Berkeley Lab

Various and Sundry – December 5, 2019

1. The recorded presentations from the November 12th, 2019 Watershed Science Community Call can be here. For reference, the two keynotes can be found as follows:

  • Kate Maher: “Mayhem in the meadows: Tracking and modeling soil respiration” starts at 23:50
  • Ben Blonder: “Remote sensing of genotypes and genotype-dependent mortality in quaking aspen” starts 1:00:30

2. In the event some of you have yet to hear the news, the second USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) basin was recently announced. The new basin includes the combined drainages of the Upper Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, and it will serve as a western, snow-dominated counterpoint to the Delaware River NGWOS Basin.

This selection represents an incredible opportunity for DOE-BER to engage with USGS and other stakeholders (a driving requirement for NGWOS selections) through two of its SFA projects in the basin led by Berkeley Lab and SLAC. Its selection is expected to amplify BER’s investments in integrated hydrology and biogeochemistry, as well as the future of water in the west more broadly.

3. The dust has now settled on proposal submissions to the NSF Critical Zone Collaborative Network funding opportunity. I know there were some tremendous proposals submitted, and the East River watershed figures prominently in six of these. With some good fortune, we will have the opportunity to more fully engage with a growing critical zone effort across the United States and Puerto Rico. I’ve added the lead PI’s to our email list so they’re kept informed of future actives of relevance in the watershed.

4. For those of you who attended the Bodega Bay retreat last month, you hopefully had the opportunity to meet our new University DOE Early Career Proposal PI, Prof. Issac Larsen of UMASS. Isaac will be presenting his research plan to our Science Committee during one of the planned Spring teleconferences. Isaac is presently looking for a motivated PhD student to join his lab tied to his East River project and the posting can be found here. For faculty on this list who have or know of promising undergrads with an interest in critical zone processes, please pass this listing along.

5. Lastly, the Watershed SFA will be highlighted during a 90-minute block at Berkeley Lab’s Earth & Environmental Sciences Area booth at the AGU meeting. The Watershed pop-up is scheduled from 10a – 1130a on Wednesday December 11th. For those who haven’t had a chance to listen to the “sounds of the earth” and the musical enterprise being led by Antonio Menghini (Aarhus Geophysics) Burke Minsley (USGS), Burke will be joining us at the booth. A short preview of this fascinating enterprise can be found here.

I look forward to seeing many of you in person next week!

Virtual Site Visit, November 7, 2019

For those with an interest in current field conditions and a first look at the sensor suite developed by the Ecohydrogeology group at Berkeley Lab, a virtual site visit from November 7 can be found here.

East River shale drilling postscript

I wanted to update everyone on the recent shale drilling campaign that wrapped up on Tuesday after 8 days of high productivity and perfect weather.

In brief: We accomplished 100% of what we set out to accomplish.

A more detailed accounting of the work follows:

(a) We set the rig up on well #PLM5 on Tuesday AM, which is the 230-foot borehole from which we collected the continuous core last October. This well had stability issues and collapsed in several places last year before we had to abandon the site due to bad weather. We were able to readily clear the hole back down to 230-feet and added four nested piezometers to sample and monitor conditions at four discrete depths:

3-13 feet
40-80 feet
125-165 feet
210-230 feet [N.B. shale from this depth interval corresponds to the same stratigraphic unit encountered in PLM6, our toe slope well.]

(b) Upon finishing that work, we offset the rig by about 15-feet along the geologic strike direction and drilled a parallel 230-foot hole (well #PLM7) that was cased with 3” slotted PVC and which will be used for geophysical wireline logging, including NMR-derived permeability estimation, and hydrologic testing (e.g. pumping and injection tests).

Regarding that testing, we got an unexpected “jump-start” on that activity. Our rate of penetration (ROP) slowed over the 35-50 foot depth interval, and after checking my core logging notes from last year, I was reminded I’d identified a putative fault zone complete with clay gouge in this interval. While drilling through this interval, we observed water flow from the 40-80 foot piezometer in PLM5 that we interpret to be migration of injected drilling fluids (East River stream water) along the highly conductive fault zone and breakthrough at the consistent depth in PLM5. When drilling stopped, flow from the piezometer would stop; when resumed, flow resumed. Drilling past the 50-foot depth resulted in cessation of flow from the piezometer suggesting a max. depth of the fault zone.

