Watershed Research Lab
Current Research Projects
For the most part, graduate positions on these projects have already been filled. However, as new opportunities arise I will advertise them here.
The Arctic Long Term Ecological Research (ARC LTER) site is part of the Long-Term Ecological Research network of sites established by the National Science Foundation. Our research site is located in the foothills region of the Brooks Range, North Slope of Alaska (68° 38'N, 149° 43'W, elevation 760 m) and is based out of the University of Alaska's Toolik Field Station. The goal of Arctic LTER project is to understand changes in the Arctic system at catchment and landscape scales through knowledge of the linkages and interactions among ecosystems. To achieve this goal the Arctic LTER research group is studying the ecology of the surrounding tundra, streams, and lakes. This group consists of a large number of collaborating researchers from several institutions across the US. Our main objectives are to gain an understanding of the controls of arctic ecosystem structure and function through long-term monitoring and surveys of natural variation of ecosystem characteristics, through experimental manipulation of ecosystems over years and decades, and through synthesis of results and predictive modeling at ecosystem and watershed scales. Breck Bowden manages the Streams component of the Arctic LTER project with Bruce Peterson and Linda Deegan at the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA and with Alex Huryn at the University of Alabama.
One of the pressing problems in stream ecology is to determine how results from small-scale ecological experiments can be used to understand the operation of entire ecological systems. The SCALER project will use cm- and reach-scale process measurements, consumer manipulation experiments, and stream network modeling to predict fundamental ecosystem characteristics of stream networks. The SCALER project is a continental scale experiment encompassing five biomes, each of which will have six sites with measurements nested at two scales (microhabitat, reach). Synoptic sampling will characterize watershed scale patterns. Rates of metabolism and nutrient uptake and responses to consumer exclusions will be measured at micro (0.1 m) and reach (100 m) scales. Diversity and ecosystem function will be linked at a basic level by comparing metabolism and nutrient dynamics with and without consumers larger than 0.5 cm. Experimental results will be scaled with models. Coupling experiments and scaling exercises will characterize how plot-level experiments relate to patterns across larger scales such as landscapes (e.g., the stream network) and help understand the links between biodiversity and ecosystem function. The SCALER project is a collaborative effort among researchers at the University of Vermont, Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, the University of New Hampshire, Duke University, Southern Illinois University, the University of Georgia, Murray State University, and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
NEWRnet is a collaboration among the University of Vermont, the University of Delaware, and the University of Rhode Island to explore the use of advanced sensor network in watersheds to gather high-frequency, spatially-extensive water quality and quantity data for use in environmental management and and policy decision making. A fundamental part of the project is to employ experiments with volunteer stakeholders and to develop agent-based models to investigate how to align sensor data and their visualization with utilization by resource management and policy decision makers. Workforce development and diversity programs will be integrated into the research. Breck Bowden is co-leading the initiative to develop the advanced sensor network, with Dr. Andrew Schroth in the Department of Geology at the University of Vermont. Each of the collaborating states will deploy are series of cutting-edge water quality sensor systems in watersheds with distinctly different land-uses (forest, agriculture, and urban) to monitor long-term (annual) and event-based (storm) dynamics. Collectively, the sensors deployed by the three partners will provide a unique, region-wide sensor network that can provide near real-time feedback about large-scale weather phenomena.
The central question of this research project is “How will the interaction of climate change and land use alter hydrological processes and nutrient transport from the landscape, internal processing and eutrophic state within Lake Champlain and what are the implications for adaptive management strategies?” This research is organized around four supporting questions. First, what is the relative importance of endogenous in-lake processes (e.g. internal loading, ice cover, hydrodynamics) versus exogenous to-lake processes (e.g. land use change, snow/rain timing, storm frequency and intensity, land management) to lake eutrophication and algal blooms? This question broadens current research on the Lake Champlain Basin, by focusing on coupled human and natural system aspects. Second, which alternative stable states can emerge in the watershed and lake resulting from non-linear dynamics of climate drivers, lake basin processes, social behavior, and policy decisions? This question springs very directly from lessons learned by CSYS modelers of the Lake Champlain watershed data. Complex systems models will assist us in identifying the available stable states that lose resilience; recovery from some states (e.g. complete eutrophication) could be very difficult through land use management policies if they come to pass. Third, in the face of uncertainties about alternate climate change, land use and lake response scenarios, how can adaptive management interventions (e.g. regulation, incentives, treaties) be designed, valued and implemented in the multi-jurisdictional Lake Champlain Basin? Adaptive management on a local scale will be addressed through scenario testing and complex systems modeling, in particular agent-based models of policy actors. Breck Bowden’s role in this project is as a Senior Science advisor.
Previous Research Projects
This research project is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort to study the responses of Arctic landscapes to permafrost degradation known as thermokarst - landscape features caused by structural failure following the melting of ground ice. As the arctic climate warms, there is increasing report of thermokarst incidence. Responses of geomorphology, stream networks, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, however, are poorly understood. Our research team includes 16 principal investigators and many students from 11 institutions, with a wide range of scientific expertise. Together, we are significantly advancing our collective understanding of the causes and consequences of thermokarst across the arctic landscape.
