Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Experimental forests’ road data goes digital

A Belfort recording rain gage measures precipitation volume, intensity, and duration. Historically, this was measured by a pen-trace on a strip chart, which then had to be digitized into a format that could be used for analysis. Forest Service photo.

TENNESSEE — Many national and experimental forests are crisscrossed by gravel roads that contain culverts and other drainage structures. Some culverts may be overdue for maintenance, while others may be too small for extreme rainfall events.

Forest Service Southern Research Station scientists began assessing the capacity of these structures in 2016. The project spans the SRS Experimental Forest network. The design of most stormwater routing structures is based on historic or current climate conditions. However, precipitation conditions are shifting and projected to keep changing in the future.

Understanding the influence of these changes in precipitation intensity, duration, and frequency, the resulting stormwater responses, and vulnerability of infrastructure from headwater catchments to watershed outlets is key to the design of sustainable road systems.

SRS researchers are assessing the capacity of these drainage structures and their vulnerability to extreme precipitation. The project involves reviewing historic data products – in paper format, filed away in boxes and cabinets. The data show how precipitation patterns have changed and how the changes could affect stormwater flows and infrastructure designs.

The project, led by research hydrologist Devendra Amatya, is focusing on three southern Experimental Forests with different elevations and ecoregions: Alum Creek EF in central Arkansas, Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in the mountains of North Carolina, and Santee EF in the coastal plain of South Carolina.

To learn more about the project follow this link or contact Stephanie Laseter via email.