WaterMod 2: Soil water dynamics in agricultural and environmental systemsAndy Pitman
School of Earth Sciences, Macquarie University
This software is designed to allow the user to evaluate the impacts of a variety of external factors (e.g. climate), internal parameters (e.g. soil properties) and land management issues (e.g. mulching and irrigation) on crop growth, water use, transpiration, runoff and drainage and other components of the soil-plant-atmosphere system.
As a means to simulate the impact of these components on a suite of possible output variables, this software is impressive, robust, easy to use and highly recommended. As a teaching tool, it offers considerable potential for underpinning a land management course at 300-level. It would also be useful in a range of other courses: I teach climate modelling and the land surface is an important component of climate models and this teaching tool fits very sweetly into that kind of course. It may also be useful in graduate level courses.
I have few reservations about this product. However, there is one serious limitation with the software for use in teaching. There is an appropriate number of options which lead to changes in graphically presented quantities. Let's choose an example. It's easy, using this program, to run a control simulation for a year and then change the mulch, or the rainfall, or the soil parameters and then re-run an experiment. On choosing the new options, the graph of the result of the old options is lost, and when you run the new simulation you get a new graph which cannot easily be compared to the old graph. This would make it hard for a student to directly compare the impact of the different options chosen. An option to save the graphs into a clip board works very well and I could paste these with ease into WordPerfect 8, but this is not likely to be a simple option for students on memory limited computers and with limited computing skills. It's a real shame that this option is not available.
One impressive feature is the help pages. The pages describing how to use the package are useful, but the software was laid out in a way that was intuitive and familiar to a Windows user and most users could manage without reference to help. The help pages for the technical side of the model were clear and succinct yet providing a good level of detail for final year undergraduate or postgraduate students. References were provided to further information.
Overall, this is an impressive product which is useful in small group teaching. It is certainly worth a personal evaluation. For small courses where students can be shown how to save graphics between simulations, this software could be used to underpin the teaching of a variety of important concepts. For larger group teaching, the main limitation is likely to be too significant, in my view, for full value to be made of this software.
UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998
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