A virtual site visit of the PLM7 drilling site can be found here.

The ROP also slowed down considerably over the last 20-feet consistent with our observations in 2018 and the transition to a different unit of the Mancos shale. So it appears that we have good stratigraphic correlation between the two wells — PLM5 with its nested piezometers and PLM7 with its 3” borehole — that should nicely link the geophysical logging data with the shale core collected in 2018 and currently stored at the USGS core library.

Protective metal well enclosures were added to both PLM7 and PLM8 and we will need to make sure snow poles are added to both locations as the route of the Grand Traverse ski race passes very close to their location and we want to avoid damage when plowing for the route occurs. Our point of contact with Vail Resorts, Mark Voegeli, is cc’ed here to keep him in the loop.

***I’d like to strongly encourage anyone on this email list who has an interest in and aptitude for fractured rock characterization to contact me at their earliest convenience, as the PLM7/8 system is well suited to more detailed hydrological investigations. Let’s talk!

(c) We moved across the East River to well #PLM8 and cored from 0-71 feet, with this location designed to compared aspect controls (N-NE facing vs. S-SW facing) on shale weathering. Recovery over the upper 10-feet was rather poor, so a second shallow hole was used to collect a combination of Shelby tube and split spoon samples. In general, the saprolite / weathering zone here seems just a little shallower than at PLM7 transitioning to what appears to be unweathered bedrock at a depth of 11-feet (3.35-m). In contrast, the weathering zone samples are extremely clay rich likely accounting for the poor core recovery. The unweathered shale bedrock is extremely competent over the entire 11-71 foot interval with very few of the conductive fractures observed at PLM7. Indeed, the fracture water holding capacity of the shale unit at PLM8 appears much less than the upper 200-210 feet of shale at PLM7. This is perhaps not unexpected, given that PLM8 is located down-section stratigraphically from PLM7 (and PLM6) and clearly represents a different shale member and/or facies type.

A 3” well was put in place to allow for geophysical wireline logging from 0-71-feet, and an offset, shallow piezometer from 4.5-9.5 feet was installed to monitor and sample the saprolite / weathering zone.

A virtual site visit of the PLM8 drilling site can be found here.

A photo of this location is attached with the view across the river showing the location of the existing PLM transect, with PLM8 being a deeper clone of our toe slope well PLM6 on the opposite bank.

(d) Three alluvial aquifer wells (2” ID) were installed along the Pumphouse Meander A to D transect. All three wells encountered weathered shale bedrock at a consistent depth of ~15-feet. These wells are being used by Amanda DelVecchia (NC State) for quantification of subsurface carbon flows between trophic levels including stoneflies that assimilate carbon from subsurface methanogens.

(e) Well #GUM1 (Gothic Upper Montane-1) was completed such that it is now fully cased with 3” screen to ground surface. We had lost 120-ft of casing in the hole last year and were not able to fish it out and add an additional 40-ft of screen due to bad weather and a need to halt drilling for the year. This well located on RMBL property is now completed and a protective metal well head was placed over it.

(f) A protective metal well head was added to well #GLS1 (Gothic Lower Subalpine), which is the 3” well successfully installed last year at the fishing bridge upstream of Gothic.

A big thanks to Authentic Drilling for an extremely successful outing this year. Our 3+ week advance start to drilling as compared to last year really made a difference.

August 14 – Virtual Site Visit and “Meet the Scientist”


I’m very excited to announce the recent hiring of Prof. Benjamin Blonder by UC Berkeley!

Ben will be joining the Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, which will afford an opportunity for even closer collaboration with Berkeley Lab and its network of investigators given his newfound proximity.  Ben’s ongoing work on ploidy level-environment interactions to predict mortality and recruitment in quaking aspen is making use of the NEON hyperspectral dataset and linking it to an extensive network of aspen study sites across the watershed.  This work has established some strong areas of collaboration with key members of our SFA team including Dana Chadwick, Kate Maher, and Nicola Falco.  Ben has agreed to present this work as part of an upcoming Watershed Science Community Call likely this November.  Welcome Ben!


