- Extension Specialist
2007, Cornell University, Ph.D.
2004, Cornell University, M.S.
2000, University of Massachusetts Amherst, B.S.
2016-present - Associate Professor, Dept. Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech
2011-2016 - Assistant Professor, Dept. Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech
2009-2011 - Research Associate, Dept. Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University
2007-2009 - Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dept. Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University
2000-2007 - Graduate Research Assistant, Cornell University
Selected Major Awards
- 2018 - North Central Association of State Ag Experiment Station Directors National Excellence in Multi-State Research Award – NCERA217: Drainage Design and Management to Improve Water Quality
- 2016 - Scholar of the Week, Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, Virginia Tech
- 2014 - Outstanding Assistant Professor, College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
- 2013 - Outstanding Reviewer, ASCE
- 2008 - USDA-CSREES Award for Mission Integration
Courses Taught Last Five Years
BSE 4304-5304G Watershed Modeling
Other Teaching and Advising
I serve as a faulty advisor to a Senior Design team (BSE 4125-4126 Comprehensive Senior Design Project).
My research addresses both native and managed systems, considers processes at plot- to large river basin-scales, and is relatively evenly divided among field study/monitoring, modeling, and application of results to real world problems. Current projects focus on several areas, such as: 1) How do land use and climate (change) impact water quality? Work here focuses on characterization of the relationships between land use distributions, climate, and patterns of nutrient and water flows in the landscape. 2) How do agricultural and urban management practices affect water quality? This work integrated plot and field scale research with basin scale modeling to assess the impact of best management practices on water quantity and quality. One of the roles has been to develop and test basin scale hydrologic models designed to provide accurate estimates of both water quality and quantity. 3) What processes control the fate and transport of nutrients and sediment? Recent work has focused on assessing influence of anaerobic conditions on denitrification in a denitrifying bioreactor designed to treat diffuse ground water nitrate. 4) Developing data access and sharing protocols that facilitate seamless and transparent data transfer between multiple data source. We develop tools and code that provide researchers from multiple domains with the data they need to complete their research. 5) Can we bridge basic research and modeling to management and application? For instance, results from research efforts are currently being used to drive policy decisions on nutrient management in both agricultural and urban systems.
- Twenty-first century development of 21st century precision agriculture for water quality protection. USDA-AFRI. This project aims to develop a dynamic real time Decision Support System (DSS) that provides information relevant to water quality protection. A unique feature of the proposed DSS is that it will predict runoff risks in real-time and forecast risks 6-hrs to 3-days into the future. These risks are displayed on Google-map-like images on smart phones.
NSF-WSC-Category-1: Collaborative Proposal: Coupled Multi-scale Economic, Hydrologic, and Estuarine Modeling to Assess Impacts of Climate Change on Water Quality Management. The overarching goal of this project is to develop a quantifiable, predictive framework that couples biogeochemical and hydrologic drivers of terrestrial nutrient export with climate change to evaluate the effects of ecosystem management on estuarine function and costs of water quality protection. To achieve this goal, we propose to work broadly across common regional Chesapeake Bay watershed physiographic gradients and dominant landuses (e.g., agriculture, forest and urban). The following goals will allow us to develop a this framework based on our best current knowledge, explore the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on nutrient and sediment export, and develop new modeling paradigms to improve water quality models used for management decisions.
1. Bracket the mid-century changes in climate for the Chesapeake Bay watershed with downscaled high-resolution regional climate models.
2. Evaluate likely changes in landscape patterns and magnitudes of N and P cycling and erosion using downscaled climate model outputs coupled to multi-scale landscape models.
3. Investigate how climate change and alternative nutrient management strategies affect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
4. Assess tradeoffs between costs of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and landscape management intended to control nitrogen (N) loadings and variability of N loadings under alternative climate change scenarios
- NSF-WSC-Category-3: Collaborative Proposal:Impacts of Climate Change on the Phenology of Linked Agriculture-Water Systems. Our proposed research is based on the premise that climate induced changes in the timing of agricultural practices that may seem insignificant when analyzed in isolation have the potential to create disproportionately large effects on downstream watersheds and ecosystems due to their interactions with other climate induced changes. Our objective is to explore various aspects of this premise and, in the course of so doing, to develop new approaches and understanding of the following four research elements of the system, and the links between them. Here, we seek improved understanding of:
1. How a change in climate affects farmers’ decisions about land use and timing of agricultural practice (human phenology);
2. How a change in climate, agricultural practice, and land-use affects watersheds’ intra-annual variability of water, sediment, and nutrient export (watershed phenology);
3. How changes in timing, location, and watershed inputs affect estuary physical and biological response, including the severity of hypoxia (estuarine phenology); and
4. How policy designed to influence agricultural land use and practice to mitigate ecosystem impacts can account for these cascading human, biological, and physical effects in water systems.
- NSF-EarthCube Building Blocks: A Broker Framework for Next Generation Geoscience. We are developing a Broker Framework of the Geosciences which addresses the need for effective and efficient multi-disciplinary collaboration through the introduction of brokering as an EarthCube building block. The need for expanded collaboration has increased as science addresses the complex challenges of understanding and predicting Earth’s environment. The issues, identified as Grand Challenges by the NSF in their GEOVision report, are: “Understanding and forecasting the behavior of a complex and evolving Earth system” and “Reducing vulnerability and sustaining life.” This same report highlights that an “integrated and interdisciplinary approach in the geosciences will lead to new paradigms for human interactions with the Earth and guide us to solution-oriented applications.” EarthCube (EC) is the NSF GEO flagship initiative identified in the GEO Vision to create a new generation of information infrastructure. EC aims to transform the conduct of research through the development of community-guided cyberinfrastructure to integrate information and data across the geosciences.
- Decreasing Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Drainage Waters Using a Comprehensive Drainage Management Approach.Controlling nutrient loss from artificially drained agricultural lands on the Atlantic Coastal Plain requires a comprehensive approach that includes field and drainage management practices to address production and water quality concerns. Previous research by the project team has demonstrated significant nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) reduction with conventional and novel management practices, e.g., flow control structures, gypsum curtains, biofilter reactors. This project seeks to integrate field and drainage management practices to develop, demonstrate and test a comprehensive approach to drainage management that can be readily adopted by producers on the Coastal Plain.
- Refining P Indices in the Chesapeake Bay Region to Improve Critical Source Area Identification. Despite the apparent success of the P Index concept, there remain concerns about the effectiveness of the Indexing approach for attaining water quality goals. One of the major concerns that has been raised is that the transport component of many P indices is either not well developed, or unimportant (i.e., in some P Indices the transport scales from 0 to 1 and the source from 0 to 100 or more). Our regional project seeks to refine P management via the P Index concept, specifically:
1. Evaluate P Indices by comparing their output with water quality monitoring data and fate-and-transport models.
2. Use water quality data (monitored or predicted by model) to refine P Indices, improving their prediction of P loss potential, ensuring consistency across state boundaries and within physiographic provinces, and promoting effective recommendations for P management.
3. Predict the management impact of P Indices on nutrient management practices and water quality.
My program focuses on developing and delivering programing to improve our understanding of the processes that control water and chemical cycles and transport with the ultimate goal of developing policies and management practices that protect water, soil, air and other natural resources. I have two primary extension focus areas: 1) Watershed modeling and management, and 2) Climate change adaptation. I work closely with fellow scientists at Virginia Tech and other Land Grant Institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region, the USDA-NRCS, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Extension Agents to develop and deliver pertinent information to stakeholders. Each program area has a distinct clientele as an intended audience. My watershed modeling and management program is intended to provide regulators and scientists with cutting edge information about advances in watershed modeling capabilities and provide them with the insight and understanding they can use to drive water quality management policy and regulation, as well as provide producers, conservation personnel, and extension agents with scientifically defensible information about best management practices and field management that improve water quality. My climate change program assesses and develops management recommendations that improves climate resiliency in agricultural systems. Both programs deliver research-based educational programing that seeks to improve the effectiveness of the models we use to drive watershed management and the ensuing management practices to improve water quality or agricultural resiliency.
- Twenty-first century development of 21st century precision agriculture for water quality protection. USDA-AFRI. This project integrates both tool development and stakeholder driven modifications to the tool (see above).
Selected Recent Publications
(*student or postdoc, chronological)
- Wagena, M.B.*, A.S. Collick, A. Ross, B. Rau, R. Najjar, A. Sommerlot*, D.R. Fuka*, P.J. Kleinman, and Z.M. Easton. 2018. Quantifying the impact of climate change and climate extremes on hydrologic and biogeochemical processes in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Science of the Total Environ. 637–638 (2018) 1443–1454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.116.
- Bosch, D.J., M. Wagena*, A.C. Ross, A.S. Collick, Z.M. Easton. 2018. Meeting Water Quality Goals under climate change in Chesapeake Bay watershed, USA. JAWRA. (In Press).
- Bock, E.M.*, and Z.M. Easton. 2018. Effect of biochar, hydraulic residence time, and nutrient loading on greenhouse gas emission in laboratory-scale denitrifying bioreactors. Ecol. Eng. 120 (2018) 375–383. 120 (2018) 375–383
- Bock, E.M.* and Z.M. Easton. 2018. Performance of an under-loaded denitrifying bioreactor in the Virginia Coastal Plain. J. Environ. Manage. 217 (2018) 447e455 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman. 2018.03.111.
- Wagena, M.B.* and Z.M. Easton. 2018. Agricultural Conservation Practices Can Help Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change. Science of the Total Environ. 635 (2018) 132–143. https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.110
- Easton, Z.M., P.J. Kleinman, A.R. Buda, D. Goering, N. Emberston, S. Reed, P.J. Drohan, M.T. Walter, P. Guinan, J.A. Lory, A.R. Sommerlot*, and A. Sharpley. 2017. Short-term forecasting tools for agricultural nutrient management. J. Environ. Qual. doi:10.2134/jeq2016.09.0377.
- Christianson, L., A.S. Collick, E. Bock*, P. Kleinman, and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Enhanced denitrification bioreactors hold promise for Mid-Atlantic ditch drainage. J. Environ. Qual. doi:10.2134/ael2017.09.0032.
- Kleinman, P., A. Sharpley, Z.M. Easton, J. Lory, D. Osmond, D. Radcliffe, N. Nelson, and T. Veith. 2017. The promise, practice and state of planning tools to assess site vulnerability to runoff phosphorus loss. J. Environ. Qual. 46: 6: 1243-1249. doi:10.2134/jeq2017.10.0395.
- Sharpley, A., P. Kleinman, C. Baffuat, Z.M. Easton, J. Lory, D. Osmond, and T. Veith. 2017. Verification of phosphorus site assessment tools: Lessons from the U.S. J. Environ. Qual. doi:10.2134/jeq2016.11.0427.
- Sommerlot. A.R.* and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Development of a free and open source web based interface for distributed short-term hydrologic forecasts to support agricultural decision-making. Water. 9, 604; doi:10.3390/w9080604.
- Alamdari, N.*, D. Sample, A. Ross*, P Steinberg, and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Assessing the effects of climate change on water quantity and quality in an urban watershed using a hydrologic model and assisted calibration. Water. 9, 464; doi:10.3390/w9070464
- Rees, G.*, E.M. Bock*, K. Stephenson, and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Nutrient biofilters in the Virginia Coastal Plain: Nitrogen removal, cost, and potential adoption pathways. J Soil and Water Conserv. 2017 72(2):139-149; doi:10.2489/jswc.72.2.139
- Sommerlot. A.R.*, M.B. Wagena*, D.R. Fuka*, and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Coupling the short-term Global Forecast System weather data with a variable source area hydrologic model. Environ. Model. Software. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2016.09.0081364-8152.
- Wagena, M.B.*, A.R. Sommerlot*, E.M. Bock*, D.R. Fuka*, and Z.M. Easton. 2017. Development of a nitrous oxide routine for the SWAT model to assess greenhouse gas emissions from agroecosystems. Environ. Model. Software. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2016.11.013.
- Wagena, M,B.*, A. Sommerlot*, A. Abiy, D.R. Fuka*, A.S. Collick*, S. Langan, and Z.M. Easton. 2016. Regional climate change In the Blue Nile Basin: Implications for water resource availability and sediment transport. Climatic Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-016-1785-z.
- Fuka, D.R.*, A.S. Collick*, P. Kleinman, D. Auerbach*, D, Harmel, and Z.M. Easton. 2016. Improving the spatial representation of soil properties and hydrology using topographically derived initialization processes in the SWAT model. Hydrol. Proc. doi: 10.1002/hyp.10899.
- Auerbach, D.*, Z.M. Easton, M.T. Walter, A.S. Flecker, and D.R. Fuka*. 2016. Evaluation of alternative weather forcing for hydrologic modeling in tropical basins of Puerto Rico. Hydrol. Proc. doi:10.1002/hyp.10860.
- Collick, A.S.*, T.L. Veith, D.R. Fuka*, P.J.A. Kleinman, A.R. Buda, J.L. Weld, R.B. Bryant, P.A. Vadas, M.J. White, D. Harmel, and Z.M. Easton. 2016. Improved simulation of edaphic and manure phosphorus loss in SWAT. J. Environ. Qual. doi:10.2134/jeq2015.03.0135
- Bock, E.M.*, B. Coleman*, and Z.M. Easton. 2016. Effect of biochar on nitrate removal in a field-scale denitrifying bioreactor. J. Environ. Qual. doi: 10.2134/jeq2015.04.0179.
- Easton, Z.M., M.E. Rogers*, J.M. Davis*, M. Eick and E.M. Bock*. 2015. Mitigation of sulfate reduction and nitrous oxide emission in denitrifying environments with amorphous iron oxide and biochar. Ecological Engineering. http://dx.DOI.org/10/1016/j.ecoleng20115.05.008.
- Kleinman, P.J.A., D.R. Smith, C.H. Bolster, and Z.M. Easton. 2015. Phosphorus fate, management and modeling in artificially drained systems. J. Environ. Qual. 44:460–466. doi:10.2134/jeq2015. 02.0090.
- Radcliffe, D.E., D.K. Reid, K. Blombäck, C.H. Bolster, A.S. Collick*, Z.M. Easton, W. Francesconi, D.R. Fuka*, H. Johnsson, K. King, M. Larsbo, M.A. Youssef, A.S. Mulkey, N.O. Nelson, K. Persson, J.J. Ramirez-Avila, F. Schmieder, and D.R. Smith. 2015. Applicability of models to predict phosphorus losses in drained fields: A review. J. Environ. Qual. 44:614–628. doi:10.2134/jeq2014.05. 0220.
- Rittenburg, R.A., A.L. Squires, J. Boll, E. Brooks, Z.M. Easton, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2015. Agricultural BMP Effectiveness and dominant hydrological flow paths: Concepts and a review. J. Am Wat. Res. Assoc. DOI:10.1111/1752-1688.12293.
- Brooks, E.S., S.M. Saia, J. Boll, L. Wetzel, and Z.M. Easton. 2015. Assessing BMP effectiveness and guiding BMP planning using process-based modeling. J. Am Wat. Res. Assoc. DOI:10.1111/1752-1688.12296.
- Boll, J., T.S. Steenhuis, E.S. Brooks, L. Kurkalova, R.A. Rittenburg, A.L. Squires, G. Vellidis, Z.M. Easton, and J.D. Wulfhorst. 2015. Featured collection introduction: Synthesis and analysis of Conservation Effects Assessment Projects for improved water quality. J. Am Wat. Res. Assoc. DOI:10.1111/1752-1688.12297.
- Bock, E.*, N. Smith*, M. Rogers*, B. Coleman*, M. Reiter, B. Benham, and Z.M. Easton. 2015. Nitrate and phosphate removal and nitrous oxide production in lab-scale denitrifying bioreactors. J. Environ. Qual. 44:605–613. doi:10.2134/jeq2014.03.0111.
