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Stable Isotope Hydrology and Biogeochemistry in Watershed Science: A Short Course

March 1-2, 2001

Instructor Information Course Schedule Additional Course Information Course Materials

Of all the methods used to model hydrological processes in small watersheds, tracers (isotopic and chemical) have provided the best new insights into the age, origin and pathway of water movement.  They are among the few truly integrated measures of watershed function. Nevertheless, these techniques are not often used because they are seen as too complex, too costly or too difficult to use.

This course will introduce the basic principles behind  isotopic and chemical tracer modeling. These approaches will be discussed in the context of watershed studies and how one might use tracer approaches along with standard hydrometric data collection to better understand "where water goes when it rains", "what pathway does water take to the stream channel" and "how long does waters reside in the catchment".

Topics that will be covered in this short course include: 


  • introduction to watershed hydrology
  • introduction to end-member mixing analysis (EMMA)
  • isotope basics and usefulness
  • introduction to isotope geochemistry with examples and case studies


Information about the instructors:

    Carol Kendall is a research hydrologist in the Water Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey. Since 1990, she has been chief of the "Isotope Tracers of Hydrologic and Biogeochemical Processes" project in Menlo Park, California. The purpose of this research project is to develop new methods, concepts, and applications of environmental isotopes to solve problems of national importance. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Geology from the University of California (Riverside), and her Ph.D. in Geology from the University of Maryland. The main focus of Kendall's research has been on small forested catchments: investigating the impact of isotopic heterogeneity in shallow systems on determining recharge mechanisms, tracing sources and reactions of nitrate in surface waters and groundwaters using oxygen and nitrogen isotopes, and applying a multi-isotope (O, H, C, N, S, Sr) approach to studying watershed hydrology and biogeochemistry. In the last couple years she has been extending the multidisciplinary approach to larger, human-impacted ecosystems such as the Everglades and the Mississippi Basin. A recent favorite topic has been "isotope biomonitoring" -- the idea of using isotopes of organisms as integrators of environmental conditions at the landscape-scale, including mapping spatial variation in nutrient sources and redox reactions with biomass isotopes. She was co-editor (with J.J. McDonnell) of the book "Isotope Tracers in Catchment hydrology" (Elsevier, 1998). Kendall has been coordinator and main instructor since 1988 of the 5-day Isotope Hydrology training course taught for the USGS, and frequently teaches isotope short-courses at GSA and other meetings. (top)


    Rick Hooper is also a research hydrologist in the Water Resources Division of the USGS. From 1987 to 1998, he was a co-principal investigator at the Panola Mountain Research Watershed, located near Atlanta, Georgia. There, he developed end-member mixing analysis (EMMA) along with Nils Christopherson (University of Oslo, Norway) and Colin Neal (Institute of Hydrology, UK). Since 1998, Rick has been the coordinator for two national water-quality monitoring networks--the National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN), a large river program, and the Hydrologic Benchmark Network (HBN), a network of pristine meso-scale watersheds. Rick received his B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from Cornell University. The main focus of his research has been the development of quantitative mathematical and statistical tools for analysis of complex hydrologic and biogeochemical data sets. He has taught this short course at the USGS National Training Center and at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. (top)


   Professor Jeff McDonnell is the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science at Oregon State University, Department of Forest Engineering. His PhD is in Forest Hydrology and he is a registered professional hydrologist with the American Institute of Hydrology. Professor McDonnell was recently Leverhulme Fellow at Bristol University and Hayward Fellow at Landcare New Zealand. He has also held research fellowships with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Japan Forest Products and Forest Research Institute and Freiburg University. He has received the Horton Research Grant from American Geophysical Union, the Nystrom Award from the Association of American Geographers and the Warwick Award from the British Geomorphological Research Group. Dr. McDonnell is President-Elect of the International Commission on Tracers, Science Steering Committee member of the IGBP committee Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrological Cycle, member of UNESCO working group on Hydrology of the Humid Tropics, member of the Joint International Isotope Hydrology Program and outgoing Chair of the American Geophysical Union Surface Water Committee. He has served as Associate Editor for the journal Water Resources Research and is now Associate Editor for Journal of Hydrology, Hydrological Sciences Journal and Hydrological Processes and Editorial Board Member for Progress in Environmental Sciences. (top)