Appendix A
Key Water Science Research Questions and Challenges

(Derived from National Research Council reports and meetings)

WATER QUALITY AND QUANTITY

The challenge is to develop an improved understanding of and ability to predict changes in freshwater resources and the environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation, and contamination. Important research areas include improving understanding of hydrologic responses to precipitation, surface water generation and transport, environmental stresses on aquatic ecosystems, the relationships between landscape changes and sediment fluxes, and subsurface transport, as well as mapping groundwater recharge and discharge vulnerability.

Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences (NRC, 2001)


Validate the water cycle components of climate models. The science questions contained in the water cycle science plan that are related to understanding and predicting variability require an improved understanding of hydrologic processes and their representation in climate models. Therefore, it seems that advances in this area are also fundamental to the water cycle science plan, and the research community is poised to make these advances. Advanced climate change impact assessments are dependent on progress in this area. The path forward in this area requires the identification of the weakest elements in the characterization of the water cycle, and it requires the identification of quantitative improvement goals.

Review of USGCRP Plan for a New Science Initiative on the Global Water Cycle (NRC, 2002)


Scaling of Dynamic Behavior: In varied guises throughout hydrologic science we encounter questions concerning the quantitative relationship between the same process occurring at disparate spatial or temporal scales. Most frequently



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Appendix A Key Water Science Research Questions and Challenges (Derived from National Research Council reports and meetings) WATER QUALITY AND QUANTITY The challenge is to develop an improved understanding of and ability to predict changes in freshwater resources and the environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation, and contamination. Important research areas include improving understanding of hydrologic responses to precipitation, surface water generation and transport, environmental stresses on aquatic ecosystems, the rela- tionships between landscape changes and sediment fluxes, and subsurface trans- port, as well as mapping groundwater recharge and discharge vulnerability. Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences (NRC, 2001) Validate the water cycle components of climate models. The science questions contained in the water cycle science plan that are related to understanding and predicting variability require an improved understanding of hydrologic proc- esses and their representation in climate models. Therefore, it seems that ad- vances in this area are also fundamental to the water cycle science plan, and the research community is poised to make these advances. Advanced climate change impact assessments are dependent on progress in this area. The path forward in this area requires the identification of the weakest elements in the characterization of the water cycle, and it requires the identification of quantita- tive improvement goals. Review of USGCRP Plan for a New Science Initiative on the Global Water Cycle (NRC, 2002) Scaling of Dynamic Behavior: In varied guises throughout hydrologic science we encounter questions concerning the quantitative relationship between the same process occurring at disparate spatial or temporal scales. Most frequently 181

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182 Appendix A perhaps, these are problems of complex aggregation that are confounding our attempts to quantify predictions of large-scale hydrologic processes. The phys- ics of a nonlinear process is well known under idealized, one-dimensional labo- ratory conditions, and we wish to quantify the process under the three- dimensional heterogeneity of natural systems, which are orders of magnitude larger in scale. Solving these problems will require well-conceived field data collection programs in concert with analysis directed toward “renormalization” of the underlying dynamics. Success will bring to hydrologic science the power of generalization, with its dividends of insight and economy of effort. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991) Innovative Engineering Approaches for Improving Water Quantity and Quality Management: The research should aim to improve our capabilities in hydro- logic forecasting for water resource managers to evaluate and make decisions. Networks of sensors, robotic water quality monitoring sites, realtime data collec- tion, and communication links can be developed into an intelligent environ- mental control system that will enhance the protection of urban ecosystems and the health and safety of its inhabitants. Such a system can be used as an early warning system and to identify emerging problems such as flooding, lack of water, riparian habitat degradation, and the presence of toxic compounds. CLEANER and NSF’s Environmental Observatories (NRC, 2006) Land Surface-Atmosphere Interactions: Understanding the reciprocal influences between land surface processes and weather and climate is more than an inter- esting basic research question; it has become especially urgent because of accel- erating human-induced changes in land surface characteristics in the United States and globally. The issues are important from the mesoscale upward to continental scales. Our knowledge of the time and space distributions of rainfall, soil moisture, ground water recharge, and evapotranspiration are remarkably inadequate, in part because historical data bases are point measurements from which we have attempted extrapolation to large-scale fields. Our knowledge of their variability, and of the sensitivity of local and regional climates to altera- tions in land surface properties, is especially poor. The opportunity now exists for great progress on these issues. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991) Find solutions to existing and emerging problems involving contaminants in the environment that affect ecosystems and human health. Some environmental problems that affect water resources are of such a magnitude that they are of

