Researcher deepens understanding of soil science, hydrology

April 30, 2008

From India to Indiana and the Mideast to the Midwest, Rabi Mohtar'swater and soil land-use models encourage conservation of natural resourcesand allow people to make informed decisions about development.According to colleagues, Mohtar, a Purdue University professor ofagricultural and biological engineering, created the first comprehensivemodel to link all the components of grazing systems. He also currently leadsan effort to establish an environmental research center in Qatar, has doneextensive work with water conservation in Tunisia and led major water andnatural resources initiatives in India, Jordan, France and the Palestinianregions of Gaza and the West Bank.For his multifaceted research and dedication to the conservation ofenvironmental and natural resources and sustainability at a global level,among other contributions, Mohtar will be presented with the 2008Agricultural Research Award from the Purdue College of Agriculture.Mohtar's grazing simulation, called GRASIM (GRAzing SIMulation model),predicts not only water flow, but also the amount and nutritional quality ofplant matter, effects of different human activities and levels of leachednutrients. By simplifying the complex, the model helps students and othersgain a better understanding of the pasture system and determine managementstrategies that lead to increased productivity, said Don Jones, colleagueand professor of agricultural and biological engineering."As anyone who has written computer programs and models can attest, ittakes almost as much time to make a model accurate as it does to make itusable to those uninvolved with its development," Jones said. "At present,GRASIM is used by researchers, farmers, advisers and county educators acrossthe United States and in several foreign countries."Mohtar also developed a model that uses a unique paradigm to betterunderstand the flow of water, nutrients and contaminants across differentspatial scales. The model, Kamel®, has been adopted by one of the largestagronomic modeling projects in Europe and is expected to significantlyinfluence future scientific and agricultural policy, Jones said."I am passionate about models because they are the best way to conveycomplex processes," Mohtar said. "They help to teach students but alsoassist people - from farmers to policy-makers - in making the best land-usedecisions." Mohtar, born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, learned to love the outdoorson weekend visits to the family farm in the mountains outside the city. Hewon a competitive scholarship to attend the American University of Beirut,completing a bachelor's and master's degree in agricultural engineering in1985.After a stint managing a large Lebanese farm, he won the HaririFellowship and continued his studies in the United States at Michigan StateUniversity. There, he completed a master's degree in civil and environmentalengineering and a doctorate in agricultural systems management. After twoand a half years as a researcher at Penn State, he came to Purdue. In 1996Mohtar became an assistant professor at Purdue.The Agricultural Research Award is given annually to a researcher in thePurdue College of Agriculture who has completed a doctoral degree within thepast 15 years. The recipient is chosen on the basis of research excellenceand contributions made to agriculture, natural resources and the quality oflife for Indiana citizens.