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Agency Honors El Reno Scientist for Software to Solve Environmental Problems / February 7, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Agency Honors El Reno Scientist for Software to Solve Environmental Problems

By Hank Becker
February 7, 2001

EL RENO, Okla., Feb. 7—The Agricultural Research Service honors hydraulic engineer Jurgen D. Garbrecht of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grazinglands Research Laboratory here for developing and transferring computer software that applies digital landscape technology to solve environmental problems internationally.

Garbrecht will receive a silver plaque for his success in moving his invention through its testing stages into the marketplace. His work is part of an international research effort to apply digital landscape technology to solve drainage- and runoff- related problems using innovative, user-friendly and easily transferred software.

ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn will present awards to Garbrecht and other ARS scientists at a Feb. 7 ceremony at the agency's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. ARS is the USDA’s chief scientific research agency.

“Garbrecht and Lawrence Martz from Canada's University of Saskatchewan developed the software called TOPAZ that helps give farmers, engineers, scientists and others a true lay of the land,” said Horn.

TOPAZ—short for topographic parameterization—is a computer-based evaluation tool that defines and analyzes land surface characteristics, watershed configurations and drainage features. It has a range of analysis options and unique features that set it apart from commercial geographic information system (GIS) software.

TOPAZ has already gone global. Researchers, engineers and educators in Europe, the Middle East and North America are using it. ARS and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service are using the software to generate drainage path information needed for their water quality models. Canadian researchers are using it in their Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment, a study of the Mackenzie River Basin—the second-biggest river basin in North America—to better understand the role of cold regions in the global climate system.

Scientists from the International Water Management Institute are using TOPAZ for a modeling study of water-short basins in Turkey. And a number of university staffs are also using it as a teaching tool.

TOPAZ doesn't produce graphic pictures on the computer monitor, but it creates data files from which pictures can be generated by a commercial GIS package. This is an advantage, because it allows the user to select preferred or existing display software without being forced to buy another package. TOPAZ provides the data in a basic format that is readable by most GIS systems, allowing for more flexibility.

New capabilities are being developed and incorporated into the software to further broaden its application horizon. At this time, the scientists are working with the ARS Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, to add new features to TOPAZ for use by KINEROS, another ARS model that computes improved runoff and erosion predictions. Copies of TOPAZ are available on request from Garbrecht.

Having worked for ARS for 15 years, Garbrecht received an outstanding performance award in 1995 for innovative research and, in 1999, a certificate of merit for developing a research program for application of climate forecasts.

He received his Dipl. Ing. from the Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland, and his M.S. in hydraulics and Ph.D. in hydrology and water resources from Colorado State University-Fort Collins.

Garbrecht is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Geophysical Union. He lives in Yukon, Oklahoma.

Scientific contact: Jurgen D. Garbrecht, ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory, 7207 W. Cheyenne St., El Reno, OK 73036; phone (405) 262-5291, fax (405) 262-0133,

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