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Al Rea Retires

September 16, 2021

We would like to take a moment to thank Al for his many years of leadership in Federal service working tirelessly to improve water data for the Nation. Al's contributions are too numerous to detail here, but they will live on for decades to come. It has been our pleasure to work with such a knowlegeable, visionary, and thoughful person. You will be missed!

~ The USGS Hydro Team

Al Rea Retires
Al Rea presenting at the Esri Federal GIS Conference.

A Fond Farewell...

I’d like to take this opportunity to let you all know I’ll be retiring from the USGS at the end of this month. I started this journey back in 1987 as a volunteer learning ARC/INFO from Doug Nebert, at the USGS in Portland, Oregon, while I was working on my Master’s thesis at Oregon State University. In January of 1989 I started my career with USGS in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as a hydrologist and GIS specialist working on a study of groundwater quality in central Oklahoma. Back then, a 90-meter resolution DEM was the latest and greatest, and we didn’t have software that could really handle that kind of data. The biggest dataset I worked with in those early years was a point dataset of 70,000 oil and gas wells. We’ve come a very long way in GIS since those days. In the next Hydrography Community Call on September 28, I will show a bit more about the evolution of GIS that I’ve both witnessed and been a part of since the late 1980s, and will share a few opinions on what I see coming down the road.  

For the past 7 ½ years, I’ve had the privilege of helping to lead the national hydrography program at USGS. Our team has worked very hard to enhance the functionality of NHD by adding the analytical attributes and linkage to the landscape via catchments of the NHDPlus HR. It has been a huge effort, and I’m proud that we have been able to produce the NHDPlus HR Beta product for the country (minus most of Alaska, which will take longer). While there are always many remaining data issues to fix, I believe this dataset will be the foundation of a huge amount of good science in the years to come.

One example of the kind of power this dataset is capable of is shown in the figure below of mean annual streamflow estimates from NHDPlus HR. While displayed at this scale, of course you can’t make out every one of the 24+ million flowlines in the network, but we have streamflow estimates for all of them. It is immensely gratifying to see how well this all works together. This is a major accomplishment for the team and for the hydrographic/scientific community. 

Map of streamflow estimates from NHDPlus HR (CONUS)
Map of streamflow estimates from NHDPlus HR (CONUS)

As I think everyone agrees, there is lidar in our future, though, and in a few years, I expect the number of features we’ll have in the national dataset will increase perhaps by 10-fold. There will be many challenges for the team ahead, and by “the team,” I include the whole community. It’s an exciting time to work in this field, and it’s hard to imagine what the next 30-some years will hold. I hope my efforts have helped to move our community, the data, and the science it supports ahead in a useful way. It’s truly a great community, and I’m proud and happy to have been a part of it all these years. I’ll be stepping back from my current role, but I hope to stay engaged on a part-time basis, and I should still be reachable by email. While I’ll be taking some time to rest and enjoy a slower pace of life, I won’t forget this community which has been my professional “home” for so many years. I wish you all the best success in the future.

~ Adieu

Al Rea's signature