Meet the Scientist:  As part of his recently funded NSF “Rules of Life” proposal, Prof. Pete Raymond (Yale Univ.) is visiting the East River watershed tied to stream sampling of riverine biogeochemical properties along an extended transect of the Gunnison River from upstream of Gothic all the way down to Grand Junction.  As part of his visit, I took the opportunity to film a short “Meet the Scientist” video to allow Pete to introduce himself to those of you who don’t already know him or his work.  It’s really exciting to be able to integrate this NSF-funded work with SFA project, data, and infrastructure (e.g. stream gages, long-term geochemical data, etc.) especially as it serves as a critical first step in scaling riverine processes to the greater Gunnison Basin.  Welcome Pete!

Virtual Site Visit:  Given the importance of the early snowmelt manipulation work as it pertains to carbon and water fluxes, I wanted to provide a “virtual site visit” to (re)introduce the Science Community to Amanda Henderson and Chelsea Wilmer who have been working *tirelessly* this summer to collect plot level flux data to examine the impacts of early snowmelt on plant phenology.  While a little longer than our typical “site visits”, I think this video is particularly useful in presenting the plot level work and the methodological approach being used to quantify the impacts of early snowmelt on evapotranspiration and carbon fluxes.  I encourage everyone to take a look.

I also want to extend my best wishes to Chelsea Wilmer (seen in the attached photo overlooking the Pumphouse snowmelt plots) who will be heading to Ft. Collins to pursue graduate studies at Colorado State University this Fall under the direction of Prof. Stephanie Kampf.  Chelsea will still be very much engaged in East River work, and I want to wish her well in this next phase of her life.  Good luck Chelsea!

July 24 – Virtual Site Visit

With the onset of warm weather, field work activities in the watershed have really ramped up over the past month.  Both Berkeley Lab staff and our DOE-funded University and USGS cohort have been working at multiple sites to quantify the consequences of early snowmelt on ET tied to the manipulation experiments, install sap flow sensors on multiple tree species at multiple sites, examine shale bedrock properties, measure stream discharge and build new rating curves, and much, much more.  Additionally, members of the SLAC “Groundwater Quality” SFA — led by PI John Bargar — have greatly ramped up their research footprint in the Slate River valley.  We look forward to hearing an update from John this fall on their research progress.

Stream flows are now sufficiently low as to make wading and working within the stream corridor safe.  That said, workers crossing and working in streams are reminded to exercise care and to wear appropriate gear, such as waders, wading boots, and hiking pole(s).  A virtual site visit can be found here of my recent trip to the large, off-channel wetland complex upstream of the Pumphouse.  This site has been an important testbed for the DOE-funded research project led by Marty Briggs (USGS) and his co-investigators Fred Day-Lewis (USGS) and Lee Slater (Rutgers Univ.).  Marty will update us on this work during next week’s call.

Road access to Schofield Pass from Gothic via Emerald Lake is still not possible given persistence of the snow plug.  Access to the Paradise Divide and our alpine study site on Cinnamon Mountain is possible, however, lingering snow in the Paradise Basin and the approach to Schofield Pass from the north is still preventing vehicular travel at last report.  Below are two beautiful shots of Paradise Basin and the mineralized faces of Mt. Baldy and Cinnamon Mountain courtesy of Rosemary Carroll (DRI).

Wildflower season is at or near peak at many locations within the watershed.  For those who have recently been at East River or will be soon, it’s a glorious time to be working at the site.
With the flowers come the arrival of the nuisance flies, which aren’t a problem if you’re actively moving or it’s windy.  If it’s calm or you’re working in one place, I recommend lightweight, long-sleeve shirts and pants and possibly face netting.  We have had one instance in the past where bites from these flies triggered an allergic reaction, so definitely be mindful of their potential impact while you’re working.

The US Forest Service (USFS) has released a vegetation management plan for the Taylor River Basin that may be of considerable interest to members of our Science Community.  The plan can be found here and it may represent a strategic opportunity for catchment scientists on our extended team to investigate the impacts of forest management practices on flows of water and nutrients.  Interested individuals should feel free to reach out to me and I’m happy to help make arrangements to speak with USFS staff in person or remotely.  This could be a strategically important opportunity given our team’s current expansion into the Taylor River Basin tied to the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory data being collected there, as well as work led by David Gochis (NCAR) that he will describe during next Tuesday’s call.

