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Our focus is on watershed currencies that are mediated by the critical zone and that link atmosphere, the critical zone, rivers, watersheds, ocean, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Fig 1. The critical zone of vegetation (green), soil and weathered bedrock with perched water table (red to blue), overlying fresh bedrock (grey) that exchanges currencies (arrows) with atmosphere (cloud) and mediates effluents (curved arrow) to a channel network (lines) which drain to ocean (blue triangle).

California's Eel River Critical Zone Observatory is rooted in intensive field monitoring in the critical zone, which follows watershed currencies (water, solutes, gasses, biota, sediment, energy, and momentum) through a subsurface physical environment and microbial ecosystem of the critical zone into the terrestrial ecosystem, up into the atmosphere, and out through drainage networks to the coastal ocean (Figure 1).

Soil, forest, and riverine ecosystems interact with these currencies, mediating the delivery of nutrients to the sea. CZO investigations will co-evolve with a synthesis model that mechanistically links the critical zone to atmospheric processes, watershed routing, ecosystems dynamics, stream flow, and coastal processes in order to investigate fundamental questions and to provide a modeling tool for management issues.


The Eel River CZO is examining:
  1. Does lithology control rock moisture availability to plants and therefore overall resilience of vegetation to climate change in seasonally dry environments?
  2. How are solute and gas effluents from hillslopes influenced by biota in changing moisture regimes?
  3. What controls the spatial extent of wetted channels in the channel networks of seasonally dry environments?
  4. Will changes in critical zone currencies induced by climate or land use change lead to threshold-type switches in river and coastal ecosystems?

Our observatory operates at four distinct scales: 1) the hillslope (our critical zone workshop), 2) the stream reach (where critical zone currencies dictate water supply, extent of wetted channel, and the emergent aquatic ecosystem), 3) the whole watershed scale (nearly 10,000 km2), and 4) the regional scale (>13,000 km2). Read more about our field areas.

Motivated by anticipated increase in climate extremes (especially extended drought) and accelerating societal demand for water, we focus on filling knowledge gaps that not only inhibit our ability to forecast the magnitude of future change of systems, but even the sign of that change. We are also developing a modular coupled model (AWESOM) which will provide local predictions over a regional scale and that can be used to ask “what if” questions about possible future climate and landuse scenarios and the consequences on runoff and ecosystem states.

Fig 1. The critical zone of vegetation (green), soil and weathered bedrock with perched water table (red to blue), overlying fresh bedrock (grey) that exchanges currencies (arrows) with atmosphere (cloud) and mediates effluents (curved arrow) to a channel network (lines) which drain to ocean (blue triangle).

Angelo Reserve


Research News

FEATURED NATIONALLY

Water Resources Research Special Collection: Concentration-discharge relations in the critical zone

30 Oct 2017 - Water Resources Research published a new special collection in September 2017 featuring concentration-discharge research from multiple CZOs.

FEATURED

The frontier beneath our feet — an AGU commentary on the critical zone

21 Apr 2017 - AGU has published a collection of commentaries highlighting the important role Earth and space science research plays in society.

FEATURED

2017 CZO Webinar Series: Critical Zone and Society

06 Apr 2017 - 2017 CZO Webinar Series: Critical Zone and Society.

FEATURED

On World Water Day, scientists peer into rivers to answer water availability questions

21 Mar 2016 - The following is part nine in a series on the National Science Foundation's Critical Zone Observatories (CZO) Network.

FEATURED

The critical zone: Studying where all of life happens

18 Feb 2016 - Science isn’t generally considered an extreme sport, but you wouldn’t know that by watching researchers in the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory.

FEATURED

Recent study underscores the environmental cost of illegal marijuana cultivation

29 Jul 2015 - Eel River CZO ecohydrologist Sally Thompson and ecologists Stephanie Carlson and Mary Power worked with The Nature Conservancy to explore the...

FEATURED

Ecology From Treetop To Bedrock:  Human Influence In Earth’s Critical Zone

17 Jul 2015 - An Organized Session On Critical Zone Ecology At The 100th Annual Meeting Of The Ecological Society Of America August 9-14, 2015 In Baltimore, Md.

FEATURED

Critical Zone Profiles - Meet the people doing CZO science (Eel River CZO)

19 Mar 2015 - Get a sense of the people and the work. Several members of the Eel River CZO are profiled here, including students and professors.


ERCZO research featured in Lawrence Hall of Science video: Studying the Eel River Watershed

25 Jun 2017 - Eel River CZO researchers are featured in a new video at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

CZOs at AGU 2016

22 Nov 2016 - CZOs at AGU 2016: Agenda and award recipients

Mary Power talks the Thirsty Eel River as keynote speaker at the Society for Freshwater Science

27 May 2016 - Power spoke on 'Drought, floods, and alternate states of algal-based river food webs in the Thirsty Eel' at the 2016 SFS Annual Meeting.

