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November 26th, 2007

Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory established

A University of Colorado team led by INSTAAR Suzanne Anderson and including INSTAARs Bob Anderson, Nel Caine, Diane McKnight, and Mark Williams was awarded funding by the National Science Foundation for a five-year project to establish a Critical Zone Observatory (CZO) in the Boulder Creek Watershed. The project is one of three new CZO awards designed to build the first systems-based observatories dedicated to Earth surface processes. The critical zone is the region from the base of groundwater to the outer limit of the vegetation canopy, essentially the zone that supports terrestrial life. The CU group, which includes INSTAARs Bob Anderson, Nel Caine, Diane McKnight, and Mark Williams, and 10 other scientists at CU and elsewhere, plans to focus on the rocky mountainous portion of Boulder Creek watershed. The project will study how weathering and erosion processes control the architecture of the weathered profile within the critical zone in this eroding landscape. They will then explore how different architectures influence the hydrologic, biogeochemical and ecological functioning of catchments. Boulder Creek watershed encompasses over 2500 m in elevation, and spans a range of vegetation and climate zones. Erosional regimes vary significantly as well, from the glacial scoured headwaters, to the late-Cenozoic fluvial incision of Boulder Canyon, to a band of relatively quiescent topography in between. The Boulder Creek CZO team plans to use these environmental gradients as a set of natural experiments to delve into the processes that shape the Earth’s surface and affect its function.

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