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USGS NRP Tucson: Sediment Impacts from Disturbed and Undisturbed Lands

Waite Osterkamp

Waite Osterkamp

Research Statement

W. R. Osterkamp, National Research Program, U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), is a geomorphologist at the Desert Laboratory, Tucson, Arizona. He is interested in the factors that govern landscape stability, from hillslopes to bottomlands, and studies the nature and rate of recovery of these surfaces from natural and anthropogenic disturbance, and the role that vegetation plays in this recovery. This information can be used to plan engineering works and to manage riparian settings. Dr. Osterkamp also has investigated hydrologic processes, such as those involved in the origin and development of playa-lake basins in the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, the evolution of armored hillslopes, the geomorphic and hydrologic effects of transmission loss from arid-zone streamflow, and the processes of sediment storage, alluvial-landform development, and re-vegetation that follow catastrophic floods. Dr. Osterkamp holds undergraduate degrees in geology and chemistry from the University of Colorado and the MS and PhD degrees in geology and hydrology from the University of Arizona. He has been Project Chief, Sediment Impacts from Disturbed Lands, since 1980, is a former Research Advisor for the Geomorphology and Sediment Transport Discipline of the National Research Program, and is Adjunct Professor, University of Denver and University of Arizona.

In a broad sense, the principal objective being addressed by the project, Sediment Impacts from Disturbed Lands, is to develop an increased understanding of how landscape disturbance, whether natural or imposed, interacts with processes of climate, hydrology, geomorphology (including sediment transport), and biology to yield observed basin and landform characteristics. This broad-spectrum goal is intended to lead to an ability to manage processes within a drainage basin to minimize adverse effects of disturbance and to permit natural adjustment of the system toward a stable biophysical condition. Two obvious applications of the approach are to develop restoration or rehabilitation plans for degraded watersheds that will yield long-term adjustment among the processes that determine landscape characteristics, and to identify the influence on landscape properties and the ability of the system to re-adjust following natural disturbances, such as fire, catastrophic flood, and debris flow. Regardless of the cause of a disturbance, therefore, an objective is to understand how hydrologic and geomorphic processes can be induced to minimize the undesirable effects of the disturbance and thereby restore optimal use of the water resource.

Current emphases of the project are to investigate the bottomland changes that have occurred in the Snake River Basin of Idaho and Oregon following the late-Pleistocene Bonneville Flood, and to identify how land-use practices, flow depletion, and regulation have affected fluvial processes and habitat along the Platte River, central Nebraska, the Little Colorado River, eastern Colorado, and the Yellow River, northern China. The Snake River study is confounded by recent changes in characteristics of water and sediment discharge due to surface-water and ground-water extractions, severe regulation, and conversion of native vegetation to irrigated crops. A unique attribute of the investigation, however, is that it focuses on channel islands in the Snake River that reflect well the changes in climate, streamflow, and sediment yield during recent millennia. It is anticipated that this information will lead to an increased understanding of how changes imposed on large river systems affect the land and water resources of the drainage basin. The Platte River study, and a smaller-scale study along part of the Little Colorado River in eastern Arizona, are designed to identify the ways in which fluvial processes adjust in response to human-caused changes, principally flow regulation and depletion of surface- and ground-water supplies. Studies in the Yellow River Basin, China, are designed to address highly significant problems related to water shortages, sedimentation along the lower reach of the river, and the effects of catastrophic flooding.

The objectives of the project closely reflect a primary mission of the National Research Program and the Water Resources Discipline within USGS to understand those physical and biotic processes that influence the amounts and dynamics of water and sediment fluxes passing from uplands to channels to storage sites. Because a prime application of investigations within the project is to develop tools that will be effective in stream-corridor restoration and rehabilitation activities (an emerging national concern), it seems that continuing support of studies of the type addressed by this project are of fundamental importance to society.

