Dr. Sarah Null

Aquatic Habitat, Climate, and Water Analysis (ACWA) Lab


Current Research

SE Null. CAREER: Robust aquatic habitat representation for water resources decision-making. National Science Foundation (CAREER). ($510,095). Environmental Sustainability Program, Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) Division, Engineering Directorate. 2017 - 2022. ($510, 095).

The goal of this research is to represent aquatic habitat with multiple environmental attributes to quantify aquatic habitat in water resources systems modeling for robust decision-making. Environmental objectives are difficult to monetize, so are typically represented as constraints that remove them from decision-making, or functions of streamflow that do not correlate with organisms. Yet, simplicity and generalizable concepts that highlight fundamental water insights and develop the science of environmental objectives in water resources systems modeling are needed directions for the future. Thus, an essential dilemma of sustainable engineering is building models that are sufficiently realistic and acceptably general to make better decisions. Large spatial scale environmental data (streamflow, water quality, channel form, bioenergetics, etc.) makes it possible to integrate multiple habitat variables and validate them with organism presence to quantify concessions between accuracy and generality. Robust decision-making analytics weigh uncertain habitat representation ensembles in water resources systems models to identify stable decision-making when decisions are not easily reversible, such as for dam removal or construction. This supports long-term research and education goals of enhancing aquatic ecosystems while maintaining water resources benefits for people. Integrated research and education activities are to: 1) test the accuracy and generality of large spatial scale environmental data to represent aquatic habitat with varying levels of complexity, 2) quantify the robustness of aquatic habitat and hydro-economic tradeoffs in water resources systems models with uncertainty, and 3) expand public science literacy for water resources decision-making by integrating science with art.

Brothers, S, P Budy, SE Null, C Morrisett, R Van Kirk. Hydrological and Ecological Assessment of the Henry's Fork River and Island Park Reservoir to Support Multi-Stakeholder Management. 2018 - 2022.

In southeastern Idaho’s Henry’s Fork watershed, we’re identifying water management strategies to maintain water supply and aquatic habitat. Project objectives are to: (1) characterize streamflow-habitat relationships, (2) quantify groundwater contributions to the lower Henry’s Fork, (3) optimize reservoir delivery and managed aquifer recharge to meet competing water supply and instream flow objectives, and (4) investigate the adaptive capacity of Teton Valley agricultural producers to adopt farming practices that reduce irrigation needs. These objectives will guide an environmental flow recommendation for the lower Henry’s Fork.


ZS Hogan, S Chandra, SE Null, P Weisberg, C Jerde, . Wonders of the Mekong: A foundation for sustainable development and resilience. USAID. Sub-contract through University of Nevada, Reno (Project PI: Z Hogan). $4,724,544 ($279,000).

SE Null. Modeling aquatic habitat suitability and connectivity in Utah rivers. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Research Council. ($106,013).

The goal of this proposal is to develop and validate a statewide habitat suitability model for Utah using publicly-available, large spatial scale environmental data (GIS and remotely-sensed datasets). This enables the management goal of this proposal, which is to model, identify, and map barriers to fish distribution and movement, and model changes in habitat condition with changes in environmental variables such as water temperature or quality.

Instream barriers fragment habitat in Utah

Huntly, N, P Belmont, C Flint, D Rosenberg, S Wang, L Gordillo, P Howe, J Lutz, SE Null, D Feldon. NRT: Graduate Climate Adaptation Research that Enhances Education and Responsiveness of science at the management-policy interface (Grad-CAREER). National Science Foundation (Research Traineeship Program). 2016 - 2021. $2,952,344 ($44,000).

Past Funders