Surface Hydrology


The surface hydrology specialization considers the study of water and pollutant transport in the lower atmosphere, over the earth's surface, into the ocean, and through near-surface soils. Possible coursework encompasses the physics, chemistry, and selected biological aspects of surface waters and their interaction with subsurface waters and coastal ocean waters.

Characterizing, modeling, and controlling surface hydrologic systems is the primary thrust of work in this research area, with particular emphasis on discovering relationships among processes at varying scales of time and space and on quantifying effects where information is uncertain. Predicting the transport and fate of contaminants in lakes, streams, and estuaries/bays is also a vital focus. Because surface water flows are frequently transient and usually follow irregular channels, computational representations are used to develop information that can help, for example in predicting the evolution and effects of flood, the transport of waste heat from power plants, and the transport of sediment, sewage plumes, or other contaminants in water bodies. The research includes development of numerical finite element and finite difference models of flow and contaminant transport in water bodies, including the effects of turbulence and flow stratification. Remotely sensed data enriches the input to hydrologic models by improving the spatial and temporal resolution of data. More physically based models formerly applicable to point-source and small-scale agricultural sites can now be adapted to large watersheds.

Another research focus in this study area lies in evaluating ecosystem function and stability of wetlands in the landscape defining resource efficiency and resilience to changing hydrologic or water quality conditions, particularly those associated with urbanization. UC Davis researchers are developing a watershed field monitoring system to track mass fluxes of water and nutrients in watershed ecosystems. Wetlands are the focus of the monitoring system because they accumulate the impacts on the watershed. In collaboration with researchers from the Environmental Studies and Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments, UC Davis hydrologists are also studying constructed wetlands wastewater treatment systems as a way of understanding wetlands ecosystem function in controlled systems.


Although research in surface hydrology has progressed significantly in recent years, intriguing mysteries still remain, stemming more from unknowns about the processes governing transport and fate than from difficulty in developing accurate predictive models of these processes. It is well known, for example, that a pulse of conservative tracer released into a stream will rise quickly to peak concentration but then display a very long tailand it is widely believed that this phenomenon results from the percolation of streamwaters into the interstitial spaces in the streambed and aquifer materials adjacent to the stream, as well as sorption to vegetation and other surfaces. But many processes can result in the movement of streamwater into the interstitial spaces, and a priori predictive models have yet to be developed. Similarly, it is now known that the fate of many contaminants, both toxics and nutrients, is determined by chemical or biochemical processes occurring in the interstitial water. Modeling these processes is also complicated by a lack of information about the processes that govern the distribution of fine sediments and biota in the interstitial spaces.

Faculty: Bales, R.C.; Bombardelli, F.; Dahlke, H.; Goldman, C.R.; Grismer, M.E.; Kavvas, M.L.; Largier, J.; Mount, J.F.; Pasternack, G.B.; Puente, C.E.; Schladow, S.G.; Tate, K.W.; Ustin, S.L.; Viers, J.; Zhang, M.