May 28, 2020

Research Florida

Innovations in Florida

A roundup of stories on the latest research being done around the state.

| 8/28/2018

A Friendlier Fertilizer

Phosphorus, the second most common fertilizer used after nitrogen, has been one of Florida’s key natural resources. But there’s a limited amount of high-quality phosphate rock.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher Zhenli He — a soil and water science professor at IFAS’ Indian River Research and Education Center Fort Pierce — has found a way to extend the resource by turning low-grade phosphate rock into “environmentally friendly phosphate fertilizer.”

He’s method involves dolomite phosphate rock, a low-quality byproduct of traditional phosphate production. It uses naturally occurring organic materials blended with phosphate rock powder to activate the phosphorus in the rock. The resulting fertilizer is slow release, which should mean less leaching — at least 80% to 90% less — into soil.

He is hunting funding for the next step in commercialization.

Sea-Level Contributor

It’s likely you’ve never heard of Rossby waves. They’re planetary ocean waves caused by the rotation of the Earth and are so slow moving they can take years to cross the ocean. Turns out, they’ve been contributing to nuisance flooding in Florida and across the southeast U.S. coast, according to a new study by University of Central Florida coastal engineering professor Thomas Wahl and colleagues at other institutions.

The waves contribute to seasonal fluctuations in sea level, including an “extreme event” in 2008-09 that was probably unprecedented in the history of tidal gauges in the U.S., their study says. The study comes just a year after separate University of Florida research found four to six inches of sea-level increase along the U.S. southeastern coast since 2011 came from natural atmospheric pressure variations, possibly explaining the severity of nuisance flooding in places such as Miami Beach.

Wahl says knowing the role of Rossby waves could help coastal cities better predict and take measures to mitigate nuisance flooding.

“We can predict high tide and low tide, and we know what causes sea level to vary seasonally, but we found that in some years the seasonal fluctuations are much larger along the Gulf and U.S. southeast coasts than in others, causing more nuisance flooding and increasing flood risk from storm surges during the hurricane season,” Wahl says. “These unusually large seasonal fluctuations were poorly understood, and Rossby waves appear to be the missing piece.”

Patent Leaders

Five Florida universities placed in the top 100 worldwide for U.S. utility patents in 2017. Utility patents, or invention patents, cover products, processes and machines, as opposed to design patents.

University Rank Patents
University of South Florida 12 116
University of Florida 13 111
Florida International University 61 42
University of Central Florida 67 39
Florida State University 79 34

Source: National Academy of Inventors, Intellectual Property Owners Association


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