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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.
One person can collect a water sample in about 15 minutes, and use that sample to detect many species.

The aquatic eDNAtlas project

Because of its advantages relative to traditional sampling techniques, environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling is being rapidly adopted to address questions about the distribution of species in streams across the United States.

Still standing: Snagfall the first decade after severe bark beetle infestation

Post mountain pine beetle outbreak snagfall dynamics create a multiple decade legacy that will persist longer in high-elevation compared to lower-elevation forests.
A Chinook salmon swimming in water.

Applying long-term redd datasets to estimate historic salmon abundance

New research is helping understand the past and more accurately estimate future salmon recovery potential. Archival “index” redd counts and contemporary redd census data from Central Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River (MFSR) offer a glimpse of historical Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) spawning and rearing habitat.

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 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: