Dr. Chris Groves, University Distinguished Professor and accomplished hydrogeologist, exemplifies WKU’s goals of leadership and international reach. Renowned for his extensive research on cave and karst systems and water resources in China, Groves has been travelling to China since 1995. His first trip introduced him to South China’s vast karst landscape. Groves has travelled to China 32 more times since then for the purpose of collaborative research.
Groves works with a group of scientists from dozens of countries under the auspices of the International Geoscience Program, a unit of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The International Geoscience Program works to enhance communications within the global scientific community, which Groves says is very beneficial in his field of work.
“It leads to a lot of great interactions among the leading scientists,” Groves said. “There are so many ideas, so many people, and so many experiences that are out there, and we can learn from that.”
These experiences allowed Groves to help facilitate a cooperative relationship between Mammoth Cave National Park and the South China Karst UNESCO World Heritage Site, which spans over 435,000 acres, exhibiting many unique karst structures such as the Stone Forest of Shilin.
“China arguably has the single largest, most spectacular karst region in the world,” Groves said. “There are many similarities to our karst systems but also many differences.”
The international collaboration has allowed Groves and his Chinese colleagues to compare scientific data between both sites, which has been highly advantageous. The scientific data Groves has collected here in Kentucky has been used as a model by his colleagues in China whose technology had limited the temporal resolution of their data. By using Groves’ methodologies to study qualities such as water chemistry, they have been able to expand upon their research on karst environments.
“Early on, we were using the same types of data, but they were looking at larger questions concerning climate change science. We had much higher resolution technology, while they had bigger, better ideas on how to use that data,” Groves said. “It was a fantastic collaboration.”
Currently, Groves and his colleagues are preparing a proposal for another five-year research program through the International Geoscience Program. Their research will attempt to further our understanding of the complexities of climate change regarding the carbon cycle.
The carbon cycle refers to the multitude of ways carbon moves through the environment and atmosphere on both local and global scales. Karst systems play a part in this cycle because they act as carbon sinks. Atmospheric carbon is absorbed by water on the surface. As that water enters karst systems, the carbonic acid in the water eats away at the limestone and some CO2 is removed from the atmosphere. This is just one of many strings in the complex web of the carbon cycle.
Groves and his international colleagues will attempt to learn more about this particular facet of carbon cycling in order to allow climate scientists to make more accurate predictions of future atmospheric carbon levels.
Groves has earned numerous awards and leadership positions both internationally as well as here at WKU. At WKU, he has earned Ogden College Awards for Outstanding Teaching, Research and Creativity, and Public Service. Internationally, Groves has served as a leader or co-leader on various UNESCO Scientific Programs, and is on the Board of Governors of UNESCO’s International Research Center on Karst. In 2013 he was a Ministry-level finalist for the China Friendship Award, that country’s highest award for foreign experts who have made “outstanding contributions to the country's economic and social progress.”
Groves’ scientific research and his international leadership have had significant influence on the global scientific community and will continue to do so as his hydrogeology and water resource studies take him around the world.