Faculty Research Projects

The Urban Watershed Evolution team studies the effects of urbanization in Austin area streams. During Year 1, the team: 1) identified sources and quantified controls on urban water quantity and quality; 2) developed new methods for quantifying vegetation water use; 3) found differences in urban vs. rural watershed response to drought; 4) assessed watershed biodiversity; and 5) developed a new model for water flow and sources in rural vs. urban watersheds. The team will continue building integrative broader impacts.

The following faculty members are core members of the Urban Watershed Evolution Project Team. Please select your top two choices for your summer research program experience.

Each student will be part of a research project led by one of the faculty mentors listed below and will participate in field trips and seminars. The full student cohort will also work with each other to integrate their research plans and analysis to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of urban watershed evolution.


Jay Banner’s laboratory explores the impacts of urbanization on stream water quality through novel tracers (Beal et al. 2020). Using naturally occurring isotopes in bedrock, soil, water, and tree rings, they investigate the natural and anthropogenic sources of dissolved ions and contaminants to local watersheds due to urbanization. By examining growth rate and chemical variations in riparian bald cypress tree rings, they assess the timing and extent of influence that both changing climate and failing infrastructure can have on urban aquatic ecosystems. In addition to learning methods for low-contamination field sampling, students may learn methods for clean-room sample preparation and mass spectrometer analysis of water, soil, wood cellulose, and rock.

Shalene Jha is an associate professor in UT Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology. Broadly, the Jha Lab investigates ecological and evolutionary processes from genes to landscapes, to quantify global change impacts on plant-animal interactions, movement ecology, and the provisioning of ecosystem services. Her work looks at plants and insects in urban, agricultural, and natural ecosystems. Dr. Jha uses biodiversity surveys, ecosystem service experiments, and genetic tools to quantify tradeoffs and synergies between key ecosystem service indices, such as food production, climate buffering, and pest-control.

Kasey Faust is an Assistant Professor in Construction Engineering and Project Management in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Faust’s work focuses on human-infrastructure interactions, infrastructure interdependencies, and water sector infrastructure. Her research on sociotechnical systems aims to improve service to communities. Dr. Faust’s work begins at the construction phase in order to properly assess infrastructure synergies and dependencies, especially in the water sector.

The University of Texas at Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Summer Research Program in integrated environmental science gives undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct research into Urban Watershed Evolution. This 9-week program will take place remotely from June 7th to August 6th. The faculty members leading this program are Drs. Faust, Jha, and Banner.