Working with the USGS Colorado Water Science Center, we have submitted the Gunnison River Basin as one of four HUC-4 basins that headwater in the state as possible candidates for the next USGS Next-Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS).  The other candidate basins include the Colorado River main stem, the San Juan, and the upper Rio Grande.  The NGWOS program is designed to “provide high-fidelity, real-time data on water quantity and quality necessary to support modern water prediction and decision support systems for water emergencies and daily water operations” with the first NGWOS basin being the Delaware River. Should one of the Colorado basins be chosen, it would represent an excellent opportunity for further engagement between our Science Community, the two DOE SFA programs, and our University colleagues to participate in an important USGS-led national effort.  I will keep this group updated on the selection process as it proceeds.

Vehicular access to Snodgrass Mountain is currently not allowed.  RMBL is currently sorting out land ownership and access issues for the road used for servicing the RMBL weather station at the top of the mountain.  While this road has been used by our group in the past to ferry heavy equipment and would be needed for any future drilling activities in 2020 and beyond, no vehicular access is allowed until further notice.  Per my last message to the group, all Snodgrass research plans and activities must be clearly communicated with ample notice to Jennie Reithel (RMBL) and myself.

Restrictions are now in place for the Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) parking lot at their maintenance & operations building.  This lot is where our team parks, stages, and drives through en route to the Pumphouse site.  Outside of normal business hours for CBMR, which run 7 days a week, a locked red gate may now block vehicular access to Pumphouse.  Tied to our Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with CBMR, I do have the gate code and will provide it to those staff working at the Pumphouse site outside of normal business hours.  Please contact me in advance if there’s a likely need to work at times when the gate may be locked.  Note that with the recent purchase of CBMR by Vail Resorts, I am currently renewing the MOA and will plan to leave hard copies of it at the SFA Red Lady House for personnel to keep in their vehicles when accessing the site.  We’ve not had any issues to date, and I’d like to keep it that way given the importance of CBMR as a local stakeholder.

July 8 – Virtual Site Visit

Field work activities have started to ramp up considerably within the watershed having been delayed by a cool, wet spring and persistent high elevation snow. The rivers in the greater East River watershed continue to run very high and cold and “in stream” work is still considered extremely hazardous and should be avoided for at least another couple of weeks.

To get a sense of the current river conditions at the Pumphouse and specifically “Meander A” you’ll find a July 1st Virtual Site Visit here:

Recent emails to the group and the last Science Community call highlighted the significant avalanche activity this winter / spring in the Elk Mountains. While some of you have now personally seen the outcome of such slides in the vicinity of Gothic and the Judd Falls trailhead, I wanted to share a drone video of debris associated with a truly massive avalanche on the north-facing side of the Elk Mountains in the Conundrum Creek drainage. For those with an interest in avalanches and forest (re)structuring, this video really highlights the connection between the two. It also presents the value of forward-thinking engineering design in avalanche country. Very impressive.

For our long-standing Rifle community members, I wanted to pass along a recent story in the New York Times that highlights some of the recent work of Prof. Derek Lovley’s lab. It’s quite well done and it’s great to see that work highlighted nationally. Derek and his partners from Innosense, LLC are currently engaged at East River tied to a DOE SBIR project developing novel biosensors, so the NYTimes piece is both timely and a nice way to remind the Science Community of his ongoing role in the watershed.

Lastly, I wanted to send a reminder about the critical importance of running field experimental plans through both Jennie Reithel the RMBL Science Director, and myself well in advance of undertaking them. While we’ve generally done a good job with this, it’s imperative to remember that should your planned field dates shift, you need to notify Jennie (and myself) of this shift, as it may impact other field projects or overlap with periods of time in the East River that are heavily impacted by tourists etc. This is especially true this year, as persistent snow in the high country is consolidating visitors to a handful of lower elevation sites, such as Snodgrass. Our Science Community is part of a much bigger community of East River stakeholders — including local citizens and visitors — and we need to be cognizant of how our activities are perceived beyond just our immediate team. Jennie is a critical component for ensuring we present the best version of ourselves as scientists to this broader community, so again please do run all planned field activities through her in advance and notify her of dates changes in your plans should they occur.

May 2019 – Updates, virtual site visits, and more

As it’s been some time since my last email update with news, updates, and safety reminders, I wanted to get a condensed version out as we move into the busy field season.

