Berkeley Lab

July 2018 Redwell Basin site visit/update

Below is a virtual site visit from this past Thursday at our lower elevation drilling location in Redwell Basin:

Drilling has gone quite well, with ore mineralization very abundant. Indeed, cores recovered from a highly fractured / faulted location at depth show massive metal sulfide mineralization even given the considerable distance from the felsite intrusion. As with the higher elevation site (MW1) drilled last September, Andy Manning and Lyndsay Ball of the USGS are leading the scientific charge. For those unfamiliar, a previously-shared “Meet the Scientist” video presenting their research program in the Redwell Basin is below.

While we had hoped to achieve a total depth exceeding 300-ft, artesian flow upon reaching a high permeability zone at ca. 145-150-ft below grade has necessitated a halt to drilling. Andy and Lyndsay are working today to devise a strategy for isolating this high permeability / artesian zone such that it can be sampled and monitored in the future. Shallower, nested sampling ports will be installed using the same well completion approach used at MW1. Lastly, a shallow (ca. 15-ft depth) portion of the open hole is unstable and work today is geared towards setting a surface casing to maintain borehole integrity for the next week or so as a suite of open hole geophysical logging measurements are collected.

Once completed, the rig will move back uphill to the MW1 location and drill a shallow (ca. 30-ft) vadose zone / capillary fringe monitoring borehole that will enable our team to examine hydrogeochemical processes in this dynamic region. Conversations between Andy Manning and recently funded PI Danielle Rempe (Univ. Texas) at the 2018 DOE ESS PI Meeting inspired this new monitoring hole thus highlighting the great value in that meeting for catalyzing new and novel research plans.

Here in the Elk Mountains of Colorado it continues to be very warm with summer rainstorms beginning to some degree but as of yet not providing much relief for drought-stressed conditions. Soils are incredibly dry throughout the East River area and stream flows are getting very low with high water temperatures. A challenging summer for the plants and critters, I’m afraid.

Summer 2018 update and “Meet the Scientist: Kate Maher (Stanford)”

New DOE University projects at East River announced
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recently announced funding awards for six new university investigators working with Berkeley Lab and its myriad collaborators in the East River / Upper Gunnison. While some of these individuals have been or are currently working with us — some having previously presented to this group — others are new to the watershed and the project. We congratulate and welcome the contributions of the new scientists!

  • Jeff Deems (CU Boulder) will utilize multi-scale, seasonal snowpack observations and modeling to more accurately account for water and solute storage and fluxes within the upper Gunnison basin.
  • McKenzie Skiles (Univ. Utah) and Co-PI’s Janice Brahney (Utah State Univ.) and David Gochis (NCAR) will better constrain our physical understanding of aerosol loading, biogeochemistry, and snowmelt hydrology from hillslope to watershed scale within the East River watershed and its surrounding drainages.
    • Both projects will rely heavily on data collected by NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory and funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  • Alejandro (Lejo) Flores (Boise State Univ.) and Co-PIs Rosemary Carroll (Desert Research Institute) and Haruko Wainwright (LBNL) will be working to advance our ability to accurately predict the spatiotemporal distribution of snow cover and water content across multiple scales by combining land-atmosphere models with operational, multi-satellite remote sensing data.
  • Max Berkelhammer (Univ. Illinois, Chicago) and Co-PI Chris Still (Oregon State Univ.) will be installing a network of sapflow sensors and automated dendrometers that will be coupled with stable water isotope measurements to study subsurface hydrologic and physiological controls on transpiration across the East River watershed.
  • Marco Keiluweit (Univ. Massachusetts) will be investigating the impact of plant root-mediated organic matter mobilization on soil carbon loss and nutrient export in mountainous watersheds, with a focus on the East River.
  • Lee Liberty (Boise State Univ.) will be working with Berkeley Lab collaborators to utilize scale-dependent seismic imaging to estimate regolith, rock and fluid distributions in association with upcoming and planned drilling activities in the greater East River watershed.

A quick note to new scientists engaging in field work at East River: Prior to undertaking field research (i.e., ground-based work), please reach out to Dr. Jennie Reithel (, the Science Director at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL). Jennie is the primary point of contact for facilitating research activities within the greater watershed to ensure seamless integration with other RMBL scientists. She and I will work closely to ensure that your work is integrated into the existing Special Use Permits issued to RMBL and Berkeley Lab by the U.S. Forest Service.

Upcoming drilling in the Redwell Basin
Drilling of the lower elevation monitoring well (MW2) will begin the week of July 16th, 2018. This work will involve continuous coring to a depth of ca. 300-350 feet with an expectation of collecting samples from both the Cretaceous Mesa Verde formation and the underlying Mancos Shale. As with last year’s drilling at well MW1, this work will include downhole packer testing for vertically resolved estimates of hydraulic conductivity, open hole borehole geophysical logging, and multi-depth completions for sampling groundwater at discrete depths. For those who will be in the watershed during that week and have an interest in observing the activity, please correspond with myself and/or the USGS leads: Andy Manning ( and Lyndsay Ball (

The impacts of the low snowpack year and very dry late spring / summer are especially evident up in the Redwell Basin. The below photo looking toward the new MW2 drilling site (center of the photo) illustrates just how little snowmelt and groundwater discharge we’re seeing this year as compared to most ‘average’ years.

Speaking of MW1, below are two virtual site visits of that location assessing the impact of a large avalanche that cut loose in the Redwell Basin this past winter.

June 21, 2018

July 2, 2018

NEON Airborne Observation Platform and “Meet the Scientist: Kate Maher”
Kate will be providing a more detailed update on the work and next steps as part of the July 17th Watershed Science Community Call. That said, a virtual site visit of some ground-based sampling is in order, as is a related “Meet the Scientist” video featuring Dr. Kate Maher.

NEON sampling

Meet the Scientist: Kate Maher

April 2018 – Spring Update

JPL/NASA Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO)

With generous financial support from the State of Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), as well as critical guidance and input from Frank Kugel and John McClow of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, the first of two “snow-on” ASO overflights of the East River, Taylor River, and Ohio Creek watersheds has been completed.  The first flight was designed to coincide with so-called “peak snow water equivalent (SWE)” and took place over the last 2 days of March and first of April.  Concomitant with this overflight, 18 snow pits were dug in order to have direct confirmation of snow depth and SWE at locations throughout the area of investigation.  Both the flight lines (red, white, pink paths) and snow pits (bullseye circles) are included in the attached / embedded figure.

Special thanks to the team of snow samplers who worked to both coordinate and execute the sampling: Rosemary Carroll, Wendy Brown, Tony Brown, Jeff Deems, Anna Ryken, and Mike Morse. Without their help, it would have been impossible to have collected the 18(!!) pits covering an area of many hundreds of square kilometers over an elevation range from ca. 8,700-ft to 12,000-ft.

In particular, Dr. Jeff Deems (CU-Boulder) — a key member of the JPL/NASA ASO team and an incredible scientific resource for our extended Watershed SFA Team — was instrumental in coordinating and scheduling the ASO overflight, ensuring the best quality data that weather conditions would allow, as well as personally assisting with digging snow pits, which as many know is something of a “Deems speciality”.  Again, without Jeff’s help in executing this work, we’d have struggled to be as productive as we were as regards ASO at East River both on this flight and those in the future.

Additionally, Jeff has provided some preliminary images of snow depths associated with the boundaries of the 2016 ASO overflight.  As a reminder, snow depths are calculated via difference in LiDAR derived surface elevations measured between “snow on” and “snow free” overflights.  The Watershed SFA had already collected high-resolution “snow free” LiDAR data over a limited area, which allowed for a single “snow on” ASO flight in 2016 to determine snow depths within the East River main stem and WA Gulch drainages.  In contrast, we do not yet have high-resolution LiDAR data collected over the much larger area of investigation associated with the East River-Taylor River-Ohio Creek system.  This data — again through generous support from the state of Colorado — will be collected in September 2018, so we will have to wait until then for the larger spatial scale maps of snow depth and SWE once that “snow free” dataset is collected.

In the interim, Jeff has produced a map of the 2018 snow depths measured two weeks ago within the East River main stem and WA Gulch drainages along with the companion map for 2016.  Those images are below.  Toggling between the two shows quite clearly the differences between snow conditions in 2016 (average year) and 2018 (low snowpack year).  The open circle symbols on the 2018 map correspond to the snow pits that were dug in association with the overflight.

A second “snow on” ASO flight is planned for mid-May of this year to assess late season snow retention as a function of both elevation and landscape position.  The ability to have two time points that track the falling limb of SWE is especially exciting as it should really assist with coupling this year’s datasets to improved runoff forecast modeling approaches — although we’ll have to rely on backcast modeling this year due to the need to collect the requisite “snow free” datum in September once runoff is already completed.

Early snowmelt manipulation experiments

As most are aware, this year was our first season of experimentally manipulating snow pack along an elevation gradient to induce early snowmelt relative to adjoining control plots.  The video below provides a better visual depiction of what the manipulation experiments look like at our Pumphouse hillslope intensive study site (lower montane); similar manipulations are occurring at our upper montane, lower subalpine, and upper subalpine sites.  A suite of ground-based measurements are currently underway to examine the consequences of early melt on flows of water and nutrients within the plots, as well as the consequences for subsurface microbial activity and plant phenological behavior.  Airborne characterization approaches are also planned, with the first round of UAV-based measurements over the manipulated and control plots planned for next week.

Pat Sorenson (LBNL) has been providing daily reports of the snow melt progression, as he’s been actively sampling for the past week-plus and will continue to do so over the next week. Pat will have an opportunity to brief this group once the dust has settled — or rather once the snow has melted — next month during our next Science Community Call.  Briefly, Pat has been noting that although the snow pack continues to consolidate, settle and melt, the soils have remained quite dry and largely frozen except for the shallowest depths.  He notes that the soils are very dry to a depth of ca. 30-cm, with the persistent frozen soil layers likely inhibiting infiltration.  These frozen layers were likely more extensive this season due to the late arrival of snow and its insulating effect.  So we’re actually getting something of a two-for-one this year, given (a) low seasonal snowpack and (b) late arriving snow, which has led to a deeper frozen soil profile than typical.  Combined with the early snowmelt manipulations along the elevation gradient, the project will soon have an incredibly rich experimental dataset to examine for the next year until we do it all again.  Very exciting and again more updates to follow.

NEON Airborne Observation Platform (AOP) planning

As everyone on this list has been briefed on plans for the NEON AOP overflights and been solicited for their interest and involvement, I won’t belabor this update,  Rather, I just want to note the hard work of Dana Chadwick, Nicola Falco and Haruko Wainwright in pushing forward with all the details regarding the sampling plan and coordinating with NEON on all of the flight details.  Due to aircraft availability issues on NEON’s end, we’re now locked into the last two weeks of June, with a focus on the last week for performing the overflights.  We’d originally hoped to have the first week of July available, but as noted, the aircraft simply isn’t available.  Given the low snowpack and presumed early natural melt, we feel that for the lower elevations (lower and upper montane) the last week of June should work well insofar as meadow peak or near peak greenness is concerned.  Of course, we’re dealing with a natural system here — heavy, high elevation snow warnings are again in effect for tonight and tomorrow — so we’ll just need to wait and see what June brings us in terms of a slightly advanced growing season and its ability to coincide with NEON’s timetable.

December 2017 – Pumphouse conditions and “Meet the scientist”: John Bargar (SLAC)

It’s been an interesting start to the snow season, with several large, early season storms that brought worry and challenge to our drilling operations at 11,500-ft in the Redwell Basin and the airborne geophysical surveys whetting our appetites for a white November. Since that time, however, we’ve had little in the way of significant snow accumulation at East River, and while it’s generally been warm in November and early December, we’ve recently experienced a very chilly albeit sunny cold snap. I suspect the frozen soil layer is thickening this year, and it will be very interesting to compare this year with last given the general absence of an insulating snow blanket.

Along these lines, I wanted to provide a virtual site visit of our Pumphouse hillslope location so folks can get a general feel of conditions there this past weekend. A new team member also makes his first appearance so there’s perhaps some motivation to hang in there while watching the video.

Also, I wanted to add our next installment of the “Meet the Scientist” series. With Dr. John Bargar, the lead PI of the SLAC SFA program, having presented a nice update of his team’s activities at East River during our last Science Community call, I thought it worthwhile to include a more “personal” presentation straight from John himself and to provide those who couldn’t join the call with a better understanding of the activities of our ”sister” National Lab SFA within the watershed.

Meet the scientist: Rick Colwell (Oregon State U.) and Laura Lapham (U. Maryland)

This video of our “Meet the Scientist” series highlights the DOE-funded research activities of Rick Colwell (Oregon State) and Laura Lapham (Univ. Maryland). Rick and Laura were at East River this past weekend (photo below), where they installed multiple “osmosamplers” within the watershed including within a 200-ft deep Mancos shale well and within the East River at our Pumphouse location. These samplers rely upon creation of an osmotic potential that induces continuous flow and enables autonomous sampling within locations made inaccessible due to location (deep boreholes) and weather (snow / ice). Learn more about their work and the technology in the video.


