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Anne’s November Navigations

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

I’m not joining the exodus of geoscientists to AGU this week; I’m still recovering from November.

I’m not sure whether I spent more time in Ohio or outside of it last month. The month started with the rain and runoff from our brush with Superstorm Sandy, but by November 2nd I had a car packed full of conference and research gear and was heading south to North Carolina. The drive south was a great chance to watch all sorts of geology go by at interstate speeds. I started out in the glaciated Appalachian Plateau, drove south of the glacial limit, crossed the Ohio River, and was soon in the heart of the Appalachians and West Virginia‘s coal mining country. On Interstate 77, the border between West Virginia and Virginia seems to mark the dramatic transition the Valley and Ridge Province, then it is up on to the Blue Ridge and finally down the Blue Ridge Escarpment and into the Piedmont and North Carolina, finally arriving in Charlotte after eight hours of driving. Climatically, I left the cold and damp, drove through the snow left behind by Sandy, and ended up in the warm, sunny, and very dry south.

The Geological Society of America meeting was a busy time. I convened two sessions, helped lead a field trip and had more meetings for committees and with colleagues than I care to remember. But it was a great time to hear about exactly the sorts of science that I find most interesting and to get out in the field with 50 friends and colleagues to talk about new ideas in geomorphology.

  • Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: The Surficial Legacy of Past and Present Human Activities. We had an amazing slate of speakers that packed the room, fantastic poster presenters that drew a crowd, and we were able to announce that we will be editing a special issue of the new journal Anthropocene with papers from the session. Then the journal’s publisher threw us a special reception.
  • Hydrology of Urban Groundwater, Streams, and Watersheds. This session featured another roster of incredible speakers and a kick-ass set of posters featuring many of my students and colleagues from UNC Charlotte.
  • Kirk Bryan Field Trip: Piedmont Potpourris: New Perspectives on An Old Landscape (and Some of its Younger Parts. The annual syn-meeting field trip of the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology division always features good scenery and intense but friendly discussions. This year we looked at an old mill dam site in an urban stream and channel heads and terrace soils near the Catawba River, and then we climbed a monadnock to talk about Blue Ridge escarpment retreat and the long term evolution of landscapes. Plus, we had a delicious lunch of NC barbecue on our able and charismatic field trip leader’s front lawn.

Missy Eppes atop a red soil pit.

Field trip leader Missy Eppes atop a typically red soil profile, on a terrace above the Catawba River.

50 geomorphologists on the front steps

An enthusiastic and well fed group of geomorphologists and Quaternary geologists on a delightful November day.

Geomorphologists on a rock listening to Ryan McKeon

On top of Crowders Mountain, learning from Ryan McKeon.

After the meeting was over, I stuck around Charlotte for a few days, with plans to do a tracer injection in one of my local field sites. As I’ve already shown you, that didn’t work out so well. So I headed back north.

Back in Ohio, I did some exploring of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was timely given that I am just about to submit a proposal to do work in the headwater streams in and around the park. I also spent a wonderful day with someone from the Ohio EPA, looking at dam removal and stream restoration sites in the region.

Stream with sediment and trees

Headwater stream near Brandywine Creek, CVNP, November 2012.

My fun explorations of Ohio streams were tempered with sadness though. Just before Thanksgiving, my sweet, 14-year old canine companion, Cleo passed away. She was my longest running and most faithful field assistant, and I’ll miss her forever.

Dog meets spring

Cleo, in ~2005, at one of my PhD field sites.

But then it was off to Baltimore to visit with Claire Welty and the folks at the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, who do some of the coolest urban hydrology work around. They also host the Baltimore Ecosystem Study field site.

Sign on door reads "Baltimore Ecosystem Study"

That was just the warm-up for the real reason for my trip, giving a seminar in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. My talk was on “drainage network evolution is driven by coupled changes in landscape properties and hydrologic response,” in which I attempted to integrate the Oregon Cascades, North Carolina Piedmont, and urban landscapes. It was a thrill and an honor to give a Reds Wolman seminar at JHU, which is my undergraduate alma mater, and the experience was made even more memorable by a morning spent exploring stream restoration sites with Profs. Peter Wilcock and Ciaran Harman. We saw some sites that made some sense, and some that were a bit…non-sensical? I will come out and say it, I’m not a fan of what happened to the little granite pegmatite knickpoint where I went as an undergraduate to try to pretend I wasn’t really in the city. But a bit farther upstream, I could see the value in installing some nice structures that stabilized banks and increased accessibility to the stream in a park popular with joggers and dog-walkers.

