Food and water are essential to human existence. The availability of these resources is jepordized by the growing global population. Considering the current rate of increase, earth's human population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and will be faced with the declining quantity and quality of water resources available for human consumption and agriculture. To mitigate the consequences of this upcoming water shortage, water productivity must be increased through the sustainable management of available resources. Irrigation constitutes 70% of total water use worldwide. The primary aim of irrigation is to provide optimal production conditions for crops. Accurately replenishing the water utilized by the agricultural system can ensure its environmental sustainability.
However, the precise determination of irrigation quantities and scheduling depends on complex interactions across the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum. Water-use efficiency in agricultural production is usually low since plants consume only some of the irrigation water, while the rest is lost, due to direct evaporation and drainage percolation. Since irrigation water contains agro-chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides) and salts, drained water creates certain environmental hazards. Soil and groundwater contamination is a growing worldwide problem. Most subsurface pollution problems result from human activities in the vadose zone between the soil surface and the groundwater table. The vadose zone, therefore, provides the best opportunities to limit and prevent groundwater pollution. Once contaminants appear in groundwater, pollution is effectively irreversible, or can be remediated only at a tremendous cost.
This graduate track of study focuses on the vital questions faced by irrigators: when and how much to irrigate? The program provides tools with which to address the irrigation problems associated with arid and semi-arid conditions (e.g., high evaporative demand, saline water, and soils with poor nutrient content). The program combines courses dealing with the fundamentals of soil, plant, water, and atmosphere systems. In addition, the students explore irrigation methods and systems, and they study the feedback processes of irrigation systems with the soil and the plant. Other focal points include: plant nutrition, nutrient-use efficiency and fertigation regimes that maximize root water uptake, maximize crop yield and, hence, minimize groundwater pollution by leaching agro-chemicals.