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Kelly J. Elder

Kelly Elder - Supervisory Research Hydrologist

Supervisory Research Hydrologist

240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526
Contact Kelly J. Elder

Current Research

  • Watershed hydrology in natural, disturbed, and managed systems
    • The central focus of my research is quantifying water balance in natural, disturbed, and managed ecosystems. Basic hydrological abstractions such as precipitation, evapotranspiration, and runoff are still not well understood across spatial and temporal scales. Important processes operate across hillslope and continental scales and over times steps from minutes to centuries. Fire, invasives, and other natural disturbances affect watershed processes in sometimes predictable, but poorly quantified ways. Management of basins also affects processes that control water quantity.
  • Management of watershed processes, water balance of a subalpine forest systems, and consequences of bark beetle outbreak and management on watershed processes
    • Long-term hydrological recovery of clear-cuts in a subalpine forest
    • Consequences of beetle-induced tree mortality on basin runoff
    • Consequences of post-beetle salvage operations on hillslope hydrology
    • Recommendations to management for post-beetle infestation treatments in watersheds
  • Snow hydrology and mountain climatology
  • Remote sensing of cold land processes
    • Methods for space-borne retrieval of snow water equivalence and other cold land processes.
    • Retrieval of snowpack properties using airborne Ku-band radar.

Past Research

Developed instrumentation for measuring snowpack properties. Developed methods for modeling the distribution of snow cover and water equivalence in alpine and subalpine basins. Collaborated in efforts to improve the ability to recover snowpack properties from airborne remote sensing of the Earth's surface using radar.

Why This Research is Important

Water is the one substance, above all others, that sustains life. A supply of clean water helps insure survival for humans and ecosystems. Increasing demand from existing sources suggests that we need better methods of predicting supply. Climate variability and change increase uncertainty in water supply and availability. Most of the water we use in mid-latitude regions comes from melting winter snowpacks in the subalpine zone. Understanding hydrological process in the subalpine zone will increase our ability to predict and manage water resources effectively.

Timber harvest has been shown to produce more runoff from subalpine basins when sound management is used. Long-term data from the Fraser Experimental Forest is allowing us to quantify the effects of clear-cuts a half century after harvest and informs management decisions across the west. The mountain pine beetle infestation of lodgepole pine forests will affect water yield and our management response to the attack will also affect watershed processes. Studies are underway to detect and quantify changes in components of the water balance directly and indirectly linked to pine beetle induced tree mortality.


  • University of Colorado, B.A., Physical Geopraphy, 1985
  • University of California, Santa Barbara, M.A., Physical Geography Hydrology, 1988
  • University of California, Santa Barbara, Ph.D., Physical Geography Hydrology Statistics, 1995
  • Featured Publications


