The Power of Environmental Observatories for Advancing Multidisciplinary Research, Outreach, and Decision Support: The Case of the Minnesota River Basin

K. B. Gran, C. Dolph, A. Baker, M. Bevis, S. J. Cho, J. A. Czuba, B. Dalzell, M. Danesh-Yazdi, A. T. Hansen, S. Kelly, Z. Lang, J. Schwenk, P. Belmont, J. C. Finlay, P. Kumar, S. Rabotyagov, G. Roehrig, P. Wilcock, E. Foufoula-Georgiou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observatory-scale data collection efforts allow unprecedented opportunities for integrative, multidisciplinary investigations in large, complex watersheds, which can affect management decisions and policy. Through the National Science Foundation-funded REACH (REsilience under Accelerated CHange) project, in collaboration with the Intensively Managed Landscapes-Critical Zone Observatory, we have collected a series of multidisciplinary data sets throughout the Minnesota River Basin in south-central Minnesota, USA, a 43,400-km2 tributary to the Upper Mississippi River. Postglacial incision within the Minnesota River valley created an erosional landscape highly responsive to hydrologic change, allowing for transdisciplinary research into the complex cascade of environmental changes that occur due to hydrology and land use alterations from intensive agricultural management and climate change. Data sets collected include water chemistry and biogeochemical data, geochemical fingerprinting of major sediment sources, high-resolution monitoring of river bluff erosion, and repeat channel cross-sectional and bathymetry data following major floods. The data collection efforts led to development of a series of integrative reduced complexity models that provide deeper insight into how water, sediment, and nutrients route and transform through a large channel network and respond to change. These models represent the culmination of efforts to integrate interdisciplinary data sets and science to gain new insights into watershed-scale processes in order to advance management and decision making. The purpose of this paper is to present a synthesis of the data sets and models, disseminate them to the community for further research, and identify mechanisms used to expand the temporal and spatial extent of short-term observatory-scale data collection efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3576-3592
Number of pages17
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Minnesota River Basin
  • agricultural watersheds
  • intensively managed landscapes
  • observatory data collection
  • reduced complexity modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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