Remember Luna Leopold on his birthday

October 8, 2014

From the United States Geological Survey:

In honor of Earth Science Week, October 14-20, 2012, the USGS is taking a look back into history at the scientists who laid the foundation for the innovative earth science research taking place today. Without the work conducted by these pioneers, much of the science used for decision making worldwide would not be possible.

“Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.”

–Luna B. Leopold, Former USGS Chief Hydrologist

Luna B. Leopold, son of famed conservationist Aldo Leopold, arrived at the USGS in 1950. For the next two decades, Leopold revolutionized hydrologic sciences within and outside the USGS. He is best known for his work in the field of geomorphology, the study of land features and the processes that create and change them. His work is often cited today by leading scientists in water research, both at the USGS and around the world.

Leopold had a lasting impact on the field of water science. He knew the broader importance of our water resources and that humans can have great impact on whether water is available, now and in the future. Our society depends on safe and reliable water supplies, as do the Earth’s diverse and valuable ecosystems. Today, our nation is faced with the challenge of balancing a finite freshwater supply between competing needs, such as agriculture, drinking water, energy production, and ecosystems.

Leopold recognized the fundamental value of science in making smart decisions about water resources and laid the groundwork for modern water science. During his tenure he transformed USGS water research into a professionally-recognized provider of water quality and availability information.

For six years, he served as a hydraulic engineer before becoming the first Chief Hydrologist in the history of the USGS, a position he held until 1966 when he stepped down to pursue his research. While at the USGS, he led the effort to restructure the water science programs to focus on viewing water as a single resource. For example, USGS continues to research the interactions between surface water and groundwater, because use of either of these resources affects the quantity and quality of the other.

Leopold also directed the agency to assist in developing hydrology education programs at universities across the country and promoted a future in which all hydrologic research organizations—both public and private—would come together to share information and advance their ideas.

“In effect, Luna turned the hydrologic division of the USGS into a premier research organization, contributing to the prominence the field now has,” said Bill Dietrich, a professor of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former colleague of Leopold’s.

Randall J. Hunt, USGS Research Hydrologist for Geology, and Curt Meine, the biographer of Aldo Leopold, have written an account of Luna Leopold’s contributions to the world of water science that will appear in the November/December issue of Ground Water and is currently online. In the article, “Luna B. Leopold – Pioneer Setting the Stage for Modern Hydrology,” they describe Leopold as a brilliant and humble researcher intrigued by the impact that human activities have on natural bodies of water.

“From the earliest steps in his career,” wrote Hunt and Meine, “Luna Leopold demonstrated a fascination with hydrology, an understanding of basic hydrological connectivity, and an appreciation of the role of science in informing resource management and stewardship.”

Not only did Leopold lead the transition to a more effective organization structure for the study of hydrology; he also changed the underlying philosophy behind the research.

“In 1957, newly minted USGS Chief Hydraulic Engineer Leopold brought with him a conviction that water on and beneath the Earth’s surface and the quality of both were interdependent parts of one water-resources system,” wrote Hunt and Meine. “Leopold believed, moreover, that the USGS and the field of hydrology had to change to reflect this reality. He also recognized that hydrologic research was critical in meeting the needs of water-resource planning…This approach became manifest within the USGS.”

Leopold’s contributions to the field of water science have been recognized by institutions throughout the United States. In 1967, just a year after completing his tenure as Chief Hydrologist, Leopold became the first hydrologist to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. In 1968 he won the Cullum Geographical Medal from the American Geographical Society, and in 1991 was awarded the National Medal of Science by President George H. Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House. During his career, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Geophysical Union.

Coyote Gulch posts about Dr. Leopold (who is quoted at the top of the blog):

Luna Leopold: Pioneer of water science</>

Luna B. Leopold (scroll down)

Luna B. Leopold: Water, Rivers and Creeks

Click here to order a copy of the book from Tattered Cover in Denver.


USGS: Analysis of Water Quality in the Blue River Watershed, Colorado, 1984 through 2007

August 26, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Service (Nancy J. Bauch, Lisa D. Miller, and Sharon Yacob):

Water quality of streams, reservoirs, and groundwater in the Blue River watershed in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado has been affected by local geologic conditions, historical hard-rock metal mining, and recent urban development. With these considerations, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Summit Water Quality Committee, conducted a study to compile historical water-quality data and assess water-quality conditions in the watershed. To assess water-quality conditions, stream data were primarily analyzed from October 1995 through December 2006, groundwater data from May 1996 through September 2004, and reservoir data from May 1984 through November 2007. Stream data for the Snake River, upper Blue River, and Tenmile Creek subwatersheds upstream from Dillon Reservoir and the lower Blue River watershed downstream from Dillon Reservoir were analyzed separately. (The complete abstract is provided in the report)

Click here to read the report.

More USGS coverage here.