Stream networks are intimately connected to the landscapes through which they flow and significantly transform nutrients and organic matter that are in transport from landscapes to oceans. In previous research, we studied several arctic headwater streams to determine how the seasonal development of the thaw basin (thawed sediments under streams) interacts with the hyporheic zone (a layer of surface sediments that contains water which exchanges continuously with water in the open channel). During this study we measured significant rates of net nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) regeneration from the hyporheic zone during mid-summer. We will now quantify the relative influences of throughflow, lateral inputs, and hyporheic regeneration on seasonal fluxes of carbon (C), N, and P in an arctic river network, and determine how these influences will shift under seasonal conditions that are likely to be substantially different in the future.
Fire as an Agent of Change in Tundra Ecosystems (Anaktuvuk Burn) project
Lightening strike fires have become an increasing important consequence of climate change in the arctic. While forest fires are a common and important agent of change in boreal forests, fire in tundra ecosystems is relatively less well studied. If warming trends continue then fire may become a more important aspect of arctic ecosystems than is currently the case. Little is known about how arctic ecosystems will change in response. In late 2007 the largest tundra fire ever observed in the Alaskan arctic occurred immediately to the northwest of the Toolik Lake Field Station, home to the Arctic LTER and other related projects noted above. A group of collaborating scientists from the Arctic LTER project are studying various ecosystem responses to this major disturbance. Breck Bowden is working with collaborators from other institutions to understand how fire alters the connections between tundra landscapes and streams and how stream ecosystems respond to these changes. Additional information about this project will be posted in early 2010.
This project was designed to assess how geomorphology and seasonal changes in the thawed region of soil and sediment around open stream channels control hydraulic and biogeochemical dynamics in the hyporheic zone (a layer of surface sediments that contains water which exchanges continuously with water in the open channel) of Arctic streams. Our objectives were: to characterize stream reaches that represent a range of geomorphologic conditions in rivers of the North Slope of Arctic Alaska; to monitor the sub-stream thaw bulb size through the thaw season using ground penetrating radar and subsurface temperature measurement; to conduct repeated hyporheic exchange studies (stream solute addition experiments) through the thaw season; and to conduct repeated measures of nutrient (N and P) concentrations and turnover time in the hyporheic zone through the thaw season.
The Freshwater Vital Signs Initiative was one four components developed by the Arctic Network (ARCN) of the Inventory & Monitoring Program within the National Park Service. The goal of the Freshwater Initiative was to support the ARCN mission to characterize and monitor lake and stream resources within the ARCN parks. Over a period from 2005-2007 Breck Bowden lead a group of collaborating scientists from several different institutions on field campaigns in the Upper Noatak River basin, the Feniak Lake region of the central Noatak basin, and the Kelly River region of the western Noatak basin. These field campaigns provided unique data about some of the most remote and pristine rivers and lakes in North America. Some of these sites were last visited in 1973, but many of the locations had never been sampled previously. Reports and data from these expeditions are now stored on the NPS web site noted above.
This is a joint project between the Bowden Watershed Research Lab and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to develop a substantial precipitation and stream flow record for stormwater-impaired and attainment watersheds in Chittenden County, Vermont for use in current and future management, permitting, policy, and research efforts. There is a pressing need to obtain multi-season gauged precipitation and stream flow data for both the impaired and attainment streams to produce validation for hydrologic models that will be used to develop hydrologic targets in the TMDL (total maximum daily load) process and to aid in future adaptive management efforts.
Transportation infrastructure is a major source of stormwater runoff that can alter hydrology and contribute significant loading of nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants to surface waters. These increased loads frequently lead to impaired receiving waters, as is the case for streams throughout the Lake Champlain basin, as well as the Lake itself. In this study, we selected six watersheds that represent the range of road types (gravel and paved) and road densities (rural, suburban, and urban) present in Chittenden County, Vermont. We measured discharge and water quality parameters continuously from spring through early winter, and preliminary results suggest that road type and road density may be closely linked with the level of impairment in each watershed.
RAN is a collaborative project bringing scientists, engineers, developers, homeowners, and regulators together to consider the challenging problem of stormwater management in developing watersheds. Led by a research team from the University of Vermont, RAN evaluated the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits associated with various options for stormwater control, and, while doing so, developed an interactive process to help communities better reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff.
The Northeast Temperate Network was established by the National Park Service to monitor ecological conditions in 11 parks located throughout 7 northeastern states. Researchers at the University of Vermont have been monitoring water quality within the network since 2006. The majority of that work has consisted of implementing the network's stream and pond monitoring protocol. The monitoring program also has a consistently expanding wetland monitoring component. Researchers have installed wetland monitoring wells in Saratoga National Park and have obtained water chemistry data from them for two full field seasons. Currently, researchers are testing out other methods to assess wetland health, including installing pressure transducers that obtain detailed hydrologic data and using soil pore sippers to obtain water samples over a greater spatial extent and with less environmental impact. UVM researchers are also conducting an inventory of the network's wetland resources. The data collected helps to inform park planning decisions, evaluate the effectiveness of management decisions or restoration efforts, provide early warning of potential threats, and promote public understanding of park resources.
This project will focus on comparing two methods used to quantify nutrient uptake in stream systems via nutrient additions to determine if Instantaneous Additions of solutes can legitimately replace the traditional Continuous Rate Additions for estimating nutrient uptake in streams and furthermore to contribute to the advancement of the Instantaneous Addition technique. The project is being carried out in Potash Brook, South Burlington, Vermont.
Last modified December 16 2013 10:02 AM