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore's Stony Run

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore’s Stony Run

And that pretty much brought me to the end of November. I’m looking forward to no travel in December, at least until the end of the month. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stay busy.

The wrong conditions for a stream tracer injection

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

Leaving behind Ohio and the high waters from Sandy, I ventured south in early November for the Geological Society of America meeting in my former home of Charlotte, North Carolina. The meeting was busy and wonderful, and far too packed for me to hear as much science or talk to as many people as I would have wished. After the meeting was over, I stuck around Charlotte for a few days in order to do some field work with one of my graduate students. Our plan was to do a tracer injection in one of the headwater streams that form her field area. Such tracer injections are a bit finicky to schedule…if it’s raining or has recently rained, you can’t do them because the stream discharge won’t be steady over the several hours of the experiment. But Sandy had not dropped any rain on the Charlotte area and the weather was beautiful all during the conference. Nonetheless, my student assured me that there would be plenty of water in the stream, as it had been running well just two weeks prior. Perfect conditions, we thought.

So the afternoon before the experiment, we headed out to the study site to measure discharge and mark the places where we would be collecting samples. My student advised me to wear my hip waders, not knee boots, as she had over topped her boots last time she was in the field.

But…it turns we didn’t need the boots. At all.

Piezometers rising from a dry stream bed.

The wrong conditions for a stream tracer injection, November 2012, Charlotte, NC.

Clearly, we could not add our tracer to the streamflow the next day. We were missing one crucial ingredient: streamflow.

One upside to the situation is that it was a very easy call to make. No hemming and hawing and making some sort of judgement about whether things were “good enough” to go for it. We simply couldn’t do the experiment.

It was also stunningly good conditions for walking the channel and looking at the location and conditions of the stream restoration structures and wood jams. And we spent the next day with our heads together working on much more solid plans for the eventual experiment. So, not a total loss.

But now we need to wait, for the right hydrological conditions, suitable ecology, and a time that works in our schedules. Field work is incredibly important for learning about the way that real, complex hydrologic systems work. And it can be incredibly fun. But it can also be filled with frustration…and waiting. In this case, for the “right conditions for a stream tracer injection.”

The View from Two Weeks In

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

Over the summer, people asked me whether I was taking the summer off, and I had to explain to them that it wasn’t so much that I had a new job, as that I was simply moving my old job to a new place.* And that’s true in the sense that I am continuing to teach, do research, publish, write grants, review papers and grants, advise students, serve on committees and all those million other things professors do. But now that we are two weeks into the semester in the Department of Geology at Kent State University, I realize that it’s not entirely true, because there are a lot of new things about being in a new place.

My first time starting a professor job, I think I couldn’t truly appreciate and enjoy the “getting to know you” phase of the job, but this time I am trying to actually savor these moments of everything being new and shiny. And I thought I’d share them with you, so that any interested readers could see what it’s like to be a (more or less) newbie professor. Over the last two weeks, I’ve shared a few things on Twitter, but I thought I’d add a little more context here. I hope you enjoy it.

*I wrote and submitted paper, revised another one, spoke at a conference, and helped a student revise and defend his MS thesis while unemployed this summer. Also, I moved. Some “time off”!

Spring Break: tracer injection in Beaver Dam Creek

Spring Break: tracer injection in Beaver Dam Creek

Spring Break: tracer injection in Beaver Dam Creek

Some of our students are in the field this week, injecting Cl- and Br- into a restored reach and an unrestored reach in tributaries of Beaver Dam Creek. Our goal is to understand the role of wood jams versus restoration structures in promoting stream-hyporheic exchange.

In the photo are Alea, Xueying, and Mackenzie. Photo by Brittany. They’ve got it so capably handled they didn’t even need Sandra or I out there with them today, but I’m going tomorrow for an excuse to be in the field as much as anything.

Spring Break: tracer injection in Beaver Dam Creek

Some of our students are in the field this week, injecting Cl- and Br- into a restored reach and an unrestored reach in tributaries of Beaver Dam Creek. Our goal is to understand the role of wood jams versus restoration structures in promoting stream-hyporheic exchange.

In the photo are Alea, Xueying, and Mackenzie. Photo by Brittany. They’ve got it so capably handled they didn’t even need Sandra or I out there with them today, but I’m going tomorrow for an excuse to be in the field as much as anything.

