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Water quality of precipitation and streamflow, with air temperature data, in four Kentucky, Appalachian watersheds - 1971 to 2018

August 30, 2020

Context: The freshwater resources of the Central Appalachian region are impacted by stressors operating on multiple spatial scales, from local land use and land management (e.g., timber harvests and surface mining) to regional air quality patterns (e.g., pollutant emissions) and broader-scale climate variability. In order to isolate the effects of any of these stressors on water resources, detailed long-term datasets are crucial. The environmental monitoring network at University of Kentucky?s (U KY) Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky provides such a resource, with detailed streamflow, water-quality, and precipitation-chemistry data for multiple control and disturbed watersheds covering a 40-year time period. Study Area and Research Design: Robinson Forest is a 5,983 ha (23 mi2) research forest owned and managed by U KY. Topographically, Robinson Forest is characterized by steep slopes with well-drained residuum or colluvial soils formed from sandstone, shale, and siltstone. The well-drained soils and geologic layers of minimal permeability result in rapid streamflow response to storm events via sub-surface flow. The climate of Robinson Forest is classified as temperate-humid-continental with warm summers and cool winters. The 26-year average for three precipitation collectors at Robinson Forest is 117.5 cm; March tends to be wetter than the average month and October tends to be drier. The stream monitoring network was established in the 1970s, and monitored streams drain watersheds that span a spectrum of management activities, from road crossings to timber harvests to historical surface mining. In addition to stream monitoring, including streamflow and water-quality data, precipitation and precipitation-chemistry data have been collected since the early 1980s. Watersheds of interest include Coles Fork, Clemons Fork, Little Millseat, and Falling Rock. Coles Fork is a control watershed, with second-growth forest (undisturbed since the 1920s) and no management activities other than a road network maintained for limited research use. Paired with Coles Fork is Clemons Fork, a similarly sized watershed with disturbance relating to timber harvests and surface mining in some of its headwaters. Nested within Clemons Fork, Falling Rock and Little Millseat are two smaller control watersheds that have been the focus of published research on stream delineation and stream permanence, as well as forest longevity as a function of mine reclamation strategies and projected climate change. These two smaller basins differ in their general aspect (eastern vs. western), fluvial network (rectangular vs. dendritic), and proximity to nearby surface mining.