November 2017 – Groundwater Discharge Zones of DOE-Funded USGS project to Briggs et al.

Virrtual site tour highlighting one of the groundwater discharge zones into the East River being studied by Marty Briggs (USGS) and his collaborators Fred Day Lewis (USGS) and Lee Slater (Rutgers). With this time of the year dominated by baseflow contributions, the impact of geochemically reduced groundwater hitting oxic surface water is visually pronounced.

October 2017 – Drilling and Cattle: An East River “Day in the Life”

Drilling at our “Upper Elevation” site was completed in advance of a winter storm that hit Crested Butte yesterday allowing the rig to descend safely from the 11,200-ft elevation drill site. Both the coring and vertically resolved hydrologic testing in the well bore were hugely successful thanks to Authentic Drilling and the hard onsite work and advance planning of USGS scientists Andy Manning and Lyndsay Ball (photo attached). Core recovery was excellent, approaching nearly 100% over the entire depth (ca. 270-ft).

As concerns the DOE-funded work by USGS scientists in the Redwell Basin, a link to an interview with Andy and Lyndsay follows.

Lastly, life in the west — and in our watershed specifically — brings us into contact with ranchers and their cattle.  Ranchers are critical members of the Crested Butte / Gunnison community and a group of important stakeholders in the watershed that we engage to develop cattle-friendly research activities and infrastructure.  RMBL serves as a key ally and primary facilitator for engaging the local ranching community, so a reminder to reach out to the RMBL Science Director, Jennie Reithel, and Ken Williams before working in areas where cattle will be present during the summer and fall seasons.

Pumphouse cattle drive:

Meet the Scientist: Andy Manning and Lyndsay Ball:

Redwell Basin drilling:

Upper Elevation site core recovery:

Upper Elevation site hydrologic testing:


October 2017 – East River floodplain and Redwell Basin Drilling

East River floodplain:

N.B. I failed to note in my narration of the floodplain visit the relationship of the presented work with the recently installed water quality monitoring station deployed by Joel Rowland (LANL); Joel’s multi-parameter probe, as described on the last Watershed Function Science Community Call, is located immediately downstream of this video location.

Redwell Basin drilling:

Bonus photo: Headwaters of Oh-Be-Joyful Creek, taken in late September 2017. The creek has a confluence with Redwell Creek emanating from the eponymous basin some miles downstream of this photo.


July 2017 – Redwell Basin conditions and UAV-based imaging campaign

Associated with the recent UAV-based hyperspectral and multi-spectral imaging campaign and accompanying ground-based sampling, below is a video highlighting some of the efforts of Nicola Falco (LBNL) and Dana Chadwick (Stanford) at the Pumphouse lower montane intensive study site:

For those with an interest in the mining and mineral impacted portions of the watershed and specifically upcoming activities by USGS and Berkeley Lab researchers, below are two videos presenting conditions within the Redwell Basin. The first presents more of a synoptic view while the second focuses on an intriguing high-elevation wetland system that likely serves as an important biogeochemical reactor impacting metals export from the basin. The wetland is organic rich, with the obvious presence — visually and by smell — of sulfidic soils and sediments underlying the surface layer. Metal-rich fluids emanating from the former mines and mineralized rock in the basin perfuse much of this wetland system.

The Redwell Basin represents the location of two deep boreholes planned for installation, coring, hydrologic testing, and geophysical logging in September 2017, with ground conditions associated with planned surface geophysical surveys presented in both videos.

June 2017 – Lower montane hillslope and floodplain intensive study sites, and EC Flux tower site conditions

The first video depicts our East River lower montane hillslope and floodplain intensive study sites on June 23, 2017 (N.B. I incorrectly note the date on the video as June 22nd). The video illustrates the extent to which the hillslope has recovered from the September 2016 drilling activity that led to the installation of the wells and sampling locations shown and illustrates the current state of vegetation growth at the site relative to the monitoring locations and infrastructure.

As it’s also worth checking in on site conditions at the EC Flux tower location, the following video was collected so interested folks / PI’s can keep an eye on things.