GPS is Tracking West’s Vanishing Water, Scientists Surprised to Learn — National Geographic

August 22, 2014
Western US

Western US

From National Geographic (Michelle Nijhuis):

Throughout the western United States, a network of Global Positioning System (GPS) stations has been monitoring tiny movements in the Earth’s crust, collecting data that can warn of developing earthquakes.

To their surprise, researchers have discovered that the GPS network has also been recording an entirely different phenomenon: the massive drying of the landscape caused by the drought that has intensified over much of the region since last year.

Geophysicist Adrian Borsa of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues report in this week’s Science that, based on the GPS measurements, the loss of water from lakes, streams, snowpack, and groundwater totals some 240 billion metric tons—equivalent, they say, to a four-inch-deep layer of water covering the entire western U.S. from the Rockies to the Pacific. (Related: “Water’s Hidden Crisis”

The principle behind the new measurements is simple. The weight of surface water and groundwater deforms Earth’s elastic crust, much as a sleeper’s body deforms a mattress. Remove the water, and the crust rebounds.

As the amount of water varies cyclically with the seasons, the crust moves up and down imperceptibly, by fractions of an inch—but GPS can measure such small shifts.

Borsa knew all this when he started to study the GPS data. He wasn’t interested in the water cycle at first, and for him the seasonal fluctuations it produced in the data were just noise: They obscured the much longer-term geological changes he wanted to study, such as the rise of mountain ranges.

When he removed that noise from some recent station data, however, he noticed what he describes as a “tremendous uplift signal”—a distinct rise in the crust—since the beginning of 2013. He showed his findings to his Scripps colleague Duncan Agnew.

“I told him, ‘I think we’re looking at the effect of drought,'” Borsa remembers. “He didn’t believe me.”

But Borsa was right. As he, Agnew, and Daniel Cayan of Scripps report in Science, the recent uplift spike is consistent across the U.S. West, and consistent with recent declines in precipitation, streamflow, and groundwater levels. With a great weight of water removed, the crust is rebounding elastically across the whole region.

The median rise across all the western GPS stations has been four millimeters, just under a sixth of an inch. But the Sierra Nevada mountains, which have lost most of their snowpack, have risen 15 millimeters—nearly six-tenths of an inch.


USGS: Streamflow Increasing in Eastern #MissouriRiver Basin, Decreasing Elsewhere

July 29, 2014
Missouri River Basin

Missouri River Basin

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Parker Norton/Marisa Lubeck):

Video footage of an interview with lead USGS scientist Parker Norton is available online.

Streamflow in the eastern portions of the Missouri River watershed has increased over the past 52 years, whereas other parts have seen downward trends.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently studied data from 227 streamgages in the Missouri River watershed that had continuous records for 1960 through 2011. The scientists found that almost half of the streamgages showed either an upward or downward trend in mean annual flow since 1960, while the rest showed no trend.

The study is relevant on a large scale because the Missouri River is the longest river in the United States, with a watershed that includes mountainous to prairie topography in all or parts of 10 states and small parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada.

“The Missouri River and its tributaries are valuable for agriculture, energy, recreation and municipal water supplies,” said USGS hydrologist Parker Norton. “Understanding streamflow throughout the watershed can help guide management of these critical water resources.”

According to the study, streamflow has increased in the eastern part of the watershed, including eastern North Dakota, eastern South Dakota, western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Annual flows have decreased in the western headwaters area of the Missouri River in Montana and Wyoming, and in the southern part of the basin associated with the Kansas River watershed.

Climate changes that affect how and where moisture is delivered to the continent may be causing some of these trends in the Missouri River Basin. Although the USGS scientists did not conduct a complete analysis of the causes, they noted that increased streamflow over broad regions occurred despite the increasing use of water. Decreased streamflow in some areas could also be related to climate change factors, or to groundwater pumping.

The USGS report can be accessed online.

More Missouri River Basin coverage here.


Environment: USGS study shows neonicotinoid pesticide pollution common in Midwest streams

July 27, 2014

Coyote Gulch:

Donate to Bob’s crowd funded father-son journalism project here.

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

sdf

Bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in Midwest streams, USGS study finds. bberwyn photo.

Concentrations in some streams are high enough to kill aquatic organisms

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey studying streams in the Midwest have found levels of neonicotinoid insecticides at up to 20 times the concentrations deemed toxic to aquatic organisms. The systemic pesticides have raised concerns because they’ve been linked with honey bee declines.

Traces of the chemicals were widespread in streams throughout the region — not surprising in the heart of the country’s agricultural belt. In all, nine rivers and streams, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, were included in the study. The rivers studied drain most of Iowa, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states have the highest use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Nation, and the chemicals were found in all nine rivers…

View original 452 more words


USGS Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Water Resources Research Act

July 17, 2014

USGS: What lies beneath #Yellowstone

July 11, 2014

More USGS coverage here.


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