  • Following what was a big snow year for Colorado and Crested Butte, we’ve had a relatively cold and wet May that has suppressed melt and runoff.  From a water perspective, this is very good news, with the exception of runoff forecasting, which has been hampered by the unseasonably cool weather.  From a field access perspective, however, it’s proving to be challenging.  We anticipate that the County Road out to Gothic will be open soon, although vehicular access won’t be possible past RMBL for the foreseeable future.  Those with field sites upstream of Gothic will need to be prepared to hike, ski, snowshoe, as warranted.
  • We successfully completed the first Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) flight of the year during the so-called “Peak Snow Water Equivalent” period in early April.  For those who haven’t yet enjoyed the opportunity to dig snow pits tied to these ASO overflights, I wanted to provide two short “virtual site visits” depicting both pit digging and snow sampling.  I hope you enjoy and can envision yourselves helping out next year!  A second ASO flight is being used to evaluate regions of preferential snow retention within the Ohio Creek-East River-Taylor River study area; it’s planned for this Sunday-Monday (weather allowing).
  • Snow conditions at the higher elevations are still quite deep for this time of year.  Indeed, for those with field sites at higher elevations, access will be challenging for quite a while to come. Courtesy of Wendy and Tony Brown, photos of current conditions at the Lower Subalpine and Upper Subalpine field sites along the Washington Gulch elevation gradient will give you a virtual sense of what can be expected if you’re planning to head up soon.  For those on Kate Maher’s (Stanford) team, it might be worth looking at those from the Upper Subalpine site, as that’s the approach area for your Rock Creek study area.
  • Snow conditions at the two SNOTEL stations (Butte and Schofield) tell a similar story.  Below is a very nice figure prepared by Rosemary Carroll that depicts a variety of recent snow years for comparison with 2019 along with corresponding river discharge for the East River at Almont.  The aforementioned cool, wet weather in May has suppressed runoff of late; however, a lot of snow-bound water remains, and if we get a sustained warm up period, this melt could make for some very abrupt increases in discharge and flooding / over-banking along the river bottoms.
  • Related to these large increases in discharge, please use EXTREME caution when working along the river corridor.  Indeed, unless absolutely essential and your training permits working within the river during the rising and falling limbs of the hydrograph, please stay out of the rivers at this time.  Given her depth of knowledge and involvement with the stream gauging network, please reach out to Rosemary Carroll ( should you have specific questions about river conditions and whether access is (un)safe.
  • In April, we had an exciting field deployment of a novel electrochemical monitoring system performed as part of DOE’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program.  The project, led by Dr. Don Nuzzio, is described more fully in this new “Meet the Scientist” video.  In brief, it uses a submerged electrode system to electrochemically quantify a variety of aqueous metals and compounds in various streams within the watershed.
  • Field teams from the SLAC SFA led by John Bargar are currently in the field.  Additionally, various members of our collaborating groups from Stanford, UMASS, Univ. Illinois – Chicago, and elsewhere are arriving daily and starting up the field work season.  Stay safe, warm, and dry out there folks!
  • With the incredible help of Chelsea Wilmer, Amanda Henderson, and Tony Brown, we’ve had tremendous success this year with the early snowmelt manipulation experiments.  Snowmelt tarps have been removed at both the Lower and Upper Montane sites with significant advancement of the first snow-free day at both locations.  The tarps are still deployed at the Lower Subalpine site with roughly 40-50 cm of snow still remaining underneath the tarped areas; un-tarped control areas have 100 cm remaining.  Tarps have yet to be deployed at the Upper Subalpine site given >240 cm of snow still remaining at that elevation.
  • As food for thought, I wanted to share a well-produced, short video describing ranching-related research activities pursued by the Archbold Biological Station (Florida) at their Buck Island Ranch   Along with my fellow RMBL Board members, I had the opportunity to visit Buck Island recently and I couldn’t have been more inspired by their studies investigating the many positive benefits of well managed land use on both hydrologic and biogeochemical processes.  Given the strong legacy of ranching and irrigated agriculture in the East River and Ohio Creek drainages, the Buck Island model might potentially represent an interesting one with which to engage local ranchers in our watershed.  For those with an interest in such topics or with faculty friends working in this space, I might suggest reaching out to myself and Ian Billick (, Executive Director of RMBL.
  • Lastly, I wanted to share a photo forwarded to me yesterday by Rosemary that highlights the beauty of the site this time of year.  It was taken by Connor Scalbom, who is doing some amazing photographic work in the valley.

October 2018 – Quick update and hunting season reminder

I wanted to send along a short “virtual site visit” presenting the recent (and ongoing) shale drilling activity at East River. This visit will find you on the Pumphouse lower montane hillslope as we core a 70m deep borehole designed to capture hydrogeochemical processes much deeper than we’ve done so to date.

In general the coring has gone well, however, the weather gods have not been cooperative, as conditions along the steep access road have been challenging. We paused drilling for safety reasons tied to the recent ~30cm of snowfall, and we will be resuming coring at two locations close to Gothic designed to collect samples from regions of the Mancos shale more heavily altered by igneous intrusives. A final update will follow once we finish up that work toward the end of this coming week.

During the drilling activity, we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Lee Liberty of Boise State University to the watershed. Lee is a newly funded DOE University PI, and he and his team are collecting seismic reflection data along many of the roads within our study area using a novel tow-along seismic streamer. We look forward to having Lee update us on his project and findings during a future Watershed Science Community call.

Important Health and Safety Reminders

The first rifle hunting season starts today Saturday Oct. 13 and runs through Oct. 17th; the second rifle season is Oct. 20-28. Please wear an orange vest, hat or jacket for visibility and safety. Like other personal protective equipment, the costs of these vests, hats, etc. are reimbursable. Please stop by the local hardware store, Walmart, or sporting goods store to purchase these supplies if you will be in the field during hunting season.

Related to this, I wanted to emphasize the importance of suitable field gear. We recently had an incident where one of our employees fell while trying to cross the East River near the Rustlers Gulch access point. As many know, this crossing has become challenging over the past year due to a large beaver dam immediately downstream of the crossing. Multiple cars have flooded their engines trying to cross earlier in the year, as the water line was above the engine air intake. As a result, many folks are crossing the river by foot upstream using logs and rocks to avoid getting their feet a bit wet. Such crossings can be challenging — the proverbial falling off a log. For safety reasons, such crossings should be made using appropriate footwear, such as hip boots, waders or water shoes, in order to minimize risk associated with walking the tightrope so to speak. Please don’t risk an injury just trying to keep your toes dry. As with the orange vests and hats, the costs for proper field footwear are reimbursable expenses.

September 2018 updates

We have several upcoming items that are worthy of special mention, as they’re broadly relevant to our group and the larger community of RMBL researchers and our growing community of interagency (DOE, USGS, NSF, USFS, NOAA, NASA, etc.) partners. Details and points of contact below.

NASA JPL Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO):

The NASA JPL ASO team conducted their snow-free survey of the Upper Gunnison domain last week, including essentially all of the terrain above the Ohio Creek/Gunnison River confluence. These data will enable retrospective snow depth and SWE mapping from the April 1 and May 24, 2018 flights this past spring, and set the stage for near-real time snow mapping in winter and spring 2019. This is a huge deal and incredibly important as we engage our collaborators with NCAR and NOAA on further developing a snow-focused computational testbed in the upper Gunnison.

Recall that this activity has been made possible through the vigorous engagement of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District (thank you Frank and John) and with funding from the State of Colorado and champions at the Colorado Water Conservation Board (thank you Joe).

Also a reminder that this work is critically important to two of the three newly funded DOE SBR University snow science proposals at East River: Jeff Deems (CU) and McKenzie Skiles (Univ. Utah). So great news that this snow free-baseline dataset is now in hand.

NASA SnowEx:

I am excited to announce that the NASA SnowEx campaign will be active in the broader East River / Watershed Function SFA domain this winter and spring (2018/19). NASA SnowEx is coupled multi-year remote sensing and field experiment to develop and refine techniques for mapping terrestrial snow cover around the globe to address important water resources, water cycle, and climate feedback challenges. In 2017, SnowEx conducted intensive, month-long campaigns on Grand Mesa and in Senator Beck Basin in western Colorado. In 2019, SnowEx will leverage ongoing and planned observation activities around the western US to collect time series data of snowpack evolution throughout the accumulation and melt seasons in a diversity of snow climates at sites in CA, ID, UT, CO, and NM.

