Assessing river corridor exchange at the network scale

Ward and student collecting environmental DNA samples as part of a 2016 synoptic study of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the river network in the Andrews Forest.

Adam Ward (Indiana University) was awarded an NSF CAREER Grant of more than $700,000 to implement an integrated program of research and education. Much of the work will occur at the Andrews Forest. Ward's research strongly leverages the Andrews Forest's geologic diversity, existing instrumentation network, and access to a 5th order river basin. The multi-scale work and educational initiatives will take advantage of the long-term data available from the Andrews Forest site and build upon a body of work from the Andrews Forest on streams, hyporheic zones, and valley bottoms.

Ward hopes his work will help inform an accurate framework to predict and manage hydrologic exchange in the river corridor and the associated ecosystem services and functions at the scales of stream reaches and entire networks. To advance our predictive capabilities in the river corridor, this research will achieve three objectives: (1) improve our understanding of dynamic exchange processes in the river corridor; (2) develop methods to scale findings from geomorphic features to the reach and network scales; and (3) improve predictive capacity that can be readily implemented without extensive field characterization of sites of interest.

The river corridor perspective considers the surface stream its hyporheic zone, riparian zone, hillslope, and aquifer as a continuum, exchanging water, solutes, energy and materials across a range of spatial and temporal scales. The need for prediction of river corridor exchange is underscored by the proposed Clean Water Rule, which clarifies that river corridors are to be regulated as part of the Clean Water Act.The primarily controls on river corridor exchange are broadly recognized to fall within two categories: geologic setting and hydrologic forcing. Geologic setting describes the relatively static physical characteristics of a site, such as stream morphology, the hydraulic conductivity field, macro-scale lithology, and geologic parent material. Hydrologic forcing includes both stream discharge and regional hydraulic gradients causing gaining or losing conditions. More recently, dynamic hydrologic forcing (e.g., storm responses, fluctuations due to tides, dam releases, snowmelt runoff, and baseflow recession) has been recognized as an important control on river corridor exchange.

Results of this research will improve our ability to predict the transport and fate of contaminants in river corridors, enabling more effective management of water resources. The integrated education and research plans will inspire a diverse group of K-12 and undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM fields. Ward will provide specialized training in integration of hydrology, ecology, and informatics and in River Corridor Science and Management, preparing the next generation of resource managers to effectively and sustainably govern the water resources of the U.S.