EOS: Taking the Pulse of the Earth’s Surface Systems

04 Dec 2015 - Taking the Pulse of the Earth's Surface Systems In September of 2014, Laurel Larsen (UC Berkley), Elizabeth Hajek (Penn State), and others...

KQED Quest program features Eel River and Sierra CZOs

10 Nov 2015 - San Francisco's KQED public television features the Eel River and the Southern Sierra CZOs in a production of QUEST, a science and technology...

More News >


Example Publications

FEATURED NATIONALLY

Growing new generations of critical zone scientists. Wymore Adam S., Nicole R. West, Kate Maher, Pamela L. Sullivan, Adrian Harpold, Diana Karwan, Jill A. Marshall, Julia Perdrial, Daniella M. Rempe and Lin Ma (2017): Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 42 (14): 2498-2502 Cross-CZO National

FEATURED

Expanding the role of reactive transport models in critical zone processes. Li Li, Kate Maher, Alexis Navarre-Sitchler, Jenny Druhan, Christof Meile, Corey Lawrence, Joel Moore, Julia Perdrial, Pamela Sullivan, Aaron Thompson, Lixin Jin, Edward W. Bolton, Susan L. Brantley, William E. Dietrich, K. Ulrich Mayer, Carl I. Steefel, Albert Valocchi, John Zachara, Benjamin Kocar, Jennifer Mcintosh, Benjamin M. Tutolo, Mukesh Kumar, Eric Sonnenthal, Chen Bao, Joe Beisman (2017): Earth-Science Reviews, 165:280-301 Cross-CZO

FEATURED

Climatic, ecophysiological, and phenological controls on plant ecohydrological strategies in seasonally dry ecosystems. Vico, Giulia Thompson, Sally E. Manzoni, Stefano Molini, Annalisa Albertson, John D. Almeida-Cortez, Jarcilene S. Fay, Philip A. Feng, Xue Guswa, Andrew J. Liu, Hu Wilson, Tiffany G. Porporato, Amilcare (2015): Ecohydrology 8(4): 660-681.

FEATURED

The Thirsty Eel: Summer and Winter Flow Thresholds that Tilt the Eel River of Northwestern California from Salmon-Supporting to Cyanobacterially Degraded States. Power, M.E., Bouma-Gregson, K., Higgins, P. and Carlson, S.M. (2015): Copeia 1:200-211.

FEATURED

High Time for Conservation: Adding the Environment to the Debate on Marijuana Liberalization. Carah, J., Howard, J., Thompson, S.E., Short Gianotti, A.G., Bauer, S., Carlson, S.M., Dralle, D.N., Gabriel, M.W., Hulette, L., Johnson, B., Knight, C., Kupferberg, S., Martin, S., Naylor, R., Power, M.E. (2015): BioScience (Advance Access)

FEATURED

A bottom-up control on fresh-bedrock topography under landscapes. Rempe, D.M., Dietrich, W.D. (2014): Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (18): 6576-6581


The influence of mixing on stable isotope ratios in porous media: A revised Rayleigh model. Druhan J.L, Maher K. (2017): Water Resources Research, 53, 1101–1124 Cross-CZO National

Event-scale power law recession analysis: quantifying methodological uncertainty. Dralle, D. N., Karst, N. J., Charalampous, K., Veenstra, A., and Thompson, S. E. (2017): Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 21:65-81

Rise and fall of toxic benthic freshwater cyanobacteria (Anabaena spp) in the Eel river: Buoyancy and dispersal. Bouma-Gregson, K., Power, M.E., and Bormans, M. (2017): Harmful Algae 66: 79-87

Designing a network of critical zone observatories to explore the living skin of the terrestrial Earth. Brantley, S.L., McDowell, W.H., Dietrich, W.E., White, T.S., Kumar, P., Anderson, S., Chorover, J., Lohse, K.A., Bales, R.C., Richter, D., Grant, G., and Gaillardet, J. (2017): Earth Surface Dynamics Cross-CZO National

Reviews and syntheses: on the roles trees play in building and plumbing the critical zone. Brantley, Susan L., David M. Eissenstat, Jill A. Marshall, Sarah E. Godsey, Zsuzsanna Balogh-Brunstad, Diana L. Karwan, Shirley A. Papuga, Joshua Roering, Todd E. Dawson, Jaivime Evaristo, Oliver Chadwick, Jeffrey J. McDonnell, Kathleen C. Weathers (2017): Biogeosciences, 14, 5115-5142 Cross-CZO National

Controls on solute concentration-discharge relationships revealed by simultaneous hydrochemistry observations of hillslope runoff and stream flow: The importance of critical zone structure. Kim, H., W. E. Dietrich, B. M. Thurnhoffer, J. K. B. Bishop, and I. Y. Fung (2017): Water Resour. Res., 53 Cross-CZO

Anomalomermis ephemerophagis n g, n sp (Nematoda: Mermithidae) parasitic in the mayfly Ephemerella maculata Traver (Ephermeroptera: Ephermerellidae) in California, USA. Poinar, G., Walder, L. and Uno, H. (2015): Systematic Parasitology 90(3): 231-236.

More Publications >