Collaboration, mostly to provide technical input, with hydrologists within USGS but principally with practitioners at various levels of state and local governments, Chinese officials and colleagues, and consultants, recently has been requested frequently relative to procedures for effecting channel and bottomland rehabilitation. Both implicitly and explicitly, on-going studies along parts of the Snake, Platte, and Little Colorado Rivers are designed to yield information leading to stream-corridor rehabilitation. More narrowly focused studies for the same general purpose include investigations of how erosion-prediction technology can reduce adverse effects of sediment movement following forest fire, how equations describing the movement of bedload in stream channels can be applied more accurately than previously has been the case, and how landscape disturbance and resulting sediment movement due to bioturbation, especially the uprooting of trees, can be addressed to minimize adverse effects. Depending on how receptive Chinese officials may be to the alternatives that are being suggested for remediation of the Yellow River Basin, the impact could vary from insignificant to immense.

The general goal of the project for the next 5 years is to continue studies that will lead to enlightened management techniques for disturbed watersheds and landscapes. More specific goals are (1) to continue the on-going and comprehensive studies of the Snake River Basin, (2) to report results of the investigations by means of a monograph or other suitable publication venue, (3) to continue similar but less ambitious studies for the Platte and Little Colorado River Basins, (4) to develop guidelines for procedures to effect stream-corridor rehabilitation, with emphasis on degraded channels of the arid/semiarid West, and (5) to provide suggestions on how land- and water-use activities in the Yellow River Basin can be modified to alleviate some of the intense hydrologic and sedimentation problems that presently are confronting the people of northern and eastern China. The fourth goal is being pursued with the recognition that presently most rehabilitation/restoration activities are conducted without adequate knowledge of the processes that occur as a result of channel and bottomland alteration or the processes that must be reinstated to renew a stable, adjusted fluvial system. Another emphasis, therefore, will be on basin processes as opposed to site-specific data collection. The fifth goal is being conducted with the recognition that water and sediment problems of the Yellow River Basin are not restricted to biophysical processes but are related to economic and social issues as well; typical approaches of stream-corridor rehabilitation, therefore, may be poorly applicable or not applicable. Results of the Yellow River investigation are being reported in various manners including journals and conference proceedings. An additional product of the collaboration with Chinese colleagues is a planned International Watershed Research Network, which is to be managed by this project. It will be structured similarly to the Vigil Network, a system of small sites and drainage basins where geomorphic, hydrologic, and biological data are collected periodically, and like the Vigil Network (, will contain a database accessible by the internet.

For the National Research Program Project, Sediment Impacts from Disturbed Lands, W. R. Osterkamp has responsibility for all technical activities except data management. Tade Orr, Computer Specialist, maintains computer and similar technological capabilities, assumes a primary role in the storage of data for the project, and manages a World Wide Web site and the data in it that are related to the USGS-sponsored database of the Vigil Network. Barbara Gillespie, Administrative Technician, handles the majority of responsibilities for support personnel, funding details, contracts, and related services.

Selected Publications

Osterkamp, W. R., 1968, Occurrence of ground water in the Judith River Formation, north-Central Montana: U. S. Geological Survey Hydrologic Investigations Atlas HA-308.

Osterkamp. W. R., 1973, Ground-water recharge in the Tucson area, Arizona: U. S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-844-E.

Osterkamp. W. R., 1973, Map showing distribution of recoverable ground water in the Tucson area, Arizona: U. S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-844-F.

Osterkamp. W. R., 1974, Map showing ground-water velocities in the uppermost saturated alluvial deposits of the Tucson area, Arizona: U. S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-844-K .

Osterkamp. W. R., 1976, Variation and causitive factors of sediment yields in the Arkansas River basin, Kansas: Proceedings, Third Federal Inter-Agency Sedimentation Conference, p. I-59 to I-70.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Hedman, E. R., 1977, Variation of width and discharge for natural high-gradient stream channels: Water Resources Research, v. 13, no. 2, p. 256-258.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1978, Gradient, discharge, and particle-size relations of alluvial channels of Kansas, with observations on braiding: American Journal of Science, v. 278, p. 1253-1268.

