US Geological Survey

Small Watershed Investigations in the U.S. Geological Survey

Robert M. Hirsch

U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA, 22092, USA 703-648-5215,


Watershed research provides vital understanding needed to guide decisions related to water resources and environmental quality. The U.S. Geological Survey investigates watersheds at several scales. These include the largest river basins in the nation, through the National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN), to watersheds like the Potomac River Basin or Sacramento River Basin in the National Water Quality Assessment Progam (NAWQA), to small watersheds as in the Water, Energy, and Biogeochemical Budgets (WEBB) Program. The five WEBB sites currently under study are designed to foster interdisciplinary research related to land- atmosphere and land-water exhanges of water, energy, solutes, and gases (particularly carbon and nutrients). The sites were selected with a strong emphasis towards the potential for complementarity of USGS efforts with those of academic or other agency scientists. The sites also were chosen to span divese ranges in climate, hydroogy and biogeochemistry. Since 1991, WEBB studies have been conducted at Luquillo Experimental Forest in eastern Puerto Rico, Panola Mountain Watershed near Atlanta, GA, Sleepers River Watershed in northeastern VT, Trout Lake Watershed in the North Temperate Lakes region of WI, and in Loch Vale Watershed in Rocky Mountains National Park, CO.

The USGS efforts at WEBB sites include instrumentation and long-term data collection and data management on key environmental variables and fluxes as well as process research studies conducted on a shorter-term basis. The studies explore temporal and spatial scaling issues and lay down a basis for determining decadal scale trends in water and environmental quality related to atmospheric deposition, regional and global climate variations, changes in atmospheric composition, and non-point polution. The USGS views the WEBB studies as a natural platform for conducting a wide range of environmental research, where a strong infrastructure of instrumentation and data bases already exist, and additional process studies can be placed in a setting with a known spatial and temporal context. The challenge for the coming decade will be for small watershed investigations to improve understanding of the effect of human influences on natural systems and to provide information for the restoration of damaged watersheds. Working with other scientists, the WEBB program can continue to make contributions to these important issues.

Hirsch, R.M., 1998, Small Watershed Investigations in the U.S. Geological Survey, [abs] EOS, Transactions American Geophysical Union, vol. 79, S124

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