    Fegel, Timothy; Boot, Claudia M.; Covino, Timothy P.; Elder, Kelly J.; Hall, Edward K.; Starr, Banning J. , J; Stegen, James; Rhoades, Charles C., 2021. Amount and reactivity of dissolved organic matter export are affected by land cover change from old‐growth to second‐growth forests in headwater ecosystems
    Pedersen, Stine Højlund; Bentzen, Torsten W.; Reinking, Adele K.; Liston, Glen E.; Elder, Kelly J.; Lenart, Elizabeth A.; Prichard, Alexander K.; Welker, Jeffrey M., 2021. Quantifying effects of snow depth on caribou winter range selection and movement in Arctic Alaska
    Rhoades, Charles C.; Fegel, Timothy; Covino, Timothy P.; Dwire, Kathleen A.; Elder, Kelly J., 2021. Sources of variability in springwater chemistry in Fool Creek, a high-elevation catchment of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, USA
    Rhoades, Charles C.; Hubbard, Robert M.; Hood, Paul R.; Starr, Banning J. , J; Tinker, Daniel B.; Elder, Kelly J., 2020. Snagfall the first decade after severe bark beetle infestation of high elevation forests in Colorado, USA
    Rhoades, Charles C.; Hubbard, Robert M.; Elder, Kelly J.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Schnackenberg, Elizabeth; Hood, Paul R.; Tinker, Daniel B., 2020. Tree regeneration and soil responses to management alternatives in beetle-infested lodgepole pine forests
    Vorster, Anthony G.; Evangelista, Paul H.; Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Kumar, Sunil; Rhoades, Charles C.; Hubbard, Robert M.; Cheng, Antony S.; Elder, Kelly J., 2017. Severity of a mountain pine beetle outbreak across a range of stand conditions in Fraser Experimental Forest, Colorado, United States
    Herman-Mercer, Nicole M.; Matkin, Elli; Laituri, Melinda J.; Toohey, Ryan C.; Massey, Maggie; Elder, Kelly J.; Schuster, Paul F.; Mutter, Edda A., 2016. Changing times, changing stories: Generational differences in climate change perspectives from four remote indigenous communities in Subarctic Alaska
    Amatya, Devendra; Campbell, John; Wohlgemuth, Pete; Elder, Kelly J.; Sebestyen, Stephen; Johnson, Sherri; Keppeler, Elizabeth; Adams, Mary Beth; Caldwell, Peter; Misra, D., 2016. Hydrological processes of reference watersheds in Experimental Forests, USA
    Creed, Irena F.; Spargo, Adam T.; Jones, Julia A.; Buttle, Jim M.; Adams, Mary B.; Beall, Fred D.; Booth, Eric G.; Campbell, John L.; Clow, Dave; Elder, Kelly J.; Green, Mark B.; Grimm, Nancy B.; Miniat, Chelcy; Ramlal, Patricia; Saha, Amartya; Sebestyen, Stephen; Spittlehouse, Dave; Sterling, Shannon; Williams, Mark W.; Winkler, Rita; Yao, Huaxia, 2014. Changing forest water yields in response to climate warming: results from long-term experimental watershed sites across North America
    Moore, David J. P.; Trahan, Nicole A.; Wilkes, Phil; Quaife, Tristan; Stephens, Britton B.; Elder, Kelly J.; Desai, Ankur R.; Negron, Jose; Monson, Russell K., 2013. Persistent reduced ecosystem respiration after insect disturbance in high elevation forests
    Vose, James M.; Ford, Chelcy R.; Laseter, Stephanie; Dymond, Salli; Sun, Ge; Adams, Mary Beth; Sebestyen, Stephen; Campbell, John; Luce, Charles H.; Amatya, Devendra; Elder, Kelly J.; Heartsill Scalley, Tamara, 2012. Can forest watershed management mitigate climate change effects on water resources
    Vose, James M.; Ford, Chelcy R.; Laseter, Stephanie; Dymond, Salli; Sun, GE; Adams, Mary Beth; Sebestyen, Stephen; Campbell, John; Luce, Charles H.; Amatya, Devendra; Elder, Kelly J.; Heartsill-Scalley, Tamara, 2012. Can forest watershed management mitigate climate change impacts on water resources?
    Jones, Julia A.; Creed, Irena F.; Hatcher, Kendra L.; Warren, Robert J.; Adams, Mary Beth; Benson, Melinda H.; Boose, Emery; Brown, Warren A.; Campbell, John L.; Covich, Alan; Clow, David W.; Dahm, Clifford N.; Elder, Kelly J.; Ford, Chelcy R.; Grimm, Nancy B.; Henshaw, Donald L; Larson, Kelli L.; Miles, Evan S.; Miles, Kathleen M.; Sebestyen, Stephen D.; Spargo, Adam T.; Stone, Asa B.; Vose, James M.; Williams, Mark W., 2012. Ecosystem processes and human influences regulate streamflow response to climate change at long-term ecological research sites