Spring Break: tracer injection in Beaver Dam Creek

Some of our students are in the field this week, injecting Cl- and Br- into a restored reach and an unrestored reach in tributaries of Beaver Dam Creek. Our goal is to understand the role of wood jams versus restoration structures in promoting stream-hyporheic exchange.

In the photo are Alea, Xueying, and Mackenzie. Photo by Brittany. They’ve got it so capably handled they didn’t even need Sandra or I out there with them today, but I’m going tomorrow for an excuse to be in the field as much as anything.

Another Water REU at Virginia Tech

Dynamics of Water and Societal Systems

An Interdisciplinary Research Program at the Virginia Tech StREAM Lab

2012 NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

June 4 – August 10

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia


Application will be Reviewed Starting February 29th, 2012


Applications are invited from qualified and motivated undergraduate students (rising sophomores, juniors and seniors) from all U.S. colleges/universities to participate in a novel, interdisciplinary, 10-week summer research program at Virginia Tech centered within the university’s Stream Research, Education, and Management Laboratory (StREAM Lab). All REU fellows will serve within several interconnected group projects dealing with issues of water sustainability, ecosystem resilience, and environmental stewardship. As our REU fellows address their specific research questions, they will be mentored by interdisciplinary faculty groups, providing them with a rich and unique perspective on their specific target issues, as well as a more mature and holistic view of watershed management.

U.S. Citizens or Permanent Residents are eligible to apply. Successful applicants may be current students in a number of relevant engineering, science, and social science undergraduate disciplines. The research program is funded through the National Science Foundation – Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program. The 10-week internship will begin on June 03, 2012 (arrival day) at Virginia Tech and end on August 10, 2012 (departure day). The research internship includes a stipend of $4000, subsistence costs (dormitory and most of the meals) and round trip travel expenses (up to $500) per person to Virginia Tech. In addition, expenses will be covered for travel to a conference, most likely the American Ecological Engineering Society conference in Syracuse, NY (June 7-9).

For application materials and more information:

Application materials should be submitted via email to:


Research Activities: Although specific research questions will differ for each cohort of fellows, this REU will broadly focus on introducing students to the complex interactions between the natural Stroubles Creek watershed system and the upland anthropomorphic influences of the Blacksburg and Virginia Tech communities. Fellows will also be encouraged to develop critical thinking and communication skills through a series of “Society and Science” evening lectures and discussions designed to promote cross-disciplinary interactions and networking, and through the guided design of outreach activities intended to engage minority middle school students in summer science camps.

We will begin reviewing application submission on February 29, 2012. Successful applicants will be informed by March 19, 2012. Please contact Dr. W. Cully Hession (540-231-9480; or Dr. Leigh Anne Krometis (540-231-4372; for more information or with any questions. [NSF-Engineering Education and Centers #1156688]

Water Science and Engineering Research Experiences for Undergraduates at Virginia Tech and Florida

Undergraduates – Are you looking for a way to gain research experience and get an edge on grad school preparedness? Are you interested in water? Then check out these two opportunities to spend the summer studying water science and engineering.  I know a couple of faculty at Virgnia Tech, and I can highly recommend working with them. The program at Florida sounds good too. 


Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Application Deadline February 24, 2012

Applications are invited from qualified and motivated undergraduate
students (rising sophomores, juniors and seniors) from all U.S.
colleges/universities to participate in a 10-week (June 03-August 10,
2012) summer research in interdisciplinary water sciences and
engineering at Virginia Tech. We have already graduated 36 excellent
undergraduate researchers from our site during 2007, 2008, 2009, and
2011. Application materials, details of ten Research Mentors along
with possible research projects and other program activities are
posted on following website:

Example Projects:

Natural Attenuation of Contaminants in Groundwater
Hydrology and Hydraulics Impacts on Ecological Health of Surface Waters
Bacterial Contamination of Water Distribution and Plumbing Pipelines
Water Quality for Human Health and Aesthetics
Investigation of Occurrence and Fate of Organic Contaminants in a
Watershed Impacted by Urban Development
Hypolimnetic Oxygenation:  Coupling Bubble-Plume and Reservoir Models
Design and Application of a Real-Time Water Monitoring System
Water-Energy Nexus and Decentralized Water Infrastructure
Bioremediation of Oil Spills
Analysis of Patterns of Macroinvertebrate Density and Distribution
in Strouble’s Creek

Deadline for application submission is February 24, 2012. Successful
applicants will be informed by March 12, 2012. Please contact Dr.
Vinod K Lohani (phone: (540)231-9545; FAX: (540) 231-6903; for questions

The University of Florida invites applications for an interdisciplinary research program in water resources from undergraduate students in their sophomore, junior, and senior years, majoring in engineering or related fields in science and math. Selected students will conduct hands-on research projects for eight weeks, involving field/laboratory experiments, theory, and computer modeling. The students will be distributed across Florida during the program. This unique program combines research and extension experiences in water resources to help convey research results for better water management.
PROGRAM: June 11 – August 3, 2012. Includes all travel expenses, stipend, housing, and meals.
ELIGIBILITY: US citizens or permanent residents who are in their sophomore/junior/senior year of study. Students at non-research institutions and those who are underrepresented in engineering and science are particularly encouraged to apply.
CONTACT: Mr. Daniel Preston (
Deadline of receipt is February 1, 2012.
Application form and instructions available online at

Getting good stream temperature measurements without losing your probes

Tidbits temperature probeNote: I use stream temperature to understand groundwater-stream interactions and the response of streams to urbanization. Since ~2004, my stream temperature probe of choice has been the Tidbits temp probe, manufactured by Onset corporation. I like them because they are +/-0.2C and extremely durable, watertight, and reliable. Plus, I’ve had good customer service experiences with the manufacturer. What follows is my attempt to explain how I deploy them in the field, based on my cumulative experience and what I’ve learned from others. Please comment and add your own ideas and experiences, and I’ll amend the protocol as needed.

Getting ready for the field

  1. Obtain Tidbits temperature probes and the associated HoboWare Pro software. Read the documentation and learn how they work.
  2. Using the delayed start feature in Hoboware, set all of the temperature probes to start at the same time and at the same sampling interval. I like to set them to start evenly on the hour. It makes analysis easier later.
  3. You can’t change the calibration of the temperature probes within the software, and they should come pre-calibrated, but you should still check the calibration of your temperature probes relative to a certified thermometer and to each other. I recommend a 3 stage calibration check process, but you’ll want to do at least 2 temperatures that bracket the range of range conditions you expect to measure. You need to do each of these for a couple of hours, because while the response time in water is ~5 minutes, it is slower in air.
    • An ice bath (with stirring) or the refrigerator.
    • Room temperature, out of direct light, in a room with fairly stable temperatures for a couple of hours.
    • Depending on what temperature your streams are likely to be, you might want a temperature intermediate between the refrigerator and room temperature. (I’d love to hear your suggestions for an easy, good intermediate cool temperature.)
    • Or, if you are interested in summer headwater stream temperatures, you could use something like a consistenly shady area outside. I’ve also used my backpack, by putting all of the probes in the same container inside it, and then hiking around with them for several hours prior to installation.
  4. Download the Tidbits after the calibration check, and reset them for a simultaneous start on the day you’ll be deploying them in the field. I’ve used a 15 minute interval for projects where daily and seasonal fluctuations were of interest; but since we are now interested in storm response, I think we should set them to log at 5 minute intervals (in Celsius, please!).
  5. If there are extra tidbits available, I recommend deploying one in the air, in a shady area near the stream at each field site. I’ve hung them from a tree branch with fishing line, and a homebuilt radiation shield. My radiation shield was a gallon milk jug with the bottom cut off. The tidbit fit through the top opening, and then I screwed the top back on, so that the Tidbit hung freely within an area shaded on the top and sides by the milk jug.

Selecting your field site

There are several very important things to consider when selecting your probe site. You are probably going to have to compromise somewhere in this list at some of your sites, but this is what to strive for.

  1. It meets your scientific objectives (i.e., is positioned appropriately relative to a stormwater BMP, restoration structure, tributary junction, or other field sampling/equipment site.)
  2. The probe will be under flowing water under a wide range of flow conditions. Good places include the channel thalweg or a pool that will not go stagnant (e.g., below a rock outcrop or structure that directs all streamflow into the pool).
  3. The probe will out of direct sunlight at all times of day, as best as possible. Deep shade, an overhanging bank, or an incised reach is good. Peak water temperatures occur in the mid- to late-afternoon, so this is the most important time to check and make sure your site is out of the sun. Adding a cobble on top of your probe, without completely burying the probe in the streambed, is another good way to keep the sun off of it (and to make it less likely to be discovered or banged up during high flow). If you think sun exposure is likely to be a problem (or your data suggest that it is), you should take measurements of shading with a densiometer. Measuring shading won’t fix the problem, but at least you’ll be able to discuss it.
  4. The probe placement is as geomorphically consistent with other probes in the project as possible.
  5. The probe can be discretely and securely attach the probe to something very stable. I’ve almost always used streamside trees, but a post holding other equipment would work too.
  6. The probe should be located somewhere it is possible to bring it up onto the bank while still cabled, so that the Tidbit can be downloaded into the laptop without having to balance the laptop in the middle of the stream.

