Xue Feng (PI)

McKnight Land-Grant Associate Professor, Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering

We are also based at the Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory in downtown Minneapolis. 

ORCID: 0000-0003-1381-3118

feng [at]


Brandon Sloan (Ph.D. student)

My PhD research explores how plant physiology modulates the surface energy budget in land surface models (LSMs) and uses this improved understanding to address a practical water use question in Minnesota. To date, most LSMs empirically down-regulate transpiration and CO2 assimilation, introducing large uncertainty into flux predictions.  I am implementing a physically based plant hydraulics model (PHM) into an LSM to quantify the improvement in predictive power and model uncertainty (parameter and structural) for select flux tower sites using state-of-the-art data science techniques. This work provides modelers with guidelines of specific environmental conditions and plant traits where the empirical methods are erroneous.  


Xiating Chen (Ph.D. student)

I am interested in how the transport of water is changing––and changed by––rural landscapes and urban development. My current research draws in concepts from network science to understand land covers and underground stormwater systems’ impacts on urban hydrology in the Twin Cities metro area. By extension, I am also interested in incorporating water resources into holistic sustainable planning methods that consider climate equities and other social equities. Prior to joining the Feng’s lab at the University of Minnesota, I received my Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and music from Duke University, and worked for three years as a civil engineer and utility management analyst at HDR.


Mariel Jones (Ph.D. student)

I am interested in statistical applications to ecohydrological models, particularly pertaining to the precipitation inputs of the water balance. My current PhD research builds off of recent studies at Marcell Experimental Forest about the interactions between the water table elevation and peatland methane emissions. I examine the implications of changes in snowfall events due to climate change on this water table elevation analysis as well as early fall frost and spring thaw events on peatland flooding. Prior to my PhD research I completed my Bachelor’s of Science in General Engineering and Mathematics and Statistics at Smith College in Northampton, MA.


Aaron Potkay (Postdoc) 

I study how trees grow as well as how to mathematically model tree growth for predictions of tree functioning in a hotter, drier future. In a previous life, I took classes in engineering, soils, and hydrology, but trees are my shtick as of recently. In particular, I focus on how trees acquire, transport, store, and use two resources that limit growth: water and carbon. These resources are interdependently coordinated for trees, producing many tradeoffs. I am currently exploring the hypothesis that trees’ stomata (i.e., small pores on leaves that balance photosynthetic carbon uptake with water loss) optimize their woody growth. Stomata must open and close to balance trees’ supply and demand for carbon. Photosynthesis supplies carbon, while growth and respiration demand carbon. While opening stomata creates more carbon supply, it also reduces demand by lowering trees’ potential for growth and respiration. Presumably, stomata optimize this tradeoff to maximize their growth, survival, and ability to compete with other plants. I apply calculus, by both numerical and analytical solutions, to create models (involving photosynthesis, transpiration, xylem water and/or phloem sugar transport, nonstructural carbohydrate storage, and xylogenesis) and to make predictions.


Jeannie Wilkening (Postdoc)

I am interested in how fluxes of water and carbon are determined by the way that plants, as biological organisms, interact with their physical environment. In my postdoc research, I am examining these interactions in urban environments to better understand how plants function in urban areas, and how that function impacts their ability to provide services to communities, particularly the mitigation of urban heat island effects. I study this using a combination of mechanistic models, empirical studies, remote sensing, and data science approaches. Prior to coming to Minnesota, I completed my BS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Arizona, an MPhil in Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge, and an MS and PhD in Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley.