Qian Zhang wins national award for research on Chesapeake Bay

April 14, 2017
Qian Zhang receives his Innovyze Excellence in Computational Hydraulics/Hydrology Award from Howard B. LaFever, past board president of the American Academy of Environment Engineers and Scientists. Photo Credit: AAEES

Dr. Qian Zhang has won a national award for his dissertation that examined progress to reduce nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

He conducted his work as a Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University and now continues it with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science as a data analyst in the Chesapeake Bay Program office.

Zhang received the Innovyze Excellence in Computational Hydraulics/Hydrology Award on April 13. The American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES) and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) issue the national award annually.

The honor recognizes a student whose research contributes substantially to the knowledge pool in the area of Computational Hydraulics & Hydrology. Criteria for selection includes research accomplishment (including original, innovative research of publishable quality), academic program performance, professional and community service, and candidate’s purpose and goals. 

“It’s a great achievement,” Zhang said. “I’m truly honored to be selected for this prestigious award.”

His dissertation was titled “Quantifying Nutrient and Sediment Export from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Retrospective Analyses and Method Improvements.” His research involved analysis, modeling, and synthesis of large-scale data sets for better understanding nutrient and sediment transport from watershed systems and their impact on receiving waters.

Zhang and his adviser wanted to examine progress in efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended sediment loads to the Bay. The nation’s largest estuary has had a string of environmental problems, including excess nutrients and low oxygen levels, that threaten the Bay’s overall health and its marine life. His doctoral research was under the direction of Chesapeake Research Consortium Director and JHU Professor William Ball.

“We started to question how nutrient and sediment loads from the major rivers had been calculated when there were typically only a limited number of samples per year at each monitoring location,” he said. “About the same time, the United States Geological Survey published a new statistical method for filling in the gaps of the existing data and for better describing long-term trends in the data.”

They approached the lead developer of the method, Dr. Bob Hirsch, and soon started to apply the method to understand long-term seasonal trends for various water quality constituents in the Chesapeake tributaries.

One particular contribution by Zhang and collaborators was to use statistical approaches to better understand water quality changes at locations upstream and downstream of the Conowingo Reservoir on the Bay’s largest tributary to provide a set of quantitative evidence on the decreased trapping efficiency of the reservoir in recent decades.

Zhang  achieved six journal publications and three additional manuscripts when he graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2016.

“I was fortunate to have had plentiful opportunities to learn from some well-established scientists that have significantly broadened my perspective on watershed transport, biogeochemistry, and statistical hydrology,” he said. “In particular, I want to thank my doctoral dissertation committee members, namely, Drs. Bill Ball, Bob Hirsch, Ciaran Harman, and Peter Wilcock.”

As a watershed effectiveness data analyst for UMCES, Zhang continues to analyze trends in river water quality and influencing factors to measure the success of Bay restoration efforts and guide science-based management decisions.

“This is a critical mission that involves a number of scientists and professionals in the Chesapeake Bay community,” he said. “I am thrilled to stay in the Bay community and to continue contributing my knowledge and expertise toward this significant endeavor.”