Osterkamp, W. R., McNellis, J. M., and Jordan, P. R., 1978, Guidelines for the use of structural versus regression analysis in geomorphic studies: U. S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations 78-135, 22 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1979, Invariant power functions as applied to fluvial geomorphology, In: Rhodes, D. D., and Williams, G. P. (eds.), Adjustments of the fluvial system: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., p. 33-54.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Hedman, E. R., 1982, Perennial-streamflow characteristics related to channel geometry and sediment in Missouri River basin: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1242, 37 p.

Hedman, E. R., and Osterkamp, W. R., 1982, Streamflow characteristics related to channel geometry of streams in western United States: U. S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2193, 17 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., Lane, L. J., and Foster, G.R., 1983, An analytical treatment of channel-morphology relations: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1288, 21 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Hupp, C. R., 1984, Geomorphic and vegetative characteristics along three Northern Virginia streams: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 95, p. 1093-1101.

Hupp, C. R., and Osterkamp, W. R., 1985, Bottomland vegetation distribution along Passage Creek, Virginia, in relation to fluvial landforms: Ecology, v. 66, no. 3, p. 670-681.

Osterkamp, W. R., Hupp, C. R., and Blodgett, J. C., 1986, Magnitude and frequency of debris flows, and areas of hazard on Mount Shasta, northern California: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1396-C, 21 p., 1 pl.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Hupp, C. R., 1987, Dating and interpretation of debris flows by geologic and botanical methods at Whitney Creek gorge, Mount Shasta, Califomia, In: Costa, J. E., and Wieczorek, G. F. (eds), Debris flows/avalanches: process, recognition, and mitigation: Geological Society of America Reviews in Engineering Geology, v. 7, p. 157-163.

Hupp, C. R., Osterkamp, W. R., and Thornton, J. L., 1987, Dendrogeomorphic evidence and dating of debris flows on Mount Shasta, northern California: U. S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1396-B, 39 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., Fenton, M. M., Gustavson, T. C., Hadley, R. F., Holliday, V. T., Morrison, R. B., and Toy, T. J., 1987, Great Plains, In: Graf, W. L. (ed.), Geomorphic systems of North America: Geological Society of America, Centennial Special Volume 2, Boulder, Colorado, p. 163-210.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Costa, J. E., 1987, Changes accompanying an extraordinary flood on a sand-bed stream, In: Mayer, L., and Nash, D. (eds.), Catastrophic flooding: Allen & Unwin, Boston, p. 201-224.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Wood, W. W., 1987, Playa-lake basins on the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico: Part I. Hydrologic, geomorphic, and geologic evidence for their development: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 99, p. 215-223.

Wood, W. W., and Osterkamp, W. R., 1987, Playa-lake basins on the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico: Part II. A hydrologic model and mass-balance arguments for their development: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 99, p. 224-230.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1989, Sediment storage and movement on the Southern High Plains of Texas as indicated by beryllium-ten, In: Sediment and the environment: International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication No. 184, p. 173-182.

Osterkamp. W. R., 1990, Seepage weathering and sapping of the Southern High Plains escarpments, Texas and New Mexico, In: Higgins, C. G., and Coates, D. R. (eds.), Groundwater geomorphology; the role of subsurface water in earth-surface processes and landforms: Geological Society of America Special Paper 252, Boulder, Colorado, p. 300-305.

Osterkamp, W. R., Emmett, W. W., and Leopold, L. B., 1991, The Vigil Network: a means of observing landscape change in drainage basins: International Association of Hydrological Sciences Journal, v. 36, no. 3, p. 281-294.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1992, Hydrological research basins and the environment (Book review): Hydrological Sciences Journal, International Association of Hydrological Sciences, v. 37, no. 3.

