The East River, Colorado, watershed: A mountainous community testbed for improving predictive understanding of multiscale hydrological–biogeochemical dynamics

Susan S. Hubbard, Kenneth Hurst Williams, Deb Agarwal, Jillian Banfield, Harry Beller, Nicholas Bouskill, Eoin Brodie, Rosemary Carroll, Baptiste Dafflon, Dipankar Dwivedi, Nicola Falco, Boris Faybishenko, Reed Maxwell, Peter Nico, Carl Steefel, Heidi Steltzer, Tetsu Tokunaga, Phuong A. Tran, Haruko Wainwright, Charuleka Varadharajan

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110 Citations (Scopus)


Extreme weather, fires, and land use and climate change are significantly reshaping interactions within watersheds throughout the world. Although hydrological–biogeochemical interactions within watersheds can impact many services valued by society, uncertainty associated with predicting hydrologydriven biogeochemical watershed dynamics remains high. With an aim to reduce this uncertainty, an approximately 300-km2 mountainous headwater observatory has been developed at the East River, CO, watershed of the Upper Colorado River Basin. The site is being used as a testbed for the Department of Energy supported Watershed Function Project and collaborative efforts. Building on insights gained from research at the “sister” Rifle, CO, site, coordinated studies are underway at the East River site to gain a predictive understanding of how the mountainous watershed retains and releases water, nutrients, carbon, and metals. In particular, the project is exploring how early snowmelt, drought, and other disturbances influence hydrological–biogeochemical watershed dynamics at seasonal to decadal timescales. A system-of-systems perspective and a scale-adaptive simulation approach, involving the combined use of archetypal watershed subsystem “intensive sites” are being tested at the site to inform aggregated watershed predictions of downgradient exports. Complementing intensive site hydrological, geochemical, geophysical, microbiological, geological, and vegetation datasets are long-term, distributed measurement stations and specialized experimental and observational campaigns. Several recent research advances provide insights about the intensive sites as well as aggregated watershed behavior. The East River “community testbed” is currently hosting scientists from more than 30 institutions to advance mountainous watershed methods and understanding.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180061
Number of pages25
JournalVadose Zone Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2018
Externally publishedYes

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