Deploying the probe

  1. Loop steel cable through the hole on the Tidbit, and crimp the loop shut with a hand swager (like this one). I have cabling, crimps, a swager, and a cable cutter available in my lab.
  2. Measure out an appropriate length of cable to reach the secure attachment site, loop around it, and cut and crimp the cable. I like to give the cable enough room so that it can lie flush with the stream bed and bank and let the probe be in the thalweg, under a rock, but I try not to give it too much slack to get caught on things or let the probe go banging down the stream if it gets dislodged. And, of course, I never make a loop around a tree very tight
  3. Put the probe in the stream. If possible, place a cobble on top of it so that water flows under the cobble and the probe doesn’t get smooshed into the streambed.
  4. Mark your field site with (1) GPS coordinates, (2) discrete flagging or a stake, (3) write down really good field notes describing the site and how you got there, and (4) take photos of everything (like the ones below). Write your field notes so that your advisor(s) can find the site 2 years from now without your help. (Thanks!)

Note: We have tried a variety of methods for securely attaching the Tidbits temperature probes to a fixed object. Rope gets abraded, degraded, and eventually breaks in high turbulence and velocity flows. High test fishing line broke as well during a high flow in a first order stream. We have settled on steel cable, thin enough to thread through the hole of the Tidbits and secured by crimping, as shown below. Recently, we discovered that several of the cables that had been deployed for ~2 years had rusted and broken and that we’d lost the temperature probes at some point since we’d last downloaded their data. I’ve now heard that some people are using plastic coated steel wire. Maybe we should consider that as an alternative to the unocated cable.

I still believe that the steel cabling is a good attachment method, but our experience reminds me of the importance of regularly checking on field equipment. Even if the temperature probe can collect a year’s worth of data before its memory fills up, I’d recommend downloading the data at least once every 3 months (in a non-flashy stream) and doing a thorough check of the cable integrity each time. In urban streams, I now recommend downloading table and checking cable integrity every 2 weeks. Data from a lost probe can never be recovered.


Attachment for temperature probe at Deep Creek site DC 12, during the fishing line-era of installation. The flagging was also labeled with a project and site identifier.

The Tidbits is under the triangular rock at the center of the photo.

The Tidbits is under the triangular rock at the center of the photo. You might be able to see the line extending to it. Good points about this site: A rock protector with good water flow under and around it and good shading. Bad points: Not a lot of flow depth here, but we were at the seep initiating this stream. We had an air temperature probe at this site as well, and the water temperature was always significantly muted relative to the air temperature fluctuations.

Thanks to Sarah Lewis for adding her wise comments to via email. She taught me a lot of this stuff in the first place!

Ralph McGee and Cameron Moore will graduate next week!

Major congratulations to two Watershed Hydrogeology Lab graduate students who have finished writing their MS theses and will defend them next week. Ralph McGee and Cameron Moore both started in our MS in Earth Science program in August 2009, and less than two years later they have each completed impressive MS projects on headwater streams in Redlair Forest of the North Carolina Piedmont.

Ralph McGee will present his research on “Hydrogeomorphic processes influencing ephemeral streams in forested watersheds of the southeastern Piedmont U.S.A.” on Thursday, May 12th at 10:00 am in McEniry Hall, room 111 on the UNC Charlotte campus.

The unofficial title for Ralph’s work is “Tiny Torrents Tell Tall Tales.” Watch the video below to see why.

Cameron Moore will present his research on “Surface/Groundwater Interactions and Sediment Characteristics of Headwater Streams in the Piedmont of North Carolina” on Friday, May 13th at 9:00 am in McEniry Hall, room 111 on the UNC Charlotte campus.

When Cameron started working on this project, I had thought that the story would focus on how fractured bedrock contributed to groundwater upwelling in the streams, but it turns out the small debris jams (like the one below) are the dominant driver of groundwater/stream interactions and spatial variability of channel morphology.

Debris jam in Deep Creek

Looking upstream at a debris jam in Deep Creek

Faculty, students, and the public are encouraged to attend the presentations and ask Ralph and Cameron any questions they may have.

