News release – Ecology team improves understanding of valley-wide stream chemistry

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 22, 2014 – A geostatistical approach for studying environmental conditions in stream networks and landscapes has been successfully applied at a valley-wide scale to assess headwater stream chemistry at high resolution, revealing unexpected patterns in natural chemical components.

“Headwater streams make up the majority of stream and river length in watersheds, affecting regional water quality,” said Assistant Professor Kevin J. McGuire, associate director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. “However, the actual patterns and causes of variation of water quality in headwater streams are often unknown.”  Read more…

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Posted in Lab news, News

Water’s 3 Biggest Threats (and Opportunities)

A VT Water Seminar…

Water’s 3 Biggest Threats (and Opportunities)

by Ben Grumbles, U.S. Water Alliance

Tuesday, April 29, 2014   (2:00-3:00 p.m.); Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) Auditorium at Virginia Tech

Ben Grumbles is President of the U.S. Water Alliance–a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to uniting people and policy for “one water” sustainability. Possessing one of the broadest and most diverse memberships in the country, the Alliance has public and private sector leaders focusing on quality and quantity water issues both above and below the surface. The Alliance also focuses on the connections of energy, land, food and transportation as they relate to water, and the need for an integrated “one water” management philosophy. Mr. Grumbles has served as Director of Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality, Assistant Administrator for Water at U.S. EPA, and in the U.S. House of Representatives on both the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Science Committee. Ben has a Master’s Degree in environmental law from George Washington University, a J.D. from Emory University Law School, and a B.A. from Wake Forest University.

Abstract: Everyone wants clean, safe, abundant, and affordable water but it’s not so easy. Aging systems, increasing development pressures, changing climates, and challenging public attitudes make the balancing act more difficult and complex. Here are three of the most basic threats and sustainable solutions.

Threat #1: Water is forgotten and taken for granted. The infrastructure systems are invisible, unappreciated, and underfunded.  Solution: Local and national campaigns are needed to change the way America views, values, and manages water.  True value and full cost pricing with smart metering and social safety nets will help.

Threat # 2: Water policies are fractured and fragmented. All water is local and beyond. 20 federal agencies and countless federal laws and policies get into the mix, along with wildly diverse state and local laws and policies. Agencies and citizen boards segment the water cycle into separate components and turf battles. Quantity and quality, surface and groundwater, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act programs are rarely coordinated and almost never integrated. Decisions on energy development, from fracking to biofuels, agricultural production, housing and transportation often fail to include water impacts and needs. Solution: More holistic, “One Water” management, at the local, regional, and national levels will result in smarter decisions for the future of water. New paradigms on water efficiency and reuse, onsite and neighborhood-wide in urban and rural settings, and watershed restoration and governance are needed.

Threat #3: Water innovators are fearful and frozen in place. Risk-averse policies and policymakers often block the development and use of improved technologies, management tools, and financial strategies due to lack of information and legal or political constraints.  Solution:  Coordinated strategies and university-driven technology clusters are needed to facilitate the approval and use of new tools.  The vision for a “blue innovation nation” includes strategies to shift our culture from gray infrastructure to green, treat and discharge plants to resource recovery centers, end-of-pipe permitting to market-based trading, and public-only funding to public-private partnerships that maintain the public’s trust.

Sponsored by: Virginia Water Resources Research Center and the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS).

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Posted in Seminars

Network chemistry patterns in headwater streams – new paper published in PNAS

In a new article published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we show how high-resolution mapping and analysis of water chemistry throughout a headwater stream network reveals unexpected patterns in how flowing water interacts with the surrounding landscape at multiple spatial scales.  Here’s the abstract and a link to the paper:

