Lauren Ertl

 
Mentor: Dr. Peter Waylen
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
 
"I wanted to get involved with this project both for the experience and because of the subject matter. I'm really interested in water issues and I'd like to gain experience applying GIS methods to them."
 

Major

Geography

Minor

N/A

Research Interests

  • Water Issues
  • Rainfall
  • GIS

Academic Awards

  • UF University Scholars Program
  • DuPont Scholarship

Organizations

  • N/A

Volunteer

  • N/A

Hobbies and Interests

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Reading
  • Fishing

Research Description

Spatial and Temporal Variability of Rainfall in Mauritius
The small (2040 km2) island nation of Mauritius in the southwestern Indian Ocean epitomizes many of the problems faced by 50 members of SIDS (Small Island Developing States) in the tropical Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean. Population (1.29 million) continues to grow making the island one of the most densely populated nations in the world. During 400 years of various European colonial rulers, an economic dependence upon a single commodity, sugar cane, grew. In 50 years since independence, the economy has diversified a little, but there is still a heavy economic dependence upon the crop, which requires a great deal of irrigation. This problem is particularly acute as suitable arable land is scarce on volcanic islands. A major tourism industry has arisen, and with over 950,000 tourists arriving in 2011, it has placed additional stresses on local water resources, as there is great demand for landscaping, pools, laundry, cooking, etc. However, since the colonial area, there has been little to no major improvement to the infrastructure delivering freshwater and the system suffers tremendous natural wastage through broken and leaking water mains. A volcanic substrate limits the spatial extent and capacity of aquifers. Most water runs quickly into rivers and the sea (the island is only about 80km long at its maximum). Multiple factors compound the problem; a growing population, expanding tourism, and the sugar industry continue to reduce natural land cover and the island’s intrinsic ability to store water. Mauritius also faces sea-level rise which threatens water quality in aquifers at populated and agriculturally utilized low elevations. During the dry season, water rationing takes place throughout the island, so the management of water resources is extremely crucial. Unfortunately, the government has limited technological and financial resources leaving it unable to invest heavily in an understanding of the spatial and temporal variability of the sole source of freshwater (rainfall) on the island. This research aims to make a significant contribution to address the very “first order questions” of “How much water enters the island, where and when?” There are a surprisingly large number of rainfall recording stations (between 130 and 240 operating at any time between 1982 and 2010) on the island. These records are not kept centrally but in various disparate government departments, sugar industry institutes, cooperatives, private businesses and the University of Mauritius. Ph.D. student Caroline Staub, a Mauritian under the supervision of Dr. Waylen, was allowed to take digital images of these records, which are currently being transcribed to electronic form at UF. Although very few stations that report daily rainfall exist, the monthly information contains counts of the number of days per month ( in the years of 1982-2010) that exceeded one of seven thresholds of increasing magnitude (0.1mm to 50mm per day). This consistent pattern of measurement and the large network of stations will allow the identification and mapping of the seasonally and annually varying spatial and temporal patterns of rainfall availability. The island lies near one of the “nodes” of a recently discovered cause of climatological variability, second only to El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in importance for the Indian Ocean Basin. This research will provide the first detailing of the magnitude and geographic extent of the phenomenon on the island. Particular attention will be paid to the changing patterns of rainfall that flow toward the few surface reservoirs and to the contributing area of a major new surface impoundment planned by the government. Once the research is completed, these digital data will be made available to the government, the sugar industry, and University of the Mauritius.