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Athanasios Papanicolaou (Thanos)

Laboratory Director






Ph.D. - Civil & Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech (VPI & SU), Blacksburg, VA, 1997

M.Sc. - Civil & Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech (VPI & SU), Blacksburg, VA, 1993

Undergraduate - Civil Engineering (5-yr degree), Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, 1990

 Thanos Papanicolaou‬ - ‪Google Scholar‬

     My research spans across different scales: from sediment particles to catchments; from in-depth fundamental work linking hydrological processes to ecosystem services; and from theoretical analysis to lab and field experimentation to address sustainability and adaptation of ecosystems. I have made fundamental contributions to sediment transport theory that expanded H. A. Einstein’s stochastic approach (Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 2002, 128(4)); the theoretical framework is used today to explain intermittency in soil/sediment flux prediction by providing sediment grain resting and travel times as well as travel velocities (Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 2018, 123(4), 2925–2953). Taking a landscape‐oriented approach to simulate soil organic carbon dynamics in intensively managed landscapes, I have demonstrated complementary modelling and field work that opens new avenues for approaching carbon redistribution through selective soil mobilization and oxidation processes – i.e., concept of soil organic carbon enrichment and depletion – and intermittent movement (Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2015, 120(11), 2375-2401). Further, I have developed an enhanced Bayesian fingerprinting framework for studying sediment source dynamics in intensively managed landscapes (Water Resources Research, 2016, 52, 4646-4673). This paper provides a paradigm shift in how we “connect” terrestrial processes to instream and marine processes to perform sediment and carbon/nutrient budgets. To investigate the ex-ante effects of climate change on cropping mix and irrigation decisions, a coupled natural human systems approach (watershed-economic-agent based modelling) has been developed to identify optimal common resource functions for water, based on water availability, energy costs, existing water infrastructure, and willingness to adopt new water conservation practices and water smart technologies for irrigation (Climate Risk Management, 2021, 32(100293), 1-18).

Currently, the focus of climate change research worldwide is on mitigation strategies and priorities such as Net Zero carbon emissions. Little effort is focused on adaptation, yet all indications are that there will be significant impacts to people and biodiversity as we progress towards realization of important goals, such as they are outlined in the recent USDA strategic plan.  My vision is to lead transformative and innovative research efforts, a system of systems approach, on the development of global sustainable production systems (food, water and energy) that are environmentally sound, socially acceptable and economically competitive. My overarching goal is to take advantage of my strong and comprehensive background on Critical Zone Science and adaptation strategies to develop a NLAE based, world-class hub for addressing the resilience of rural communities under climate threats through the pursuance of converged research; development of lab and sensor infrastructure facilities; development of dynamic predictive tools; capacity building in the field; and knowledge transfer to stakeholders.

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