RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program US Forest Service - RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program

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Rocky Mountain Research Station
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About the Rocky Mountain Research Station

AWAE Program Headquarters
322 East Front St., Ste 401

Boise, ID 83702

(208) 373-4340


Rocky Mountain Research Station Headquarters

2150 Centre Ave., Bldg A
Fort Collins, CO 80526

(970) 295-5923

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

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Water & Watershed Processes: awae research subject areas

Columbia River Basin

The Columbia River Basin

A watershed is the area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or even the ocean is termed a watershed.


A riparian area is the interface between land and a stream. Soil conservation occurs in these biodiversified aquatic ecosystems. Stream riparian environments are of importance in that they support higher species richness and densities of wildlife. Riparian areas serve fish, birds, and wildlife with food, shelter, and water. These beautiful areas are more than often just a small percentage of the landscape, but are usually also the most diverse and productive plant and animal biomass zones.


These environments also lend benefit to society due to the multiple and intertwined ecological roles that stream riparian areas offer. They serve as migration routes and gateways to forests for many different species. Due to the linear shape of these areas, the frequency and variety of plant communities they come into contact with is very high. Therefore, riparian streams act as "living filters:" intercepting and absorbing sediments, storing and transforming nutrients and pollutants from adjacent surroundings that make their way to society's drinking water. Thanks to these habitats, up to 90% of nitrogen concentrations and 50% of phosphorus concentrations can be reduced. Excess of these elements would otherwise encourage undesirable growth of algae and weeds.

Scientists (profile pages)

bulletJohn Buffington

bulletKate Dwire

bulletKelly Elder

bulletBill Elliot

bulletRobert Hubbard

bulletDan Isaak


bulletCharlie Luce

bulletJim McKean

bulletDan Neary

bulletChuck Rhoades

bulletBruce Rieman

bulletRuss Thurow

bulletNatalie Wagenbrenner

bulletMichael Young

Subcategories (quick jump)



bulletStream Temperature




Watershed Processes



bulletClimate Change





featured Science







Clean Water image

Clean Water - Insect Outbreaks and Watersheds

Mountain pine bark beetle outbreaks are causing rapid, unprecedented change in the headwater forests of Western North America. Infestation and mortality currently threaten more than 80% of the basal area of many lodgepole pine dominated stands across the West. In Colorado, bark beetle mortality now exceeds 1.5 million acres and the outbreak is projected to ravage 85 to 90% of the mature lodgepole ecosystems in Colorado and Wyoming within the next five years. The consequences of this extensive canopy disturbance and subsequent management activities will characterize western watersheds and forest landscapes for decades to come.


RMRS Hot Topic


Mountain Pine Beetle Impacts to Lodgepole Pine Forests


Consequences of Salvage Logging on Post-Beetle Outbreak Lodgepole Pine Forests




Pilot Watershed Vulnerability Assessment Project

Pilot Watershed Vulnerability Assessment Project

Forest managers are expected to anticipate and respond to the threat of a changing climate by adjusting management priorities and actions. Drawing distinctions in climate change vulnerability among watersheds on a national forest or grassland allows more efficient and effective allocation of

resources and better land and watershed stewardship.


Science Briefing



Precipitation Declines In Pacific Northwest Mountains

Precipitation Declines In Pacific Northwest Mountains

High-elevation climate trends in the Pacific Northwest show that streamflow declines are linked to decreases and changes in wind patterns that bring precipitation to mountains.


Science Briefing

Stream Temperature
Stream Temperature Collage

Stream Temperature Modeling

Stream and river temperature is an important aspect of fish and other aquatic organisms' health and sustainability. Most species need cool water to survive--as natural streams regiments are altered due to human intervention (e.g. dams, irrigation withdrawals, deforestation, diversions, etc.), they are often found to exceed natural temperatures and thus the stream's water-quality is limited. Elevated stream temperatures can negatively impact cold-water fish species, such as threatened or endangered salmonids. Natural factors in stream temperature include atmospheric radiation, stream volume, surface area of the stream, shade, air temperature, water inflow and outflow, and changes in longitudinal temperature trajectories downstream of harvested areas (1997 Moore & Miner). Although the influences of stream temperature appear to be simple, we have much to learn about these complex processes (2003 Johnson, S).


Stream temperature modeling research is being conducted at the Boise Aquatic Sciences Lab, using inexpensive digital temperature loggers, geographic information systems (GIS), and remote sensing technologies to boost the development of temperature models useful at broad spatial scales.


Research Scientists: Dan Isaak (data & modeling)| Charlie Luce | Bruce Rieman

Science Professionals: David Nagel (GIS & Modeling) | Donna Horan (GIS & Modeling)


Science Briefings:


Stream Temperature Modeling and Monitoring


A National Stream Internet





Road impact image

GRAIP- Quantifying and Prioritizing Road Impacts

The Geomorphic Road Assessment and Inventory Package (GRAIP) is a process and a set of tools for analyzing the impacts of roads on forested watersheds. GRAIP combines a road inventory with a powerful GIS analysis tool set to predict sediment production and delivery, mass wasting risk from gullies and landslides, stream diversion potential, culvert maintenance and fish passage at stream crossings.


GRAIP Science Briefing   |   GRAIP Website


Road Decommissioning: Picking the Right Road





LiDAR image

Remotely Assessing and Monitoring Channel Physical Habitat

NASA’s Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar (EAARL) was used to continuously map three-dimensional channel and floodplain topography, in streams that provide spawning habitat of a federal listed (threatened) population of Chinook salmon. Data were acquired over 200 km of streams in low-flow conditions with high water clarity in October, 2004, in Idaho’s Bear Valley Creek, a tributary stream in the upper Middle Fork Salmon River drainage.


Science Briefing


River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)


Traditional techniques for describing and understanding aquatic physical habitat in streams have focused on manual measurements of channel topography. New remote sensing techniques, such as airborne water-penetrating Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and boat-mounted acoustic sensors can produce highly accurate Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) with continuous coverage of long segments of channels and stream networks. The US Forest Service and ESSA Technologies have developed a suite of GIS tools, the River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT), for processing high resolution DEMs of channels. Our goal is to characterize in-stream and floodplain geomorphology to support aquatic habitat analyses and numerical models of flow and sediment transport. The (RBT) is available for free and is under active development.


Science Briefing | River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)

Climate Change



Western Watersheds and Climate Change Workshop

The Western Watersheds and Climate Change: Water and Aquatic System Tools workshop was held from November 17-19, 2009 in the Denver/Boulder area of Colorado. This workshop brought together the management and research community to 1) share knowledge and tools that are currently available to address water and climate change, and 2) identify additional tools that are needed to adequately address water and climate change issues in Forest Plan revisions, project level decisions, and partner activities.


Link to Presentations


Research Subject Areas




bulletAquatic Ecology

bulletAtmospheric Sciences


bulletClimate Change




Fire & Fuels








Plant Physiology

bulletSediment & Erosion

bulletSpatial Analysis

bulletWater & Watershed Processes




Veterans Service At Fraser Experimental Forest - Science Briefing



Stream Temperature Modeling Website

River Bathymetry Toolkit (RBT)


Bull Trout and Climate Change - Risks, Uncertainties and Opportunities for Mapping the Future


Western Watersheds and Climate Change Workshop - November 17-19, 2009


Rocky Mountain Research Station - Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Sciences Program
Last Modified:  Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 16:22:12 CDT