- Collick, A.S.*, D.R. Fuka*, P.J.A. Kleinman, A.R. Buda, J.L. Weld*, M.J. White, T.L. Veith, R.B. Bryant, C.H. Bolster, and Z.M. Easton. 2015. Predicting phosphorus dynamics in complex terrains using a variable source area hydrology model. Hydrol. Proc. DOI: 10.1002/hyp.10178.
- Hoskins, T.C.*, J.S. Owen, J.S. Fields, J.E. Altland, Z.M. Easton and A.X. Niemiera. 2014. Solute transport through a pine-bark based substrate under saturated and unsaturated conditions. JAHS. 139(6):634–641. 2014.
- Fuka, D.R.*, M.T. Walter, C.A. MacAllister, and Z.M. Easton. 2014. SWATmodel: A Multi-OS, Multi-Platform SWAT Model Package in R. J. Am Water Res. Assoc. 1-5. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12170.Woodbury, J.*, C.A. Shoemaker, D. Cowan, and Z.M. Easton. 2014. A comparison of SWAT models for the Cannonsville Watershed with and without variable source area hydrology. J. Am Water Res. Assoc. 1-15. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12116.
- Fuka, D.R.*, C.A. MacAllister, A.T. Degaetano, and Z.M. Easton. 2013. Using the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis dataset to improve weather input data for watershed models. Hydrol. Proc. DOI: 10.1002/hyp.10073.
- Easton, Z.M. 2013. Defining spatial variability of hillslope infiltration characteristics using geostatistics, error modeling and autocorrelation analysis. J. Irrig. Drain. Eng. ASCE. 139(9) 718-727, DOI:10.1061/(ASCE)IR.1943-4774.0000602
- Dahlke, H.E.*, Z.M. Easton, D.R, Fuka*, M.T, Walter, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. Real-time forecast of hydrologically sensitive areas in the Salmon Creek Watershed, New York State, using an online prediction tool. Water. 5, 917-944; doi:10.3390/w5030917.
- Flores-López, F.*, Z.M. Easton, L.D. Geohring, P.J. Vermeulen, V.R. Haden, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. Factors affecting phosphorous in ground water in an alluvial valley aquifer: Implications for best management practices. Water. 5. 2013. 540-559; doi:10.3390/w5020540.
- Pradhanang, S., R. Mukundan, E.M. Schneiderman, M. Zion, A. Anandhi, D.C. Pierson, A. Frei, Z.M. Easton, D.R. Fuka*, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. Streamflow responses to projected climate change in New York City water supply watershed. J. Am Water Res. Assoc. 1-19. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12086.
- Buchanon, B.P.*, Z.M. Easton, R. Schneider and M.T. Walter. 2013. Modeling the hydrologic effects of roadside ditch networks on receiving waters. J. Hydrol. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol. 2013.01.040.
- Buchanan, B.P.*, J.A. Archibald, Z.M. Easton, S.B. Shaw, R.L. Schneider, and M.T. Walter. 2013. A Phosphorus Index that combines critical source areas and transport pathways using a travel time approach. J. Hydrol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.01.018.
- Caballero, L.A.*, Z.M. Easton, B.K. Richards, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. Evaluating the hydrological impact of a cloud forest in Central America using a semi-distributed water balance model. J. Hydrol. and Hydromech. 61, 2013, 1, 9 – 20 DOI: 10.2478/jhh - 2013-0003.
- Saia, S.*, E.S. Brooks, Z.M. Easton, C. Baffaut, J. Boll, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. Incorporating pesticide transport into the WEPP-UI model for mulch tillage and no-tillage soil with an underlying claypan. Trans ASCE Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 29(3):363-372.
- Tilahun, S.A.*, R. Mukundan*, B.A. Demisse*, T.A. Engda, C.D. Guzman*, B.C. Tarakegn, Z.M. Easton, A.S. Collick*, A.D. Zegeye, E.M. Schneiderman, J.Y. Parlange, and T.S. Steenhuis. 2013. A saturation excess erosion model. Trans. ASABE 56(2): 681-695.