By coupling synoptic data from a basin-wide assessment of streamwater chemistry with network-based geostatistical analysis, we show that spatial processes differentially affect biogeochemical condition and pattern across a headwater stream network.  We analyzed a high-resolution dataset consisting of 664 water samples collected every 100 m throughout 32 tributaries in an entire fifth-order stream network.  These samples were analyzed for an exhaustive suite of chemical constituents.  The fine grain and broad extent of this study design allowed us to quantify spatial patterns over a range of scales using empirical semivariograms that explicitly incorporated network topology.  Here, we show that spatial structure, as determined by the characteristic shape of the semivariograms, differed both among chemical constituents and by spatial relationship (flow-connected, flow-unconnected, or Euclidean).  Spatial structure was apparent at either a single scale or at multiple nested scales, suggesting separate processes operating simultaneously within the stream network and surrounding terrestrial landscape.  Expected patterns of spatial dependence for flow-connected relationships (e.g., increasing homogeneity with downstream distance) occurred for some chemical constituents (e.g., dissolved organic carbon, sulfate, and aluminum) but not for others (e.g., nitrate, sodium).  By comparing semivariograms for the different chemical constituents and spatial relationships, we were able to separate effects on streamwater chemistry of (i) fine- versus broad-scale processes and (ii) in-stream processes versus landscape controls.  These findings provide insight on the hierarchical scaling of local, longitudinal, and landscape processes that drive biogeochemical patterns in stream networks.

McGuire KJ, Torgersen CE, Likens GE, Buso DC, Lowe WH, Bailey SW. 2014. Network analysis reveals multiscale controls on streamwater chemistry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404820111

More information on the study can be found here.

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Posted in Lab news, Research paper

Ph.D. student opportunity… assistantship in Hydrology and Biogeochemistry at Virginia Tech

We just circulated the following ad for a new Ph.D. student opportunity…

Graduate Research Assistantship in

 Hydrology and Biogeochemistry

Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

The Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech is seeking applicants for a PhD-level graduate research assistantship with an expected start date of fall of 2014.

This interdisciplinary research project is focused on simultaneously quantifying soil and hydrologic controls on nitrogen cycling and transport on forested hillslopes. The project will combine field and laboratory experiments with transport modeling in order to evaluate processes controlling nitrate export.

Research assistantships include a full tuition waiver, benefits, and a competitive annual stipend including summer support (~$23,000).  For more information on the graduate program in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation at Virginia Tech, please visit:

Interested students should contact:

Dr. Brian D. Strahm
Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
228 Cheatham Hall (0324)
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA  24061

Dr. Kevin J. McGuire
Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
210 Cheatham Hall (0444)
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA  24061

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Posted in Assistantships

New paper on the hydropedology of Hubbard Brook

GeodermaA new paper was accepted this week in the journal Geoderma.  The paper shows how spatial patterns of soil development reflect the influence of transient groundwater within the soil profile in nearly all landscape positions throughout a headwater catchment at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest.  This study was initiated by Patricia Brousseau’s REU project in 2008.  A new conceptual model for soils at Hubbard Brook was proposed and used to discuss the implications for carbon distribution, export, and retention. Support for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation.

Bailey, S.W., Brousseau, P.A., McGuire, K.J., Ross, D.S. 2014. Influence of landscape position and transient water table on soil development and carbon distribution in a steep, headwater catchment, Geoderma,

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Posted in Lab news, Research paper

“Where does the water go?” makes an appearance on this week’s VA Water Radio

The Water Center’s weekly radio spot, Virginia Water Radio, did a story this week on “the mysteries of hydrology.”  In the background is the song by Kris Brown, J.P. Gannon, and Paolo Benettin.  Who would have thought that “macropores” would get air play on our public radio?  Thanks Alan!

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Posted in Lab news

Commentary on US-Japan Joint Seminar

A short paper summarizing the US-Japan Joint Seminar that we held last March was accepted for publication in Hydrological Processes.  The paper describes the intent and outcomes of the workshop, which focused on linkages between hydrology and biogeochemistry in forested catchments with an emphasis on climatic and environmental change.  The seminar last March spawned several synthesis efforts, one of which was presented this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.  That presentation focused on hydrologic recovery after forest disturbance and there is a parallel analysis examining nitrate response after forest disturbance.  Tomoki Oda, Mark Green, and Todd Scanlon are leading those projects.

