Our Guest: Ryan D. Stewart

Ryan D. Stewart


Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Innsbruck
February - June 2022

Home university / Country
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University / USA

Associate Professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

Research areas
Soil Hydrology, Water Resources Management

Guest of 
Georg Leitinger

Department of Ecology

Guest lecture
28.03.2022: “Sustainable soil management across systems and scales: implications for water and carbon cycling

 "Graduate students have a great way of keeping things fresh and fun, and I am constantly learning from them as well."


Innsbruck for me is… 

... a beautiful, interesting place. It is not too big (but not too small), with beautiful mountains and rivers, great trails, nice restaurants, convenient public transportation, and nice people. I am also enjoying the local bread, cheese, chocolate, and beer. Yum.


At the University of Innsbruck I will…

... engage in research and teaching as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. I am currently residing at the Institute of Ecology and working with collaborators there to better understand how climate change may affect high-elevation alpine grasslands. My research involves instrumented lysimeters that measure data that can be used to understand water and energy fluxes. I will analyze previously collected data and will collect of new measurements on plant leaf temperatures and evaporation rates under different conditions of soil water availability. I then plan to use these data to model how interactions between plants and soils affect water movement and uptake. I am also working with graduate students in the Environmental Management of Mountainous Areas (EMMA) M.S. program, the Ecology and Biodiversity M.S. program, and the Biology Ph.D. program, and I will teach lecture and seminar courses on soil properties and hydrological processes.


The University of Innsbruck is different from my home institution in...

... a few ways. The course schedules and structures are pretty different. At home we have courses on a set schedule every week of the semester, whereas my courses here are scheduled for shorter, more intense periods. I also am impressed by the number of instrumented field sites that scientists here have developed so close to Innsbruck. While we certainly have some instrumented sites near my home institution, the ones here appear to be particularly well utilized for research and teaching activities. I also have noted that the Institute of Ecology has high quality and extensive technical support, which is so important for successful environmental sensing and science.

What fascinates me about scientific work is... 

... how science can be used to better understand the world around us and how it all works. I tend to be a curious person, and pursuing science is a great way to put that curiosity to work. I also enjoy how collaborative and multi-disciplinary science can be. I have the opportunity to work with biologists, physicists, geochemists, social scientists, economists, engineers, and others to try and address large problems and key questions. It can be challenging to find common terminology and approaches, but that is all part of the fun. I also really enjoy working with and training graduate students in scientific methods and writing. Graduate students have a great way of keeping things fresh and fun, and I am constantly learning from them as well.

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