- Buchanon, B.P.*, K. Falbo*, R. Schneider, Z.M. Easton, and M.T. Walter. 2013. Hydrologic impact of roadside ditches in an agricultural watershed: Implications for non-point source pollutant transport. Hydrol. Proc. 10.1002/hyp.9305.
- Bock, E.M.*, A.S. Collick, and Z.M. Easton. 2018. Managing agricultural drainage quality with denitrifying bioreactors in the Mid-Atlantic (In Press).
- Easton, Z.M., A.S. Collick and E.M. Bock*. 2017. What to consider when considering an agricultural drainage system. BSE-208.
- Easton, Z.M. and J.W. Faulkner. 2016. Communicating climate change to agricultural audiences. BSE-203P.
- Easton, Z.M. and E.M. Bock*. 2016. Soil and soil water relationships. BSE-194P.
- Easton, Z.M. and E.M. Bock*. 2015. Hydrology basics and the hydrologic cycle. BSE-191P
- Easton, Z.M. and J.W. Faulkner. 2014. Climate change adaptation: Mitigating short and long-term impacts of climate on agriculture. BSE-109P.
- Faulkner, J.W. and Z.M. Easton. 2014. Agricultural adaptation to climate change: improving resilience in row crop production. University of Vermont Extension.Rogers, M.*, E. Lassiter*, and Z.M. Easton. 2014. Greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture: How producers can help to mitigate climate change. BSE-105P.
- Lassiter, E.* and Z.M. Easton. 2013. Denitrifying bioreactors: An emerging best management practice to improve water quality. BSE-55P. http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/BSE/BSE-55/BSE-55-PDF.pdf.
- Easton, Z.M. and E. Lassiter*. 2013. Denitrification management. BSE-54P.
Extension Publications (Peer Reviewed)
Selected Recent Funding
- "Pratt Endowment." Hannigan, M., Z.M. Easton, R. White. Integration of livestock feeding strategies into a nutrient loading, watershed model. $186,600. January 2017-December 2020.
- "USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant." Easton, Z.M Revising and Implementing Phosphorus Indices to Protect Water Quality in the Northeast US. $96,000. January 2017-December 2020.
- "USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant." Emberston, N., Z.M. Easton, M.T. Walter, P. Kleinman. Demonstration and Implementation of a Nutrient Management Risk Advisory System for Protection of Water Quality in Runoff Prone Climates. $529,376. September 2015-September 2018.
- "NSF Water Sustainability and Climate Cat-3."Ball, W., Z.M. Easton, C. Harman, L. Waigner, W. Kemp, D. Brady. WSC-Category 3 Collaborative Proposal: Impacts of Climate Change on the Phenology of Linked Agriculture-Water Systems. $1,432,854. June 2014-May 2018.
- "NSF Water Sustainability and Climate Cat-1." Easton, Z.M., R. Najjar, M. Li, D. Sample, D. Bosch. WSC-Category 1 Collaborative Proposal: Coupled Multi-scale Economic, Hydrologic, and Estuarine Modeling to Assess Impacts of Climate Change on Water Quality Management. $600,000. June 2014-May 2017.
- "Delmarva Land Grant Institution Collaborative Research Seed Funding Program." Shober, A., Z.M. Easton, A. Allen, A. Buda, R. Bryant. Combining electrical resistivity imaging and conservative tracer tests to characterize and model subsurfact phosphorus losses in ditch-drained Delmarva soils. $26,000. January 2015-December 2018.
- "EPA Center for Nutrient Solutions." Shortle, J., R. Brooks, B. Bills, B. Boyer, A. Kremanian, R. Ready, M. Royer, T. Richard, D Beegle, A. Allen P. Kleinman, C. Duffy, Z. Easton, A. Buda, T. Veith. Center for integrated Multi-scale Nutrient Solutions. $4,550,740. August 2103-July 2017.