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Appendix A 183 national concern and require engineering research based on data collected through observatories. Two such problems are the containment or removal of contaminated sediments and the effects on aquatic and human health of residuals from pharmaceuticals and other household products. CLEANER and NSF’s Environmental Observatories (NRC, 2006) Sediment Transport and Geomorphology: Erosion, transport, and deposition of sediments in fluvial systems control the very life cycle of rivers and are vulner- able to changes in climate and human landscape alternations. Yet, compared with water quality and quantity information, there is relatively little available information on sediment behavior in river systems, particularly large-order reaches. By advancing basic research on sediment transport detection, quantifi- cation of bedload, suspended load, and washload, and monitoring flow velocity and water temperature associated with such sediment transport conditions, the USGS could better detect morphologically significant flows, develop methods to mitigate future problems arising from sediment movement, and play a guiding role in multiagency efforts to deal with the increasingly important national sediment challenges. River Science at the U.S. Geological Survey (NRC, 2007) Coordinated Global-scale Observation of Water Reservoirs and the Fluxes of Water and Energy: Regional and continental-scale water resources forecasts and many issues of global change depend for their resolution on a detailed under- standing of the state and variability of the global water balance. Our current knowledge is spotty in its areal coverage; highly uneven in its quality; limited in character to the quantities of primary historical interest (namely precipitation, streamflow, and surface water reservoirs); and largely unavailable still as homo- geneous, coordinated, global data sets. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991) Learn how changes in climate, land cover, and land use affect water quantity and quality regimes and their impact on ecosystem health and other uses of water such as for drinking, irrigation, industry, and recreation. Using long-term data, comparative studies, modeling, and experiments, observatory systems can de- termine pathways of movement of water and solutes through human-dominated landscapes and forecast responses to changes. CLEANER and NSF’s Environmental Observatories (NRC, 2006)

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184 Appendix A HYDROECOLOGY AND BIOGEOCHEMISTRY Land Use and Habitat Alteration: Deforestation, suburbanization, road construc- tion, agriculture, and other human land-use activities cause changes in ecosys- tems. Those changes modify water, energy and material balances and the ability of the biotic community to respond to and recover from stress and disturbance. Actions in one location, such as farming practices in the upper Midwest, can affect areas 1,000 or more miles away because areas are joined by water and nutrient flow in rivers and by atmospheric transport of agrochemicals. NEON: Addressing the Nation’s Environmental Challenges (NRC, 2003) Chemical and Biological Components of the Hydrologic Cycle: In combination with components of the hydrologic cycle, aqueous geochemistry is the key to understanding many of the pathways of water through soil and rock, for reveal- ing historical states having value in climate research, and for reconstructing the erosional history of continents. Together with the physics of flow in geologic media, aquatic chemistry and microbiology will reveal solute transformations, biogeochemical functioning, and the mechanisms for both contamination and purification of soils and water. Water is the basis for much ecosystem structure, and many ecosystems are active participants in the hydrologic cycle. Under- standing these interactions between ecosystems and the hydrologic cycle is es- sential to interpreting, forecasting, and even ameliorating global climate change. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences (NRC, 1991) Ecological Implications of Climate Change: Human-induced climate warming and variability strongly affect individual species, community structure and eco- system functioning. Changes in vegetation in turn affect climate through their role in partitioning radiation and precipitation at the land surface. Climate- driven biological impacts are often only discernable at a regional-continental scale. Regional changes in ecosystem processes affect global water and carbon cycles. Therefore, a national approach to understanding biological response to climate variability and change is required. NEON: Addressing the Nation’s Environmental Challenges (NRC, 2003) [Grand Challenges include:] Biogeochemical Cycles: The challenge is to further our understanding of the Earth’s major biogeochemical cycles, evaluate how they are being perturbed by human activities, and determine how they might better be stabilized. Important research areas include quantifying the sources and sinks of the

