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  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
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Ken and Stormwater Autosampler

Kenneth Belt

Hydrologist/Aquatic Ecologist
Baltimore Field Station, 5523 Research Park Drive Suite 350
United States

Phone: 443-543-5382
Fax: 443-543-5392
Contact Kenneth Belt

Current Research

This aquatic ecology research focuses on the Urban Watershed Continuum (UWC), organic matter (OM), and Ecohydrology. Overarching themes include: 1) the effects of the UWC's engineered urban “ecosphere” on urban water ecosystem structure and function, 2) Interactions between OM and the urban green, brown and gray infrastructure of aquatic systems, and 3) Using an ecohydrological (water driven) framework for the study and design of urban water systems. High resolution stream flow and water quality data from the BES LTER and USFS sampling of numerous Baltimore streams are being used to answer many UWC and OM questions, and to uncover fundamental spatial and temporal patterns. Additionally data and literature are being synthesized to inform and encourage an ecohydrological approach for a wide range of research and management.

The UWC concept looks at urban watersheds as hybrid “ecospheres”, an amalgam of engineered (i.e., pipes, gutters, etc.) and natural ecosystems (e.g., plants, animals, microbes). Their functions are more important than many scientists and resource managers often appreciate, and are a frontier for ecological research. The UWC's core focus on urban flow paths (e.g., between pipes and soils) facilitates both management and research by embracing the extreme connectivity of urban water systems. The fluxes and processing of OM from the urban landscape are a special case of the UWC that offers a new view of a classical field of study in forest headwater streams, the role of riparian (streamside) leaf litter and wood from trees and other plants in streams as an important source of food and habitat in forested aquatic ecosystems. Urban drainage networks greatly increase OM delivery and breakdown rates and change how carbon is stored and processed in the landscape, fueling a little understood “gutter subsidy” of leaf litter and dissolved OM to streams. Ecohydrology is another concept developed in forest ecosystems that potentially has great value in urban ecosystems. These are indeed “ecohydrological” systems, where the flow of water through landscapes and aquatic environments is central to ecosystem health. Here, dense networks of flowpaths are highly connected by the engineered infrastructure, and both people and their natural ecosystems (e.g., evapotranspiration by trees) are close partners in determining how urban water is planned, managed, moved, stored and used.

Research Interests

Research questions include: How do engineered urban water systems of the UWC affect water quality (e.g., temperature, nutrients, OM, pathogens) in stream and pipe ecosystems, especially in watershed restoration efforts in ultra-urban areas (e.g., buried streams)? How do UWC networks affect the flora and fauna of stream and pipe ecosystems? How does the OM gutter subsidy (leaves, vegetation, algae) affect the flora and fauna of streams, engineered ecosystems and stormwater management facilities? Additionally, management and theory based questions address how ecological theory can be used to foster communication and collaboration in urban water management and research.

Inquiries are embedded in approaches aimed at integrating science with management, with an eye toward using accessible concepts such as “ecosystem services” and “ecosystem health” to assist communication to broad audiences. The use of extension type services will be explored to provide a dependable connection between researchers and practitioners, and to build a foundation for developing practical tools through collaborate with practitioners, designers and researchers to employ an ecohydrological perspective to design “hyper-functional” ecological systems. The overall challenge will be to bring together a diverse group of researchers, practitioners and stakeholders raise awareness of the potential for ecohydrological tools and knowledge to contribute to urban water system management.

Key partnerships include researchers from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, University of Maryland, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore City DPW, USFS NRS, USFS FPL, and others.

Past Research

Belt, KT, 2013. Organic Matter in Streams and the Urban Watershed Continuum, Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences (MEES, University of MD), Ph.D Dissertation, UMBC GES, ProQuest/UMI, UMBC.

Hager, GW, Belt, KT, Stack, W, et al., 2013. Socioecological revitalization of an urban watershed. Front in Ecol and the Env 11: 28-36.

Kaushal, SS.; Belt, KT. 2012. The urban watershed continuum: evolving spatial and temporal dimensions. Urb Ecosys. 15: 409-435.

Belt, KT, WP Stack, RV Pouyat, et al.. 2012. Ultra-urban baseflow and stormflow concentrations and fluxes in a watershed undergoing watershed restoration (WS263). Proceedings of the WEF 2012: 262-276.

Duan, S, Kaushal, S, Groffman, P, Band, LE, Belt, K, 2012. Phosphorus export across an urban to rural gradient in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. J of Geophys Res 117, G01025.

Sivirichi, GM, Kaushal, SS, Mayer, PM, Welty, C, Belt, KT, et al., 2011. Longitudinal variability in streamwater chemistry and carbon and nitrogen fluxes in restored and degraded urban stream networks. J of Env Monit 13, 288-303.

Kaushal, SS, Likens, GE, Jaworski, NA, Pace, ML, Sides, AM, Belt, KT, et al., 2010. Rising stream and river temperatures in the United States. Front in Ecol and the Env 8: 461-466.

Kaushal, SS, Groffman, PM, Band, LE, Shields, CA, Morgan, RP, Palmer, MA, Belt, KT et al., 2008. Interaction between Urbanization and Climate Variability Amplifies Watershed Nitrate Export in Maryland. Env Sci & Tech 42:5872-5878.

Law, NL, DiBlasi, K, Ghosh, U, Stack, WP, Stewart, S, Belt, K, et al. 2008. Deriving Reliable Pollutant Removal Rates for Municipal Street Sweeping and Storm Drain Cleanout Programs in the Chesapeake Bay Basin, CWP, Ellicott City, MD, p. 44.

Belt, KT, Hohn, C, Gbakima, A, Higgins, JA. 2007. Identification of culturable stream water bacteria from urban, agricultural, and forested watersheds using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. J Water and Health. 5: 395-406.

Gresens, SE.; Belt, KT., et al. 2007. Temporal and spatial responses of Chironomidae (Diptera) and other benthic invertebrates to urban stormwater runoff. Hydrobiol. 575:173-190.

Pouyat, RV, Pataki, DE, Belt, KT, Groffman, PM, et al. 2007. Effects of urban land-use change on biogeochemical cycles. In, Canadell, Pataki, and Pitelka (eds.) Terrestrial Ecosystems in a Changing World. Chapter 5, pages 45-58, Springer-Verlag.

Pickett, STA, Belt, KT, Galvin, MF, et al. 2007. Watersheds in Baltimore, Maryland: understanding and application of integrated ecological and social processes. J Cont Wat Res Educ. 136: 44-55.

Welty, C, Miller, AJ., Belt, KT., et al. 2007. Design of an environmental field observatory for quantifying the urban water budget. In: Novotny, V, Brown, P, eds. Cities of the future: Towards integrated sustainable water and landscape management. London: IWA

Kaushal, SS., Groffman, PM., Likens, GE.; Belt, KT., et al. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. Proc, Nat Acad Sci. 102:13517-13520.

Higgins, JA., Belt, KT., Karns, JS., et al. 2005. tir- and stx- positive Escherichia coli in stream waters in a metropolitan area. App Env Microb. 71: 2511-2519.

Groffman, PM., Law, NL., Belt, KT., et al. 2004. Nitrogen fluxes and retention in urban watershed ecosystems. Ecosys. 7: 394-403.

Groffman, PM, Bain, DJ, Band, LE, Belt, KT, et al. 2003. Down by the riverside: urban riparian ecology. Front in Ecol and the Env. 1: 315-321.

Band, LE, Tague, CE, Groffman, PM, Belt, KT. 2001. Forest ecosystem processes at the watershed scale: hydrological and ecological controls of nitrogen export. Hydr Proc. 15:2013-2028.

Why This Research is Important

The use of the UWC concept will greatly facilitate the understanding of urban water networks at a crucial point, since these are growing older and leakier at the same time that stormwater management (SWM) efforts are attempting to force rainwater into the ground (infiltration). In particular, SWM functions have focused on physical factors. We need to know more about what role flora and fauna play within these complex urban water systems to maximize efficiency and attain sustainable systems, as well as their potential to greatly change urban water budgets through green infrastructure initiatives. This planned and unplanned evolution of engineered drainage systems suggests that people will play an even larger role in urban water management in the future. Stakeholders will participate more, through private property GSIs (green stormwater infrastructure), water use (e.g., plant watering and selection), as well as in greater participation in regulatory program requirements (e.g., stormwater utilities). They will need more complete explanations of the hydrological and public health aspects of the ecohydrological science as well as their surrounding social-ecological and infrastructure systems (SES, SEIS).

OM is a key component of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (e.g., OM quantity and quality affects the infiltration of rainwater into soils and the growth and health of plants). The ecological role of OM in watershed restoration and stormwater management is largely unknown, especially with respect to how OM decomposition and loads interact with the flora and fauna of urban water systems (i.e., the UWC) and vice versa. Knowledge of OM dynamics at landscape-aquatic ecotones are especially important due to rapidly expanding efforts to implement GSIs (green stormwater infrastructure) over large scales.

The ecohydrological synthesis work will greatly aid current green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) technological innovations and integrative approaches in reinventing urban water systems by improving our ability to integrate biological, hydrological and ecological processes into urban water budgets and the design of urban water networks. Diverse disciplines will need to broaden their perspectives to be able to work together to synthesize and enrich the urban ecohydrological knowledge base, produce new frameworks, and integrate the perspectives of urban water researchers practitioners, stakeholders and policy makers. An ecohydrological perspective will be a valuable framework for achieving these goals.


  • University of Maryland Baltimore County, Ph.D. Ecology (organic matter in urban streams) 2012
  • Johns Hopkins University, M.E.E. Environmental Engineering (science track) 1994
  • Johns Hopkins University, B.S.C.E. Civil Engineering (water resources conc.) 1991
  • Towson University, M.S. Biology (aquatic ecology concentration) 1983
  • Towson University, B.S. Biology 1973

Professional Experience

  • Hydrologist/Aquatic Ecologist, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, NRS-08
    1998 - Current
  • Water Resources Engineer/Aquatic Biologist/Pollution Control Supervisor & Analyst I-II-III, City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, Water Quality Management Section
    1979 - 1998

Professional Organizations

  • Water Environment Federation, Member (2012 - Current)
  • Baltimore Ecosystem Study Lter, Co-Pi (2004 - Current)
  • American Geophysical Union, Member (1995 - Current)
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Member (1995 - Current)
  • American Water Resources Association, Member (1995 - Current)
  • P.E., Md Professional Engineer License, Registered Professional Engineer (1991 - Current)
  • Ecological Society of America, Member (1990 - Current)
  • Maryland Water Monitoring Council, Member (1990 - Current)
    2009-2012: Board of Directors, Maryland Water Monitoring Council (Appointment via MD DNR); served two terms: 2001-2004 and 2009-2012. Participated in organizing numerous annual conferences and workshops bridging science and management.
  • Society Of Freshwater Science, Member (1990 - Current)

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Last updated on : 10/04/2016