LTREB: Baltimore Urban Watershed Studies

  • Groffman, Peter (PI)
  • Welty, Claire C. (CoPI)
  • Welty, Claire C. (CoPI)
  • Grove, J. Morgan (CoPI)
  • Duncan, Jonathan (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Urban, suburban, and exurban ecosystems are important and increasing in the U.S. The watershed approach, which allows for the quantification of inputs and outputs of water, nutrients, and other substances in hydrologically defined basins, has been central to ecosystem ecology for the past 50 years, allowing for evaluation of ecosystem structure and function over areas of differing size and land use. This approach has been particularly useful for analysis of the effects of disturbances (e.g., clear cutting of forests) but also for long-term analysis of responses to more subtle aspects of environmental change such hydroclimate variability and atmospheric deposition. In the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), this research team used the watershed approach as a basis for comparing urban ecosystems with the less human-dominated ecosystems that have been more traditionally studied by ecologists and as a platform for iterative cycles of question generation, hypothesis testing, and model development. This research sustains long-term monitoring of forested reference, agricultural reference, and a range of urban and suburban ecosystems in the BES. Such analysis of watershed input-output budgets and trends provides fundamental data on urban hydrology, nitrogen, phosphorus, chloride, pathogens, and contaminants such as metals and pharmaceutical compounds. These studies increase our fundamental understanding of the structure and function of urban ecosystems, how they compare with other ecosystem types, and identification of key factors influencing ecosystem functions and services and the fate and transport of pollutants. This research continues long-term studies that include interactions between watershed-based monitoring, experiments, and modeling that have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of both urban and non-urban ecosystems. The broader impacts of this research include a better understanding of environmental conditions affecting the diverse Baltimore human community, and a partnership with a historically black institution, Coppin State University, to train undergraduates in field and laboratory environmental biology.

This project emphasizes Long Term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) on urban watersheds. The project would continue 20+ years of studies carried out by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) urban Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) project. BES established eight long-term watershed monitoring stations along an urban-rural gradient that capture the integrated influence of the biological, physical, built, and social aspects of urban ecosystem structure on watershed dynamics. Since 1998, continuous data on stream stage and discharge as well as weekly water samples for analyzing nitrate, phosphate, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chloride, sulfate, turbidity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH have been collected for the larger watershed that drains into urban Baltimore and then into Chesapeake Bay. The core data comprise 20+ years of data of continuous streamflow and multiple elements from over 14,000 water samples, a physical archive of collected samples, and long-term plot-scale data that provide mechanistic support for the watershed studies. These biophysical data have been paired with periodic residential household and governance surveys to pool human residents of their views on environmental quality. Funding for the BES LTER studies is ending in September 2021, creating a need for LTREB funding. Three hypotheses that have emerged from the long-term data, which require continued long-term data collection to test, will be addressed in the proposed LTREB Decadal Research Plan. These hypotheses address how interactions between climate, watershed characteristics, and human knowledge, values, and efforts to manage watersheds will affect the flashiness of urban stream hydrology, and the concentrations and exports of nitrogen, phosphorus, salt, and metals over the next 20 years.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/218/31/26


  • National Science Foundation: $249,936.00


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