CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University hydrologist is using one of the more peaceful forms of nuclear technology to help experts in China learn more about water movement in their streams, groundwater and soil, with possible applications to such issues as groundwater protection or flood management.

Jeff McDonnell, a professor and Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in the OSU Department of Forest Engineering, just returned from a training course in China that focused on the use of stable isotopes to trace water movements.

As the editor of several books and journals and more than 100 technical papers on this technology, McDonnell helped instruct Chinese researchers on the application of isotope tracing techniques to water management problems in Asia.

"Tracing of naturally applied isotope tracers represents a way for developing countries to side-step expensive research infrastructure and understand where their water is moving, its age and how different groundwater systems connect," McDonnell said. "This provides valuable information for groundwater remediation, understanding groundwater-surface water interactions and various types of pollutant transport."

China has historically had major problems with flooding that caused massive loss of life - more than one million people died in the 1980s from flooding of the Yangtze River. And rapid growth in industrial development in China has made it important to better understand the movement of surface waters and protect groundwater from contamination.

All of these problems can benefit from the type of water movement data made possible by isotope tracers, experts say.

The work in China is being supported by the United Nations and its International Atomic Energy Agency.

This technology is also being used to address water resource issues in Oregon, McDonnell said, such as in the Klamath and Willamette River basins.

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Jeffrey McDonnell, 541-737-8720