We want to thank all contributors to the workshop, especially the speakers, students, and those leading the synthesis efforts.

McGuire, K. J., Sebestyen, S. D., Ohte, N. Elliott, E. M., Gomi, T., Green, M. B., McGlynn, B. L., Tokuchi, N., accepted, Merging perspectives in the catchment sciences: the US-Japan joint seminar on catchment hydrology and forest biogeochemistry, Hydrological Processes, doi:10.1002/hyp.10129.

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Posted in Commentary, Meetings, News

Presentations by our group at AGU in San Francisco!

If you will be in San Francisco for AGU next week, be sure to check out some of the presentations by or involving those in our group.


H11D-1178 Comparison of methods for determining the hydrologic recovery time after forest disturbance. 8:00am Moscone West Hall A-C; Tomoki Oda, Mark Green, Nobuhito Ohte, Rieko Urakawa, Izuki Endo, Todd Scanlon, Stephen Sebestyen, Kevin McGuire, Masanori Katsuyama, Karibu Fukuzawa, Chritina Tague, Marino Hiraoka, Keitaro Fukushima, Thomas Giambelluca


H31M-04 The inextricable link between hillslope scale hydrologic flow paths and soil morphology. 8:55am Moscone West 3020; J.P. Gannon, Kevin McGuire, Scott Bailey

H32D-06 Potential of pore water stable isotopes for optimization of soil physical parameters and predicting flow and transport in the unsaturated zone. 11:40am Moscone West 3020; Matthias Sprenger, Markus Weiler


H41D-1254 Coupling Hydro-chemical models and water quality datasets: signatures of mixing patterns and non-stationary travel time distributions. 8:00am Moscone South Hall A-C; Paolo Benettin, Gianluca Botter, Andrea Rinaldo


H53F-1478 Age mixing and travel time distributions: from convection-dispersion models to catchment scales. 1:40pm Moscone South Hall A-C; Gianluca Botter, Paolo Benettin, Andrea Rinaldo

Posted in Lab news

Where does the water go?

Hydrology isn’t always fun and games, but in this case it is.

The watershed hydrology lab at Virginia Tech and the WC (Virginia Water Resources Research Center) bring you “Where does the water go?”.

We wrote and rehearsed this song roughly 2 hours before performing, so hang in there on some of the missteps and enjoy the ride!

Where does the water go? from JP Gannon on Vimeo.

-J.P., Kris, and Paolo

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Kris Brown published his first journal paper: sediment delivery from forest roads at stream crossings

FEMKris Brown had his first journal article accepted this week in Forest Ecology and Management.  Congrats Kris!!

Abstract: Forest road stream crossing approaches, or the section of road immediately adjacent to the stream crossing, represent primary sources and nearly direct pathways for sediment delivery to stream channels. This research quantified sediment delivery rates associated with reopening abandoned legacy road stream crossing approaches and evaluated the effectiveness of gravel surfacing of the entire running surface in reducing sediment delivery at stream crossings in the Virginia Piedmont. Sediment delivery rates from five regraded (bare) legacy road approaches were compared to those from four completely graveled road approaches. Repeated measurements of road derived sediment trapped by silt fences were used to quantify sediment delivery rates from the road approaches for one year (Aug. 5, 2011–Aug. 5, 2012). Annual sediment delivery rates from the bare approaches were 7.5 times higher than those of the gravel approaches. Sediment delivery rates ranged from 34 to 287 Mg/ha/y for the bare approaches and from 10 to 16 Mg/ha/y for the graveled approaches. The highest sediment delivery rates were associated inadequate road surface cover and insufficient water control structures. These findings show that reopened legacy roads and associated stream crossing approaches can deliver significant quantities of sediment if roads are not adequately closed or maintained and that corrective best management practices (BMPs), such as gravel and appropriate spacing of water control structures, can reduce sediment delivery to streams.

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Posted in Lab news, Research paper

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