Osterkamp, W. R., Lane, L. J., and Savard, C. S., 1994, Recharge estimates using a geomorphic/distributed-parameter simulation approach, Amargosa River Basin: Water Resources Bulletin, v. 30, no. 3, p. 493-507.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Toy, T. J., 1994, The healing of disturbed hillslopes by gully gravure: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 106, p. 1233-1241.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1995, River aesthetics--a Janus perspective, In; Skinner, B. J., and Porter, S. C., The Blue Planet: John Wiley & Sons, New York, p. 246-247.

Osterkamp, W. R., Lane, L. J., and Menges, C. M., 1995, Techniques of ground-water recharge estimates in arid/semiarid areas, with examples from Abu Dhabi: Journal of Arid Environments, v. 31, p. 349-369.

Osterkamp, W. R., Hupp, C. R., and Schening, M. R., 1995, Little River revisited -- thirty-five years after Hack and Goodlett: Geomorphology, v. 13, p. 1-20.

Osterkamp, W. R., ed., 1995, Effects of scale on interpretation and management of sediment and water quality: International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication No. 226, IAHS Press, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK, 302 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Schumm, S. A., 1996, Geo-indicators for river and river-valley monitoring, In: Berger, A. R., and Iams, W. J. (eds.), Geoindicators: assessing rapid environmental changes in earth systems: A. A. Balkema Publishing, Rotterdam, p. 83-100.

Hupp, C. R., and Osterkamp, W. R., 1996, Riparian vegetation and fluvial geomorphic processes: Geomorphology, v. 14, p. 277-295.

Friedman, J. M., Osterkamp, W. R., and Lewis, W. M., Jr., 1996, The role of vegetation and bed-level fluctuations in the process of channel narrowing: Geomorphology, v. 14, p. 341-351.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Hupp, C. R., 1996, Chapter 17, The evolution of geomorphology, ecology, and other composite sciences, In: Thorn, Colin, and Rhoads, Bruce (eds.), The scientific nature of geomorphology, p. 415-441: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., New York, 481 p.

Hupp, C. R., Osterkamp, W. R., and Howard, A. D. (eds.), 1996, Biogeomorphology, terrestrial and freshwater systems: Elsevier, Amsterdam, 347 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Morton, R. A., 1996, Environmental impacts of urbanization and mining: an international project on global change: GSA Today, v. 6, no. 7, p. 14-15.

Friedman, J. M., Osterkamp, W. R., and Lewis, W. M., Jr., 1996, Channel narrowing and vegetation development following a Great Plains flood: Ecology, v. 77, no. 7, p. 2167-2181.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Toy, T. J., 1997, Geomorphic considerations for erosion prediction: Environmental Geology, v. 29, no. 3/4, p. 152-157.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Morton, R. A., 1997, Global impacts of mining and urbanization on fluvial and coastal systems -- the San Juan case study: GSA Today, v. 7, no. 7, p. 13-15.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1998, Processes of fluvial-island formation, with examples from Plum Creek, Colorado, and Snake River, Idaho: Wetlands, v. 18, no. 4, p. 530-545.

Osterkamp, W. R., Heilman, P., and Lane, L. J., 1998, Economic considerations of a continental sediment-monitoring program: International Journal of Sediment Research, v. 13, no. 4, p. 12-24.

Friedman, J. M., Osterkamp, W. R., Scott, M. L., and Auble, G. T., 1998, Downstream effects of dams: regional patterns in the Great Plains: Wetlands, v. 18, no. 4, p. 619-633.

Toy, T. J., and Osterkamp, W. R., 1999, The stability of rock-veneered hillslopes: International Journal of Sediment Research, v. 14, no. 3, p. 63-73.

