Collaborative Research - WSC-Category 2: Regional Climate Variability and Patterns of Urban Development – Impacts on the Urban Water Cycle and Nutrient Export

PIs: C. Welty, AJ Miller, M. McGuire, J. Smith, E. Bou-Zeid, S. Kaushal, P. Groffman, A. Gold, M. Grove, E. Irwin, C. Towe, A. Klaiber, E. Doheny

Funding Source: National Science Foundation (1/1/11 - 12/31/15), Water Sustainability and Climate Program


Intellectual Merit
The goal of this project is to evaluate the interactions between urban development patterns and the hydrologic cycle and its associated nutrient cycles, within the context of regional and local climate variability. The paradigm driving this research is that dynamic interactions between the natural and human components of the urbanizing landscape produce striking spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in water storage and fluxes that are major determinants of water quantity and quality.  Our specific objective is to create a modeling system capable of simulating the feedback relationships that control urban water sustainability.

We will address the following research questions: (1) How do human locational choices, water-based ecosystem services, and regulatory policies affect the supply of land and pattern of development over time? (2) How do the changing composition and variability of urbanizing surfaces affect local and regional climate? (3) How do patterns of development (including the engineered water system) and climate variability affect fluxes, flow paths and storage of water and nitrogen in urban areas?

The work will integrate theories and models across the disciplines of hydrologic science, environmental engineering, biogeochemistry, and economics. Core elements include spatial modeling of urban development patterns and individual land use and location processes at parcel and neighborhood scales and for different policy scenarios; three-dimensional modeling of coupled surface water-groundwater and land surface-atmospheric systems at multiple scales (including consideration of the engineered water system), where development patterns are incorporated as input; and field work and modeling aimed at quantifying flow paths and fluxes of water and nitrogen in this system.

We will use the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER (, as a platform for place-based research to carry out the proposed work.  In doing so, we will take advantage of a 12-year database of hydrologic and chemical characterization data; high-resolution land-cover, land use, and socio-demographic information; and a high-density hydrologic observing system.

Broader Impacts
This project will contribute to the education and professional development of over 20 undergraduate students, 7 PhD students, and 3 post-doctoral associates at the partner institutions supported by the project. In addition, it is expected that data produced by this project can be used in dissertation research by a number of other graduate students affiliated with the BES LTER, whose expertise spans environmental engineering, hydrology, biogeochemistry, aquatic ecology, urban and environmental economics, and public policy. New modeling capabilities will enable us to broaden the scope of training and research opportunities provided to students at all levels. New instrumentation will contribute to the growth of infrastructure capabilities of the LTER as a resource for the scientific community.

Our work involves frequent communications with local agency decision-makers involved with planning and implementing programs affecting land use and water resources, e.g., Baltimore City Department of Public Works, Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, Maryland Department of the Environment, and the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.  Modeling tools such as the ones proposed are very much needed to support decision making associated with water resource management. The BES LTER has an active and extensive environmental education program working with Baltimore City and County school systems; data derived from LTER-related research projects in the Baltimore area such as the one proposed will be used in this LTER-supported program.