from the woodchips, and as we found out in the P sorption tests, also from biochar. To prevent this affecting our batch reactor tests, we allowed the mixture to soak for 24 hours. After the initial soak, the buckets were drained of the deionized water and two liters of nutrient solution was added. The nutrient solution was made to 30 mg/L NO3 and 10 mg/L PO42- using KNO3 and KH2PO4 – PO4 with deionized water, respectively. Samples were taken at 0, 4, 8, 12, and 24 hours to test for NO3N.

Results showed that 12 of the 18 biochars removed more nitrate than the woodchip control. The biochar with the most removal was the 600°C Corn Stover, which almost doubled the amount of nitrate removed by the control. Of the 12 biochars that removed more nitrate than the control, 50 percent were 800°C, 25 percent were 600°C, and 25 percent were 400°C. All six of the 800°C biochars performed better than the control. The nitrate results overall were more promising than what was found in the P sorption test. There is potential to increase the ability of field bioreactors to remove nitrate by adding biochar; however, more tests will be needed to see how the biochar handles scaling up and field conditions. This was a short-term test in a laboratory setting. It is possible that on a larger scale, longer timescale, and at varying influent nitrate concentrations, biochar could perform worse than seen in the lab.


A secondary part of the batch test was following up to the P sorption test. Because the biochar leached phosphorus in the P sorption test, the 24 hour soak in deionized water should have helped remove the initial leaching. We are still testing all of the biochars, but initial results from a set of three biochars and the woodchip control showed that all still leached phosphorus into the solution. This could be problematic for the use of biochar in field conditions and should be managed if tests are taken to full-scale.

The next step for the project is to finish testing for phosphorus removal from the batch tests. After that, a paper will be written and submitted for publishing. As conferences are coming up this spring, I will be creating a poster to present at the Iowa Water Conference (March 21-22) and the Environmental Science Graduate Student Symposium (April 4).