Of the many river science questions, the committee has identified five science priority areas where the USGS should take a leadership role.

  1. Through its cartographic capabilities, the USGS has provided the leadership for mapping the nation’s watersheds. Combining this strength with its expertise in the areas of river hydrology, geomorphology, and ecology the USGS should embark on efforts to survey and map multidisciplinary characteristics of our nation’s rivers, providing a geographical baseline that supports an integrative river science.

  2. Through its scientific research capabilities, the USGS has developed an essential suite of mathematical and other tools that can be applied to a broad range of river science questions. Building on these accomplishments, the USGS should develop process-based models that simulate the interactions between physical-biological processes, providing the nation with an ability to predict ecological change in river systems to support science and river management.

  3. With its multidisciplinary expertise in areas of river science, the USGS should conduct research that provides a scientific-basis for characterizing environmental flows needed to support the ecological structure and function of river ecosystems, and in partnership with other agencies’ activities, evaluate the effectiveness of restoration efforts designed to improve river ecosystem health.

  4. Historically, the USGS has been a leader in monitoring river sediment transport and studying the interactions between hydrology and fluvial geomorphology. The USGS should strengthen its research efforts in sediment transport and geomorphology on our nation’s rivers to address the increasing problems due to alterations in river flows and channel morphology.

  5. Major gaps remain in our scientific understanding of the exchange of water between a river and connected groundwater systems. The USGS should focus investigations on groundwater and surface-water interactions in rivers at a range of scales, providing information on how the character and composition of these waters affects river water quality and ecosystem characteristics.


Although the USGS is poised to provide national leadership in these river science priority areas, these activities must be supported by effective data collection and management and an institutional structure that allows for an agencywide multidisciplinary research initiative. In Chapters 5 and 6, we address the river monitoring, data management, and institutional components that should underpin the USGS’s contribution to river science.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement