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WKU professor receives China’s top science award

A WKU professor has received China’s top award for foreign scientists for his two decades of research on water resources in the karst systems of southwest China.

In an image captured from China's television station CCTV, WKU Professor Chris Groves is congratulated by China's President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang (right) at China's National Science and Technology Award Ceremony on Monday in Beijing.

In an image captured from China’s television station CCTV, WKU Professor Chris Groves is congratulated by China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at China’s National Science and Technology Award Ceremony on Monday in Beijing. Dr. Groves was one of six recipients of China’s top award for foreign scientists.

University Distinguished Professor of Hydrogeology Chris Groves was one of six recipients of China’s 2016 International Science and Technology Cooperation Award, the top honor for foreign scientists working in China. The awards were presented by President Xi along with other leaders on Monday (Jan. 9) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

“As someone working in China for more than 20 years, this is the highest honor I can imagine,” said Dr. Groves, Director of the Crawford Hydrology Laboratory within WKU’s Applied Research and Technology Program. “My colleagues at the Institute of Karst Geology in Guilin have been incredibly supportive and very gracious in nominating me for this honor.”

Dr. Groves, who has made 36 trips to China since 1995, has collaborated with Chinese scientists and others from around the world to organize water-related scientific programs under the umbrella of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“For a member of our faculty to be recognized at the highest level of another nation’s government is quite special and unique,” WKU President Gary A. Ransdell said. “Our entire academic community salutes Dr. Groves for this high honor, and more importantly for the profound impact his 20 years of applied research has had on the quality of life of people in the region of China where he has worked. His karst expertise enabled people, particularly children, to enjoy fresh ground water which was previously inaccessible. This is the strength of WKU’s international reach.”

Karst landscapes are those formed in soluble rock where caves, sinkholes and underground rivers are common, including southwest China and southcentral Kentucky. There are potentially severe environmental challenges with land stability, flooding and water supply in karst regions. Tens of millions of rural Chinese, some from China’s poorest provinces, rely on fragile karst water resources.

WKU Professor Chris Groves was honored Jan. 9 during a ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Top Chinese officials, including President Xi in the center, handed out the awards. (Image by Wang Ye, Xinhua News Agency)

WKU Professor Chris Groves was honored Jan. 9 during a ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Top Chinese officials, including President Xi in the center, handed out the awards. (Image by Wang Ye, Xinhua News Agency)

“My collaborations with Chinese colleagues have been focused on understanding the hydrogeology, geochemistry and water resources of southwest China’s vast limestone karst regions, among the world’s most extensive and well-developed,” Dr. Groves said. “There have been both basic and applied research questions as there are many interesting geological problems but also a significant water resource challenges for rural people in those areas.”

WKU scientists and students have been working with Chinese scientists to find solutions to these problems for more than 20 years. More than 30 WKU students, faculty and staff have traveled to China in the karst program, and numerous Chinese scientists and students have come to WKU over the same period.

In 2013, Dr. Groves 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.

In November, Dr. Groves was appointed to a second six-year term on the Governing Board of the International Research Center on Karst (IRCK), which is is headquartered at the Institute of Karst Geology (IKG) in Guilin and is China’s premier government laboratory for the study of karst landscapes, aquifers and water resources.

In addition to water resource research, Dr. Groves and his colleagues are continuing their research on the role karst systems play in the carbon cycle and the complexities of climate change.

The carbon cycle refers to the multitude of ways carbon moves through the environment and atmosphere on both local and global scales. Atmospheric carbon is absorbed by water on the surface and 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.

“A question that is gaining more attention in recent years concerns rates and processes by which CO2 gas is being removed from the atmosphere by dissolving of carbonate minerals on the continents,” he said. “We have been working together to improve methods to measure this transfer of carbon from the atmosphere, with an ultimate goal to make improved global estimates.”

Dr. Groves’ wife, Deana, and their two daughters accompanied him on the trip to Beijing. “Deana has been an important partner in my work there,” he said.

Contact: Chris Groves, chris.groves@wku.edu

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