Osterkamp, W. R., 1999, Runoff and sediment yield from proxy records: upper Animas Creek Basin, New Mexico: U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Research Paper RMRS-RP-18, 50 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Friedman, J. M., 2000, The disparity between extreme rainfall events and rare floods -- with emphasis on the semiarid American West: Hydrological Processes, v. 14, no. 16-17, p. 2817-2829.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Joseph, W. L., 2000, Chapter 8, Climatic and hydrologic factors, p. 193-215, In: Barnhisel, R. I., Darmody, R. G., and Daniels, W. L. (eds.), Reclamation of drastically disturbed lands, 1082 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., 2000, Earth-surface processes, materials use, and urban development - a case study of the San Juan metropolitan area, northeastern Puerto Rico, In: Scanlon, K. M., and Briere, P. R. (eds.), Puerto Rico Marine Sediments, Terrestrial and Seafloor Imagery, and Tectonic Interpretations: U. S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 00-006 (CD).

Osterkamp, W. R., Johnson, W. C., and Dixon, M. D., 2001, Biophysical gradients related to channel islands, middle Snake River, Idaho, In Dorava, J., Palcsak, B., Fitzpatrick, F., and Montgomery, D. (eds.), Geomorphic Processes and Riverine Habitat: American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C., 253 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Gray, J. R., 2001, U. S. Geological Survey programs and investigations related to soil and water conservation: International Journal of Sediment Research, v. 16, no. 3, p. 421-429.

Osterkamp, W. R., 2002, Geoindicators for river and river-valley monitoring in the humid tropics: Environmental Geology, v. 42, no. 7, p. 725-735.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Gray, J. R., 2003, A proposed international watershed research network: Proceedings, First Interagency Conference on Research in the Watersheds, Benson, AZ, October 28-30, 2003, p. 292-295.

Bravo-Espinosa, Miguel, Osterkamp, W. R., and Lopes, V. L., 2003, Bedload transport in alluvial channels: Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, American Society of Civil Engineers, v. 129, no. 10, p. 783-795.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Lane, L.J., 2003, Ground-water recharge estimates in arid areas using channel morphology and a simulation model, In Alsharhan, A. S., and Wood, W. W. (eds.), Water Resources Perspectives: Evaluation, Management, and Policy: Elsevier Science BV, The Netherlands, p. 281-286.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Gray, J. R., 2003, Hazard mitigation related to water and sediment fluxes in the Yellow River Basin, China, based on comparable basins of the United States: Proceedings, International Yellow River Forum on River Management, Vol. II, Oct. 21-24, 2003, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China: The Yellow River Conservancy Publishing House, p. 465-473.

Gonzales-Bonorino, Gustavo, and Osterkamp, W. R., 2004, Applying RUSLE 2.0 on burned- forest lands - an appraisal: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, v. 59, no. 1, p. 36-42.

Osterkamp, W. R., 2004, Bankfull discharge, In Goudie, A. S. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Geomorphology: Routledge, London, p. 52-54.

Osterkamp, W. R., Heilman. Philip, and Gray, J. R., 2004, An invitation to participate in a North American sediment-monitoring network: Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, v. 85, no. 40, p. 386, 388.

Shapley, M. D., Johnson, W. C., Engstrom, D. R., and Osterkamp, W. R., 2005, Late Holocene flooding and drought in the northern Great Plains, reconstructed from tree rings, lake sediments, and ancient shorelines: The Holocene, v. 15, no. 1, p. 29-41.

Osterkamp, W. R., and Morton, R. A., 2005, Mining of coastal materials, In Schwartz, M. L. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Coastal Science: Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, p. 645-647.

Osterkamp, W. R. 2005, Fluvial islands, In Trimble, S. A. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Water Science: Taylor & Francis, New York, 4 p.

Osterkamp, W. R., Toy, T. J., and Lenart, M. T. 2006, Development of partial rock veneers by root throw in a subalpine setting: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, v. 31, no. 1, p. 1-14.

Osterkamp, W. R., Hupp, C. R., and Stoffel, M. 2011 The interactions between vegetation and erosion: new directions for research at the interface of ecology and geomorphology: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, doi: 10.1002/esp.2173.

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