1970s Shale Hills Watershed Study Finds New Life

May 29, 1998

Boston, Ma. -- A research project completed more than 20 years ago, may become the touchstone for understanding the small-scale hydrology of watersheds, according to a team of Penn State researchers.

"The Shale Hills hydrology experiment is one of the most completely sampled small watershed studies ever conducted," says Dr. Christopher J. Duffy, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "We would like to see this experimental data, and all the information collected there, be put to use."

Numerical models of watersheds and models that forecast runoff and flooding developed today are generally not verified or validated against real data.

"We are proposing that the Shale Hills database becomes a community resource for calibration of runoff models for small watersheds," Duffy told attendees at the spring meeting of the American Geophysical Meeting in Boston, today (May 29).

The original study, funded by the National Science Foundation, was done by Penn State's Forestry group including James A. Lynch, professor, School of Forest Resources; Ed Corbett, retired U.S. Forest Service; and William E. Sopper, professor emeritus of hydrology. The researchers installed a system of measurement devices in the 20-acre watershed in central Pennsylvania, to measure soil moisture, rainfall, groundwater, runoff and streamflow. They also installed an extensive irrigation system that pumped water from the nearby Stone Valley Reservoir.

"With this irrigation system, they could place water anywhere in the 20 acres at will and control the amounts of water," says Duffy.

A new research project, funded by NSF and NASA, will build on the 1970s research. Duffy, Lynch and Joseph P. Cusumano, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, will make the existing data from Shale Hills available on the Internet at http://www.cee.psu.edu/dynsys. They are also working to place the data in a Geographic Information System for easier analysis and access.

"This is not just a recycling of an old project," says Duffy. "We would like to make the Shale Hills site into a classroom so that current students can benefit from the wealth of data available and perhaps solve some of the remaining questions."

One of these questions is the apparent difference in behavior between the south- and north-facing slopes. While both slopes have the same soil classification, the south-facing slope drains much faster than the north. The north-facing slope also stores up to 15 more inches of water than the south, for the same amount of irrigation.

"It is possible that there is a difference in the bedrock surfaces between the north- and south-facing slopes," says Duffy. "It would be a good project for students to investigate."

As part of the new NSF/NASA study, the researchers are also working on their own dynamic model of water transport within the watershed. They will use the existing database to validate and verify their models.


EDITOR: Dr. Duffy is at 814-863-4384 or cjd@ecl.psu.edu by email. Dr. Lynch is at 814-865-8830 or jal@psu.edu by email.

Penn State

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