Hydrologist + professor = Anne's answers to career profile questions

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

A few weeks ago, I was asked to answer some questions for a career profile section of a website aimed at students looking at college degree options. The website creators wanted to use me as their profile of a hydrologist, maybe because hydrology has been dubbed one of the “50 best careers for 2011” and “should have strong growth in the next decade.” As US News reported in December, “There were 8,100 hydrologist jobs in 2008, and the Labor Department projects that employment will grow more than 18 percent by 2018.”

I’ve included below my answers to the generic career profile questions I was asked, but I was unable to completely disentangle my scientific profession as a hydrologist from my career as a university professor. Hydrologists working in industry or government would have somewhat different takes on day-to-day work life than I do. Nonetheless, I hope my answers might be useful to students trying to decide “what to be when I grow up.”

What do you do, and why did you decide to pursue this career field?
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My research and teaching focus on water, so I am a hydrologist.

The sorts of research questions that fascinate me are: “What controls whether a rain drop ends up running over or through the soil into a stream channel within hours to weeks versus sinking down and becoming groundwater that spends years to centuries underground before maybe emerging in that same stream at a spring? How do the topography and geology of a landscape affect the sensitivity of streams and groundwater to floods, droughts, and climate change? How do human activities like urban development, stormwater management, and stream restoration affect floods, low flows, groundwater recharge, and water quality?”

My hometown is on the Mississippi River and its identity and economy is strongly tied to the river. In 1993, while in high school, I got to see the incredible dynamism of the river in action during a record-breaking flood. I was hooked, and decided to study geology in college. My first experiences with scientific research thrilled me – being the person to collect and analyze the data and answer a question that had never before been answered. In order to choose my own research projects in hydrology, I knew I needed a Ph.D.

What type of preparation did you do to get into this field, such as educational experience and work experience?

I have a BA degree in Earth and Planetary Science from The Johns Hopkins University, a MS degree in Water Resources Science from the University of Minnesota, and a PhD in Geology from Oregon State University. After my PhD, I spent time as a post-doctoral researcher before getting my job at UNC Charlotte.

All through school, I was involved with research. As an undergraduate, I did a summer “Research Experience for Undergraduates” at the Smithsonian and a senior thesis on soil water isotopes. Graduate degrees in the sciences are heavily research oriented, and both my MS and PhD projects involved lots of work in the field – wading in streams to measure the amount of flow and collecting stream water, snow, and rock samples. They also involved a lot of time in front of the computer trying to make sense of all of the data I had collected.

While I was in school, I had a couple of work experiences related to water policy and management, since those are also interests of mine. As an undergraduate I did an internship with an environmental organization in Washington, DC, and as a MS student I worked for a county planning department and for the University of Minnesota’s Water Resources Center. These sorts of experiences aren’t required for a hydrology professor, but, for me, they provide valuable context for my scientific research.

If your education was directly related to your career, what types of classes and projects did you have to do?

There are many different undergraduate majors possible for people interested in working with water. Among the most common are civil and environmental engineering, geology or earth science, and geography. There are only a handful of universities that offer undergraduate degrees in hydrology or watershed science, though graduate programs specifically related to interdisciplinary training in water resources science are increasing. As an undergraduate, I recommend getting a strong base in the fundamental courses and concepts in your major, and then adding water-related classes as you have time. If you don’t get a deep enough base in a traditional discipline, you may find that potential employers or graduate advisors don’t understand what skills and knowledge you have.

Regardless of your major, if you are interested in hydrology, take as much math, chemistry, and physics as you possibly can during your high school and undergraduate years. Those classes will give you critical background for your hydrology classes. By the time I was done with my PhD, I’d taken the equivalent of six semesters of math (calculus, differential equations, and beyond), two semesters of statistics, two semesters of physics, and three semesters of chemistry. I sometimes wish I’d taken more, and I definitely wish I’d taken a computer programming class. Another thing I I recommend for almost anyone interested in hydrology is a class (or more than one) in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is a powerful tool for anyone interested in understanding how natural resources are distributed across a landscape, and some employers may expect at least a little familiarity with GIS.

