Core Investigators

Global Context




Whitewater Basin



About Hydro-Kansas

Human enterprise constitutes a planetary driving force for rapid, global ecological change proportional to the mass of over six billion people who consume energy at an accelerating rate (Vitousek et al. 1986; United Nations 1997; Prinn et al. 1999; Klass 2002; Walther et al. 2002; He et al. 2005). In a compelling new book, Brown (2006) argues that this force has pushed the world to the verge of the most extraordinary epoch in human history since the Industrial Revolution and paints a distressing picture of the future:

The global economy is outgrowing the capacity of the earth to support it, moving us closer to decline and possible collapse. We have lost sight of how vast the human enterprise has become, forests are shrinking, water tables are falling, and fisheries are declining. We are using up oil at a pace that leaves little time to plan beyond peak oil, and we are discharging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere faster than nature can absorb them.

Although some would view this picture as overly pessimistic, few would question that planetary hydro-climatic changes are occurring. A critical challenge for the scientific community is the prediction of future changes of this forced complex system that is rich in nonlinear feedbacks. As has been shown repeatedly, neglect of system complexity and feedbacks can have severe consequences. For example, conversion of wild lands to agriculture for the production of biofuels has resulted in a consequential loss of biodiversity (Leemans et al. 1996), while tree farming has been found to inadvertently exacerbate water supply problems (Jackson et al. 2005).

By 2025, one in three people will be affected adversely by water scarcity and contamination, thereby making water the emerging issue for food production, national security and international relations (Serageldin 1995; Olshansky et al. 1997). Clearly, societal responses should be formulated on scientific principles that integrate the coupled fluxes of energy and water over medium to large drainage basins; principles that will remain robust in an ever-changing hydro-climate and land use. These broad scientific and societal contexts frame the overarching objective of the Hydro-Kansas (HK) research project, which is a decade-long effort to:

The Hydro-Kansas (HK) research project is a decade-long effort to develop a robust, testable theory for river basins as complex systems, a theory formulated on principles that will remain robust in an ever-changing planetary hydro-climate. Its objective is to predict hydrologic, landscape and ecological responses on a wide range of space and time scales to alterations of the basin-scale atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere amidst natural climate fluctuations (e.g. Rial 1999), and effects of land use changes resulting from human practices.

Natural variability and human alterations impact physical and biological processes. Our new theory aims to link these processes with robust statistical parameters that can serve as both diagnostic and predictive tools. This proposal is one of four mutually linked collaborative research proposals for the HK project. It addresses how spacetime rainfall and runoff generation, channel network topology and geometry, and runoff dynamics in a channel network, are coupled with spatial peak flow statistics, defined with respect to multiple spatial scales of a drainage network for individual rainfall-runoff events. Tests of the theory will be carried out in three areas: the 1100 km2 Whitewater Basin, Kansas; the 150 km2 Walnut Gulch Watershed, Arizona; and the 21 km2 Goodwin Creek Experimental Watershed, Mississippi.


Klass,M. 2002 "Title", Publisher, Pg. #