In the East River domain specifically, the SnowEx campaign will build on planned ASO flights (funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board) and the aforementioned recently-funded DOE snow observation and modeling projects (see above; Deems, Skiles, Alejandro Flores [Boise State] PIs) and NSF (Raleigh [CU]), with the broader Watershed SFA activities adding valuable synergies. Additional ASO winter flights are being planned, as well as twice-monthly UAVSAR (L-band interferometer) overflights. These airborne acquisitions will be supported by regular ground observations and periodic extensive field campaigns to sample gradients in snow properties and processes.

At the risk of underselling this — this is a huge deal. Please contact Jeff Deems ( with any questions!

Upcoming drilling activities:

Building upon our very successful drilling projects with USGS in Redwell Basin, we are planning to drill a collection of deep shale wells starting in early October to provide ground-truthing for both surface and airborne geophysical data collection. Drilling of four monitoring boreholes (40-70m deep) will occur to (a) recover shale bedrock for geochemical analysis and (b) provide long term sampling ports for evaluating seasonal changes in groundwater elevation and chemistry.

Equally as important to geological constraints, we’re pursuing a drilling campaign that folds in other extant RMBL researchers from the perspective of biogeochemistry.

As an NC State postdoc, Amanda DelVecchia ( — in order to study geologic methane contributions to contemporary food webs — will be installing five 2″ diameter, 2 mm slotted PVC wells to bedrock on the lower East River (our “Pumphouse” location) using a Geoprobe this October. As part of this work, Amanda will be collecting methane samples from these wells and others for submission to collaborator Dr. Daniel Stolper (UC Berkeley) for analysis of clumped isotopologues.

So we have a busy October in front of us insofar as drilling is concerned!

Lastly — and this is purely for the geology and geocentric folks on this list — I wanted to provide a link to a remarkable document. It fleshes out Ferdinand Hayden’s original geologic surveys for the state of Colorado including the East River watershed from the late 1800’s.

Building upon the shoulders of giants is what we do — and with Hayden laying the geologic framework for Yellowstone, I’d say he qualifies — I’m including the link below.

This is so well done and with a focus on the East River and its environs from the late 1800’s, it’s hard to overvalue it.

August 2018 – Field update and new “Meet the Scientist” videos

(A) We successfully completed the drilling of the second deep well (150-ft below grade) in Redwell Basin. As noted previously, we encountered artesian flow at 150-ft, which brought an end to further downward progress. Prior to open hole geophysical logging and well completion, Mike Wilkins (Colorado State Univ.), joined me to collect a “deep microbiome” filtered sample for metagenomics analysis. We were able to serially filter (1.2, 0.2, 0.1-um) ca. 26-L of groundwater from the artesian flow zone at 150-feet within a metal sulfide-rich portion of the formation. These filters are currently stored at -80C in Gothic and will be sent to Jill Banfield (UC Berkeley) once preparations are made. Mike and I discussed the possibility for temporal omic-sampling from this depth if completion strategies being pursued this week result in sampling infrastructure that will allow for it. Fingers crossed for that.

(B) We’ve had an extremely active two weeks of field work. In the field have been teams led by Audrey Sawyer (Ohio State) and Mike Wilkins (CSU) working at Pumphouse on hyporheic zone biogeochemistry, Marty Briggs (USGS) et al. investigating a diversity of surface water-groundwater interaction zones using UAV imaging and fluorescence tracer injections, and John Bargar (SLAC) whose SLAC SFA team continues to probe heavy metal accumulation in floodplain sediments and redox-mediated processes impacting its fate along the Slate River / Oh-Be-Joyful confluence zone.

(C) While I’ve previously introduced John and his project to the team, I did want to introduce folks to the work of Audrey and Mike at Pumphouse and Marty et al. at Oh-Be-Joyful (and beyond). These “Meet the Scientist” videos run their usual ca. 3-min length, and I hope you’ll take the chance to watch them to find out what your East River collaborators are up to of late.

(D) Lastly — and as I say hopefully without irony — it’s all over but for the crying at Old Rifle. While I still maintain a small but active research footprint there examining uranium remediation via hydroxyapatite formation, we’ve reached a critical inflection point for that site. The attached photos tell the story, and for that group of dedicated “Old Rifle” readers, you might better find a box of tissue. I can safely say that Old Rifle made my career and that of so many others on and off this email list. We created what is without question the world’s foremost subsurface microbial observatory and we — especially DOE-SC and DOE-LM — should be rightfully proud. To plagiarize from Friday Night Lights: “Rifle forever.”