CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Officials from West Texas A&M University announced that a recent graduate will soon present their research that analyzes playa lakes, which are described as “shallow, circular wetlands” and as a significant ecological feature in the Texas Panhandle.

Hannah Tripp, a July 2021 graduate of West Texas A&M University who earned her master’s degree in environmental science, will present her research on how satellite data can be used to monitor water levels in the High Plains region’s playa lakes. This presentation will occur Thursday at the Playa Research Symposium in Kearney, Nebraska.

“Mounting evidence points to playa lakes as a critical recharge source for the Ogallala aquifer,” according to Texas Parks & Wildlife. “Playas filter and recharge as much as 95 percent of the water collected in the southern portion of the aquifer.” 

Tripp, who works as an environmental compliance specialist at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, previously published her research in a journal in July and presented it at the European Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in April 2021. According to the release, Tripp partnered on the research with Erik Crosman, assistant professor of environmental science; J. Brad Johnson, assistant professor of biology; William Rogers, professor of environmental science; and Nathan Howell, the Bell Professor of Engineering and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. 

“Satellites are the best way to monitor them in a cost-effective way,” Tripp said in the release. “It would not be realistic to have people repeatedly fly or drive all across the Plains. My research demonstrated that it is possible to monitor these playas on weekly scales for the first time from satellite. Earlier studies looked at them on yearly scales.” 

Tripp said the research demonstrates that rates of recharge can be determined by seeing how much the playa water decreases over time from a satellite. This is because playa water can only leave by evaporating into the air or percolating into the soil.

Officials said that this research can help scientists have insight into thousands of playa lakes they were unable to effectively monitor in the past.

“These lakes had been neglected because they were either too small or too infrequently observed,” Crosman said in the release. “Given the importance of playa lakes to our region, Hannah has certainly broken ground on how to use measurements from space to help understand our regional playa lake ecosystems here in West Texas.”