CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A former WTAMU graduate student is sharing her trailblazing study on playa lakes, paving the way for future research that could help conserve groundwater on the High Plains.

Hannah Tripp spent half a year at WT studying images from two satellites, mapping tens of thousands of playa lakes across the Great Plains.

“The Sentinel 2 satellites allowed us to get really detailed images of the playas, like on a weekly time,” Tripp said. “So we were able to identify the areas of water that were much smaller than previous studies and were able to monitor how water levels changed over time in response to rainfall.”

Tripp, who now works with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, partnered with Erik Crosman, an assistant professor of environmental science at WT on the study.

“Water is the lifeblood of the Panhandle. Our water supplies are so important,” said Crosman. “Playa lakes are also extremely important for the ecological diversity hotspots flyways for birds, very important for animals, very important for people and recharging the aquifer.”

Tripp said comparing her research to previous studies, it appears over the last few decades that playas are holding less water, and some are holding none at all.

“So if that trend continues, it might mean that like in the future, there’ll just be less water overall in the Panhandle,” she said.

However, she hopes her research can help.

“It could be used in the future to identify which playas tend to hold the most water and would be especially important to conserve, either as wildlife habitats or as important sources of water that might be contributing to the aquifer recharge,” Tripp added.

Crosman said Tripp presented her research in late October and it was well-received. He said he hopes agencies will implement her methodology.

“Hopefully now someone will take up the reins at a state agency that sees the value in this work, or I get a future grad student future funding to continue the work,” he said.

This is not the first time satellites have been used in this way, but Tripp’s is the first study to monitor great plains playas on a sub-monthly basis.