Today, IIHR is at the forefront of efforts to solve some of society’s most significant Grand Challenges, especially in relation to water and its impacts to the built and natural environment. IIHR researchers are addressing issues related to sustainability in the water, energy and food nexus; improving our understanding and adaptation to climate change; increasing community resilience to natural hazards; and helping equip society with the tools to make informed decisions.

Link to: Rivers, Watersheds, & the Landscape

IIHR has been involved in river-related research since the lab’s beginnings. Some of the earliest experiments capitalized on IIHR’s experimental channel, which drew water directly from the adjacent dam on the Iowa River.

Much of IIHR’s research touches all our lives, affecting human health and well-being in meaningful ways. Studies of biofluids, environmental contaminants, vulnerability, and resilience are particularly relevant to each of us. In addition, projects focused on renewable energy and watersheds help remediate society’s negative impacts on the environment, leading to a more sustainable, enjoyable way of life for everyone.

Link to: Health and the Environment
Link to: Fluid Mechanics and Structures

Fluid mechanics, the study of fluid behavior at rest and in motion, is at the core of nearly all IIHR research. IIHR uses the basic governing equations of fluid mechanics to investigate a wide range of applications—river flow, atmospheric conditions, renewable energy (e.g., wind and water turbines), ship hydrodynamics, biological systems, and much more. For most of these applications, IIHR researchers use numerical analysis (computational fluid dynamics, or CFD) to explore and solve fluid flow problems. They validate these models with data from experimental modeling, field work, or environmental sensors.

Beginning with the innovative Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) in 2011, IIHR has made easy online public access to research data the standard for its major research initiatives. IFIS is an easy-to-use, Google Maps–based web platform developed by the Iowa Flood Center. It provides real-time information on watersheds, precipitation, and stream levels for more than 1,000 Iowa communities. IFIS is available to all Iowans on the internet at Since then, IIHR has developed similar online data access systems for water-quality information, the Iowa Watershed Approach, well driller information, and more. These platforms allow emergency managers, decision-makers, and the general public to access the data they need for safety and good public policy.

Link to: Data Portals and Reports

Specialized Research Centers

The centers and programs described below each have a specific core research area, but most IIHR researchers contribute to (and associate with) more than one area. Individual projects in these fields, and the people associated with them, are as fluid and dynamic as the subjects they study! All benefit from access to the IIHR’s extensive facilities, equipment, and instrumentation.

Dating back to 1855, the Iowa Geological Survey (IGS) is IIHR’s oldest program. IGS staff continue to collect, preserve, and interpret geologic and hydrogeologic data in Iowa. The IGS moved from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to the University of Iowa in 2014, and this integration within IIHR supports systems-scale research related to Iowa’s landforms and watersheds.

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Established in 2009, the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) is the United States’ first and only academic center devoted solely to flood-related research and education. IFC staff and students develop some of the most advanced projects and tools to improve Iowa’s flood preparedness and resilience. Most of these tools can be accessed by the general public via the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS).

Iowa Nutrient Research Center

IIHR is a key partner in the Iowa Nutrient Research Center (INRC), which brings together researchers from Iowa’s three public universities and several government agencies to better understand how nutrients move through the landscape and waterways. A major facet of IIHR’s contributions to the INRC program is to develop, deploy, and maintain the largest water-quality sensor network in the country.

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The Iowa Watershed Approach (IWA) is a statewide project funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It focuses on nine watersheds from the southwest to the northeast corners of the state that had recent Presidential Disaster Declarations related to flooding. IIHR/IFC students and staff are working with many dedicated partners and landowners to reduce flooding and improve community resilience to flooding.

The Iowa Superfund Research Program (ISRP), founded in 2006 and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a global leader in the study of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which have been banned in the United States since the 1970s because of their danger to human health. The project focuses on the airborne threats posed by PCBs by identifying how people are exposed, analyzing measurable levels of toxicity, and developing efforts to remediate PCBs already present in natural environments and manufactured structures.

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Other Relevant Links

Visit the IIHR Engineering Services website for information about sediment studies and more.

IIHR is a partner on the NSF project titled Critical Zone Observatory: Intensively Managed Landscapes