If you decide to go to graduate school, you may find the array of classes that you can choose from to be dizzying. Work carefully with your graduate advisor and your committee to select a set of classes that will serve your graduate research project *and* your future career plans well. There’s no one standard set of classes for people seeking graduate degrees in hydrology, but I took classes like “Forest and Wetland Hydrology”, “Hillslope Hydrology”, “Groundwater Hydraulics,” “Sediment Transport,” and “The Role of Fluids in Geological Processes.” I also took classes that wouldn’t appear to have anything to do with water, things like “Volcanology” and “Glacial Geology”. Those classes were helpful as I continued to increase my depth of knowledge in geology, and because they provide a supporting framework for understanding problems in hydrology. However, the most important part of graduate school is learning to do scientific research and to communicate it well. You’ll learn that outside the classroom through working with your advisor, your committee members and collaborators, and your fellow graduate students.

How did your education help you in your career?

My education through a Ph.D. was absolutely essential to enable me to become a university professor in hydrology. While there are some limited teaching-intensive positions that might not require a completed Ph.D., if your goal is to teach and do research at the university level, you must complete a Ph.D.

What was your career path like in this field? For example, did you begin in one position and advance through others to reach where you are now?

I am in my first position as a university professor. Before getting my job at UNC Charlotte, I had gained some valuable teaching experience as an instructor for an Oregon State University summer session class, and I spent about a year as a post-doctoral researcher expanding my research skills, but this position is the first one to call on all aspects of my training – and then some.

What types of skills is someone required to have to work in your position?

My job requires me to have both deep and broad knowledge of hydrology and related fields, but there are many other skills that are necessary to be a successful hydrologist and university professor. In no particular order, someone like me needs skills in:

  • Written communication – I need to be able to communicate to both technical and non-technical audiences. The written form is the primary way I share my research results with other scientists and secure funding to continue doing my work. I spend a lot of time reading and commenting on student writing, and I also have to write things like letters of recommendation.
  • Oral communication – My job involves speaking to large groups, creating an interactive classroom environment, and communicating one-on-one or in small groups with students and colleagues. Teaching is about 50% of my job and being a communicator and a good listener is vital to being a good teacher.
  • Quantitative, statistical, and computer usage– I spend lots of time in front of a computer analyzing data and doing spatial analysis in GIS. Of course, computing grades also requires low level quantitative skills. 😉
  • Creativity – As a PhD-level scientist, I get to pick the research projects on which I want to work. That means I get to dream them up, and then figure out how to make them feasible.
  • Outdoors – When I get out in the field, skills like map reading, water safety, wilderness survival, and being able to “read” the landscape and weather are essential to keeping my students and I safe and getting the data we want to collect. For some hydrologists, the necessary outdoor skills might include whitewater kayaking or rafting or operating motorboats or snowmobiles.
  • Lab skills – Although most of my data comes from the field, I also do some more traditional laboratory analyses. That means that I need to do things like pipette, clean glassware, and properly store chemicals.
  • Construction – This might sound odd, but I’ve learned to be handy with PVC, wood, metal cable and various other construction materials. My students and I are constantly designing and building our own apparatuses to measure things like peak water height and to safely secure them at our field sites.
  • Personnel and budget management – In some ways, being a researcher is a lot like being a small business owner. It is important for me to be a good mentor to my students, so they learn how to do research, write a scientific paper, and get their degrees. For each research project with which I’m involved, I have to carefully manage the budget so there’s enough money to do the work to completion.
  • Time management – There is absolutely never, ever enough time in the day to get through all of the things that I need to do for my job. Figuring out how to prioritize, work efficiently, and just let go of the things that can’t be done is probably one of the hardest challenges for a new assistant professor. Four years in, the time crunch hasn’t gone away, all I can say is that I’ve gotten inured to it.

What do you do on a typical work day?

Over the course of a typical work week, I spend 4-12 hours in the classroom teaching, 12-30 hours preparing for class and grading papers, 3-8 hours meeting with undergraduate and graduate students about classes or research, a couple of hours in faculty or committee meetings or meetings with research collaborators, several hours dealing with email accumulation, and an hour or two doing what is called “service”, which includes things like peer-reviewing papers or grant proposals and evaluating scholarship applications.

And all of that is before I get to my own research time for generating and analyzing data and writing papers and grant proposals. If I’m really lucky I get to go in the field by myself, with students, or with collaborators. Or I sneak into the lab and run some samples. I try to carve out at least a full workday per week for research time, and I wish I could do more. Summers and holidays give me a bit more room to spend time on research, but in order to keep research going smoothly, it’s imperative that I make time for it even during the busiest teaching periods.

You can probably see that it is very easy to work far more than 40 hours per week as an assistant professor. That’s why I listed time management skills as a requirement for my job.