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Appendix A 185 nutrient elements and gaining a better understanding of the biological, chemical, and physical factors regulating transformations among them; im- proving understanding of the interactions among the various biogeochemi- cal cycles; assessing anthropogenic perturbations of biogeochemical cycles and their impacts on ecosystem functioning, atmospheric chemistry, and human activities, and developing a scientific basis for societal decisions about managing these cycles; and exploring technical and institutional ap- proaches to managing anthropogenic perturbations. Invasive species: Invasive species affect virtually every ecosystem in the United States, and can cause substantial economic and biological damage. The identification of potentially harmful invasive species, the early detec- tion of new species as invasion begins, and the knowledge base needed to prevent their spread require a comprehensive monitoring and experimental network and a mechanistic understanding of the interplay of invader, eco- system traits and other factors including climate and land use that determine invasiveness. Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences (NRC, 2001) The nation is spending billions on riverine restoration and rehabilitation pro- jects, yet the science underlying these projects is not currently well understood and thus the approaches and their effectiveness vary widely. Therefore, a fun- damental challenge is to quantitatively understand how rivers respond physically and biologically to human alterations from dredging to damming, and to specifi- cally address: What are the required “environmental flows” (i.e., flow levels, timing, and variability) necessary to maintain a healthy river ecosystem? And which biota and ecological processes are most important and/or sensitive to changes in river systems? River Science at the U.S. Geological Survey (NRC, 2007) How can local riverine ecosystem processes be scaled from habitat patches across river reaches to produce basin-wide predictive capabilities? (I.e., how can we estimate regional aquatic ecosystem processes over river basins?) COHS workshop on "Towards Integration of Hydrologic and Ecological Sci- ences,” West Palm Beach, Florida, October 2000. HEALTH Algal Blooms and Water-Borne Infectious Diseases: The rapid proliferation of toxic or nuisance algae, termed harmful algal blooms (HAB), can occur in ma- rine, estuarine and freshwaters, and are one of the most scientifically complex

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186 Appendix A and economically significant water issues facing the United States today. Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (NRC, 2007) Vector Borne and Zoonotic (VBZ) Disease: VBZ diseases, such as malaria, den- gue, and filariasis are believed responsible for millions of deaths and tens of millions of illnesses annually. The introduction and spread of West Nile virus through North America by mosquitoes during the past five years and recent con- cerns about the world-wide dissemination of H5N1 avian influenza are key re- cent examples where large human populations have come at risk over extensive geographic regions in short periods of time by these VBZ diseases. Attempts to control VBZ disease epidemics with limited available resources are hindered by the ability to prioritize and target areas for intervention. The major goal of such [remote sensing] efforts is to establish relationships between environmental con- ditions, as monitored by satellites, and risk to human populations from VBZ diseases. This goal requires improved characterization of the earth’s land use, ecological changes and changing weather, at finer spatial and temporal scales. Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (NRC, 2007) Infectious Disease and the Environment: The challenge is to understand ecologi- cal and evolutionary aspects of infectious diseases; develop an understanding of the interactions among pathogens, hosts/receptors, and the environment; and thus make it possible to prevent changes in the infectivity and virulence of or- ganisms that threaten plant, animal, and human health at the population level. Important research areas include examining the effects of environmental changes as selection agents on pathogen virulence and host resistance; exploring the impacts of environmental change on disease etiology, vectors, and toxic or- ganisms; developing new approaches to surveillance and monitoring; and im- proving theoretical models of host-pathogen ecology. Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences (NRC, 2001)