    Elder, Kelly J.; Angutikjuak, Ilkoo; Baker, Jessica; Belford, Matt; Bennett, Tom; Birkeland, Karl; Bowker, Daniel; Chabot, Doug; Cheuvront, April; Dixon, Mark; Elder, Dylan; Elder, Lee; Gearheard, Shari; Giedt, Greg; Grant, Kim; Green, Sam; Greene, Ethan; Houfek, Nick; Huntington, Caleb; Huntington, Henry; Huntington, Thomas; Janigian, Daniel; Johnson, Crane; Liston, Glen; Maris, Rob; Marsh, Andrea; Marshall, Hans-Peter; Meiners, Aidan; Meiners, Alex; Meiners, Theo; Palluq, Limakee; Pope, Josh; Qillaq, Esa; Sanguya, Joelli; Sehnert, Sam; Simenhois, Ron; Starr, Banning J. , J; Tyler, Roger, 2012. Meteorological tower design for severe weather and remote locations
    Yueh, Simon H.; Dinardo, Steve J.; Akgiray, Ahmed; West, Richard; Cline, Donald W.; Elder, Kelly J., 2009. Airborn Ku-band polarimetric radar remote sensing of terrestrial snow cover
    Rutter, Nick; Essery, Richard; Pomeroy, John; Altimir, Nuria; Andreadis, Kostas; Baker, Ian; Barr, Alan; Bartlett, Paul; Boone, Aaron; Deng, Huiping; Douville, Herve; Dutra, Emanuel; Elder, Kelly J.; others,, 2009. Evaluation of forest snow processes models (SnowMKIP2)
    Deems, Jeffrey S.; Fassnacht, Steven R.; Elder, Kelly J., 2008. Interannual consistency in fractal snow depth patterns at two Colorado mountain sites
    Liston, Glen E.; Hiemstra, Christopher A.; Elder, Kelly J.; Cline, Donald W., 2008. Mesocell study area snow distributions for the Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX)
    Liston, Glen E.; Birkenheuer, Daniel L.; Hiemstra, Christopher A.; Cline, Donald W.; Elder, Kelly J., 2008. NASA Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX 2002/03): Atmospheric analyses datasets
    Hardy, Janet; Davis, Robert; Koh, Yeohoon; Cline, Don; Elder, Kelly J.; Armstrong, Richard; Marshall, Hans-Peter; Painter, Thomas; Saint-Martin, Gilles Castres; DeRoo, Roger; Sarabandi, Kamal; Graf, Tobias; Koike, Toshio; McDonald, Kyle, 2008. NASA Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX 2002/03): Local scale observation site
    Davis, Robert E.; Painter, Thomas H.; Cline, Don; Armstrong, Richard; Haran, Terry; McDonald, Kyle; Forster, Rick; Elder, Kelly J., 2008. NASA Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX 2002/03): Spaceborne remote sensing
    Deems, Jeffrey S.; Fassnacht, Steven R.; Elder, Kelly J., 2006. Fractal distribution of snow depth from LiDAR data
    Hubbard, Robert M.; Ryan, Michael G.; Elder, Kelly J.; Rhoades, Charles C., 2005. Seasonal patterns in soil surface CO2 flux under snow cover in 50 and 300 year old subalpine forests
    Many fallen trees caught on one another in the Fraser Experimental Forest.
    Post mountain pine beetle outbreak snagfall dynamics create a multiple decade legacy that will persist longer in high-elevation compared to lower-elevation forests.
    More than one-sixth of the world’s population rely on seasonal snow for water. In the western U.S., nearly three-quarters of the annual streamflow that provides the water supply arrives as spring and summer melt from the mountain snowpacks. SnowEx is a science campaign that combines on-the-ground measurements with aerial and remote sensing to improve measurements and techniques for identifying the amount of water in snow. 
    An arctic weather station (photo by Kelly Elder).
    “Silalirijiit” is an Inuktitut word that means "those who work with or think about weather." These projects link Inuit, Yupik, and Athabaskan knowledge with climate science to understand changing weather patterns and their impacts on the First Peoples.
    This NASA-sponsored project will test a variety of sensors and techniques used to collect and improve airborne and ground-based measurements to determine the snow-water equivalent (SWE), or the amount of water held in snow, over different terrains. This is significant because much of the worlds’, including the western U.S.’s water supply is derived from snow in mountain environments. Better information on SWE can improve hazard forecasting, water availability predictions, and agricultural forecasting, among other things. The SnowEx team includes more than 100 scientists from universities and agencies across the U.S., Europe, and Canada.