Do you plan to advance to another position within your career field? If so, to what position and why?

The general progression for a university scientist is to spend about six years as assistant professor, before applying for tenure and a promotion. The next stage is associate professor, and after that you can go onto become a full professor. If you have an interest in and a knack for management, you can try to become the head of a department or even a dean.

As for me, for now, I’m focused on doing good quality research and teaching to prepare myself to apply for tenure in less than two years. I’m trying to mix writing up completed projects, with keeping on-going projects progressing steadily, and writing grants to support new research. That’s not going to change, even with tenure.

What type of person do you think is best suited for a job in your field?

In order to be successful in my career, you have to be highly self-motivated. Love of the outdoors, being thrilled by discovery and data, a passion for teaching, a fascination for your subject…all of these are necessary things too. But they are not sufficient unless you are motivated enough to keep working hard in the face of failure (experiments gone wrong or equipment breakage), rejection (lack of funding for a grant proposal or negative reviews on a paper), long hours (there’s lots of grading), bad weather (working in 100 degree heat or freezing weather), and no one looking over your shoulder (you are your own boss). What keeps me motivated in the face of all that? That’s where the love of the outdoors, the thrill of discovery, a passion for teaching, and a fascination for water come in to play. I’ve got the best job in the world. For me.

Do you have any advice for those who are looking to launch a career in your field?

To summarize: Pick something that fascinates you. Get involved with research projects early and often. Take lots of math. Learn your field deeply and broadly both in the classroom and outside it. Don’t neglect to develop important skills just because they are not taught in formal classes. Learn to manage your time well. Have a passion for what you do and let that be your motivation. And make sure to get outdoors and be around water as often as you can, because that’s what reminds you of the fascination and passion that motivated this career choice in the first place.

The Science of Streams in the City

Cross posted at Highly Allochthonous

Urban stream, Charlotte, NC (photo by A. Jefferson)

Urban stream, Charlotte, NC (photo by A. Jefferson)

It’s not as breathtakingly beautiful and soul-cleansing as crystal clear springs in forested mountains, but this is the present and future of many of the world’s streams, and the way that most people interact with their local stream and watershed, if they even think about it all. With over half of the world’s population now living in cities, and with streams serving simultaneously as water supply and wastewater disposal system for that population, there is an urgent need to understand how streams, groundwater, and ecosystems survive, adapt, or are extinguished by urban development. In a sense, urban watersheds are the future of hydrologic science, aqueous biogeochemistry, and stream ecology.

It took me moving to a rapidly-growing, sprawling southeastern city before I saw the light of urban hydrology, but the more time I spend looking at the waters around me, the more intriguing and applied questions I find myself asking. Do stormwater ponds serve as point sources of groundwater recharge? What happens to stream temperature with different styles of development and stormwater management? And what difference does that make for stream ecosystems? Does stream restoration change hyporheic exchange and surface water storage in an ecologically beneficial manner? Fortunately, not only has North Carolina piqued my interest in urban watersheds, but it has provided me with a set of like-minded colleagues and collaborators with whom I am developing new projects. This month the first two of those projects have begun to bear fruit, in the form of a new paper and a new research grant.

In an open-access paper published in the journal Water, my colleagues and I review the state of the science and identify the open questions in watershed hydrology and in-stream processes in the southern United States. We conclude that while we understand some hydrologic impacts of urbanization reasonably well, there’s a lot we don’t have a great handle on. For example, we call for more research on developing comprehensive water budgets for urban watersheds; evaluating the combined impacts of land-use and climate change; understanding how pre-urbanization land-use history affects stream response; integrating hydrologic connectivity with biogeochemical cycling; and developing a clearer understanding of the complex interactions between catchment and in-stream processes in urban systems. You can read the whole paper by O’Driscoll et al. (2010) in the open-access journal Water.

Along with colleagues Sara McMillan and Sandra Clinton at UNC Charlotte and Christina Tague at UCSB, I’ll be looking at the effects of stormwater management practices on urban headwater streams. We’re taking an interdisciplinary approach that combines hydrology, temperature, water quality, nutrient processing, and macroinvertebrate assemblages through field measurements and modeling. We’re interested in whether the flow and water quality benefits of stormwater management that are seen by comparing pond inflow and outflow actually translate into differences in ecosystem function in the receiving streams. And we’re looking for graduate students to come work with us and help us find the answers. If you are considering graduate school and are interested in hydrology, stream ecology, or biogeochemistry, check out the project description and application instructions here.