The UA recently scored high marks for its academic research programs in water resources, earning No. 2 nationally and No. 6 globally in ShanghaiRanking’s 2022 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects.
The independent higher education and intelligence consultancy organization, which has been the official publisher of the Academic Ranking of World Universities since 2009, scores more than 5,000 global universities across 54 subjects in five categories based on the number of published research papers in top journals, international collaboration and faculty who have achieved excellence.
“We have, for many decades, attracted scholars of water associated with arid regions because we are an arid region and we have so many rich places to do that kind of research as well as supporting faculty here at the university,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation.
The UA has over 200 faculty members whose research strength is water.
Thomas Meixner, professor and department head of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the UA, said one of the key reasons for the rankings were the “depth and breadth” of expertise in the areas of water and water resources investigations at the university.
“The expertise in water extends across multiple colleges, lots of different departments, research centers (and) research programs,” Meixner said. “I always think of the department as a hub.”
“Water is a very complicated world, meaning it’s not just the science of understanding where it is and where it comes from, and the technology of how to get it from one place to another, but the legal ramifications of the way we do water ownership and water rights,” Cantwell said.
Meixner said a variety of organizations in the university work broadly with local, state and federal agencies on issues related to water resources, water availability and water quality.
“From an institutional perspective, the most important thing is that we are partnered with the state of Arizona and the residents of Arizona and a lot of what we do is working with not just our southern Arizona community, but all of the state,” Cantwell added.
In September 2021, the university established the Indigenous Resilience Center (IRC) in the Arizona Institute for Resilient Environments and Societies (AIRES), to develop and support Indigenous students, faculty and staff in facilitating UA efforts in climate and environmental research.
The program — which is run by Karletta Chief, associate professor and extension specialist in the UA department of environmental science — looks to improve Native nations’ resilience around water in arid lands and bring indigenous knowledge of water management to the public.
“We created this center to allow us to take all of the water work that we do at the university, but really partner with the Native nations (and) let them lead us into areas that they want us to help them with,” Cantwell said.
The university’s various outreach efforts include presentations to grades K through 12 and other organizations about water resources challenges such as availability, conservation and climate change.
“We really are an international hub of water resources research, in sort of all of the dimensions,” Meixner said. “If the state has water problems or the West has water problems, we’re a good place to refer to for knowledge about the nature of those problems and how to solve them.”
“We have to embrace complexity, which is why all these interdisciplinary (departments) are fabulous,” Cantwell said. “They are not afraid of complexity.”