RAPID: Water Quality Impacts of Hurricane Harvey: Distribution of Metals and Diversity of Microbial Communities in Greater Houston Grant uri icon


  • Proposal: 1759709PI: Shankar ChellamThe category 4 hurricane named Harvey is the most extreme rain event in our country''s history precipitating an estimated 12 trillion gallons of water over greater Houston alone. Humans, other animals, and the entire ecosystem have been exposed to myriad contaminants present in its floodwater and runoff. Hurricane samples will be characterized to identify different microbial communities to understand their role in the hydrological cycle. The hypothesis driving the work is that stormwater runoff mobilizes metals and microorganisms, which contribute to floodwater and runoff toxicity. Fifty representative elements, transition metals, and rare earth elements will be quantified. Microbial characterization will be used to determine any differences in microbial communities due to hurricane Harvey in an expansive urban environment. The primary objective is to present a comprehensive snapshot of metals concentrations and microorganism diversity with reference to microbial composition and prevalence in hurricane Harvey floodwaters in greater Houston. To this end, 36 samples have already been collected from 30 different locations representing a variety of urban and suburban land use patterns including residential, industrial, commercial, and educational activities.Since hurricane Harvey is a 500-800 year storm, this represents a rare opportunity to characterize the elemental composition and dynamics of bacterial community diversity. Also, most previous floodwater and runoff measurements only considered a small subset of metals, whereas the PIs are targeting 50 main group elements, transition metals, and rare earths. Further, this is the first effort towards targeting high-throughput next generation sequencing to understand hurricane effects (if any) on the diversity of microbial community structures. Next Generation Sequencing can be performed long after sampling unlike traditional microbiological methods to precisely characterize various pathogens or their strains. Through integrated efforts between a microbiologist and an environmental engineer, a unique dataset will be created. The data will provide information on contaminant loading into the ecologically sensitive and economically important Galveston Bay. Knowledge of microbiological and chemical composition of floodwater and runoff provides insights into its toxicity. This information can also potentially improve strategies to manage stormwater in large watersheds. The doctoral student will obtain a unique perspective and gain valuable interdisciplinary experience working with a leading microbiologist. The results will be shared with news outlets including the Houston Chronicle and Public Broadcasting Stations.

date/time interval

  • 2017 - 2020