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Air, Water and Aquatic Environments

Logo for the Air, Water, and Aquatic Environment Program

Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Program

The Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Program is committed to developing knowledge and science applications related to air and water quality, as well as the habitat quality, distribution, diversity, and persistence of fish and other aquatic species.
Eroded road

Geomorphic road analysis

The Geomorphic Road Analysis and Inventory Package (GRAIP) is designed to help land managers learn about the impacts of road systems on erosion and sediment delivery to streams. As the name implies, GRAIP couples analytical tools with an inventory process to build an approach to roads analysis that can be locally calibrated in a repeatable fashion and with minimal effort.
Water sampling

Detecting species using environmental DNA

Animals in aquatic environments—such as fish, amphibians, crayfish, and mussels— release DNA into the water via their feces, urine, and skin. This external DNA is called environmental DNA (eDNA). By filtering water samples and analyzing them for eDNA, one can determine whether a species is pre-sent without actually capturing or seeing an individual.
Salmon egg nest

Safety of salmon nests in changing climates

The eggs of fall-spawning Chinook salmon are buried and incubate in the beds of mountain streams over the winter months when flows are very low and there is limited bed scour and sediment transport. Some have argued that in future climates these landscapes will have less snow and more mid-winter rain, which could lead to bed scour and destruction of the egg nests.

The Air, Water and Aquatic Environments (AWAE) Science Program develops core knowledge, methods, and technologies that enable effective watershed management in forests and grasslands, sustain biodiversity, and maintain healthy watershed conditions.

Scientists with the AWAE Program conduct basic and applied research on the effects of natural processes and human activities on watershed resources, including interactions between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Knowledge developed by this Program supports management, conservation, and restoration of terrestrial, riparian and aquatic ecosystems and provides for sustainable clean air and water quality in the Interior West.

With capabilities in atmospheric sciences, soils, forest engineering, biogeochemistry, hydrology, plant physiology, aquatic ecology and limnology, conservation biology and fisheries, AWAE scientists focus on two key research problems:

  • Core watershed research quantifies the dynamics of hydrologic, geomorphic and biogeochemical processes in forests and rangelands at multiple scales and defines the biological processes and patterns that affect the distribution, resilience, and persistence of native aquatic, riparian and terrestrial species.

  • Integrated, interdisciplinary research explores the effects of climate variability and climate change on forest, grassland and aquatic ecosystems.

AWAE has research labs and field unit locations located throughout the interior west. Science teams contributing to the programs' research are based in Albuquerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Collins, CO; Missoula, MT; Moscow, ID; and at AWAE headquarters, located in Boise, ID.

Three experimental forests exist across the geographic range of AWAE. These valuable scientific resources incorporate a broad range of climate conditions, forest and range types, research emphasis, and history. Forest Service, university, and other scientists conduct basic and applied studies on research themes including forest, stream, and rangeland ecology; hydrology; wildlife; biological diversity; and effects of forest and range management. Long-term data on climate, vegetation change, streamflow, and other site factors document environmental change and support research programs. More information about these sites is described in the links below: