Robert Hirsch


I am a research hydrologist.  The focus of my research is the description and understanding of long-term variability and change in surface-water quality and streamflow.  I develop and apply new statistical tools to help characterize these changes to gain the best possible understanding of the nature of the change and its implications from a policy perspective (for example with respect to water quality improvement, ecosystem restoration, flood hazard mitigation, water supply planning, or provision of in-stream flow).  I served as Chief Hydrologist of the USGS from 1994-2008 and at that time returned to a career in hydrologic research.  I am the lead developer  of a software package called EGRET (Exploration and Graphics for RivEr Trends) which is now an approved USGS model (written in R - an open source computer language).  The statistical method (Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season - WRTDS) has been used in a number of studies of water quality trends in the US (Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississipi River Basin, Lake Champlain Basin, and elsewhere) to describe and better understand changing concentrations and fluxes of nutrients in river systems.  I am also the author of the R package called EGRETci which extends the EGRET package by providing uncertainty information about the trends that are described by EGRET.  I have also been working on the description of long-term trends in streamflow as related to changes in land use and climate.  Both EGRET and EGRETci are freely available from the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN).

Robert M. Hirsch currently serves as a Research Hydrologist at the USGS.  From 1994 through May 2008, he served as the Chief Hydrologist of the U.S. Geological Survey.  In this capacity, Dr. Hirsch was responsible for all U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water science programs.  These programs encompass research and monitoring of the nation’s ground water and surface water resources including issues of water quantity as well as quality.  From 2003 - 2010 he has served as the co-chair of the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources of the National Science and Technology Council, and in this role he has been instrumental in developing interagency priorities for water science and technology.

Hirsch earned a B.A. in Geology from Earlham College, an M.S. in Geology from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering.  He began his USGS career in 1976 as a hydrologist and has conducted research on water supply, water quality, pollutant transport, and flood frequency analysis.  He had a leading role in the development of several major USGS programs:  1) the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program: 2) the National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP); and 3) the National Water Information System Web (NWISWeb).  He has received numerous honors from the Federal Government and from non-governmental organizations, including the 2006 American Water Resources Association’s William C. Ackermann Medal for Excellence in Water Management, and has twice been conferred the rank of Meritorious Senior Executive by the President of the United States.  He is a recipient of the USGS “Eugene M. Shoemaker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Communications.”  He is co-author of the textbook “Statistical Methods in Water Resources.”  Dr. Hirsch is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an active member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Water Resources Association.  He has testified before congressional committees on many occasions and presented keynote addresses at many water-related meetings in the U.S. and in other countries.

Since returning to a research position in 2008, he has focused his efforts on describing long-term changes in streamflow and water quality.  This includes exploring century-scale trends in flooding nationwide.  It also includes the development of new methods for characterizing trends in nutrient transport for the rivers of the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain, and Mississippi River watersheds.  A major goal of this research is to improve the way hydrologists evaluate hydrologic trends and improve the communication about those trends to help policy-makers and the public understand the water-quality and quantity issues they face.  This research has resulted, not only in a series of reports, but also in an open-source statistical package designed to identify trends in water quality and streamflow. 

Hirsch, R.M, and Archfield, S.A., 2015, Flood trends: Not higher but more often, Nature Climate Change, 5, 198-199, doi:10.1038/nclimate2551. [Link]

Hirsch, Robert M., Archfield, Stacey A., and DeCicco, Laura A., 2015, A bootstrap method for estimating uncertainty of water quality trends, Environmental Modelling and Software, 73, 148-166. [Link]

Milly, P. C. D., Julio Betancourt, Malin Falkenmark, Robert M. Hirsch, Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz, Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Ronald J. Stouffer, Michael D. Dettinger, and Valentina Krysanova. "Comment on critiques of “Stationarity is dead: Whither water management?”." Water Resources Research (2015). [Link]

Hirsch, R. M., and De Cicco, L. A., 2014, User Guide to Exploration and Graphic for RivEr Trends (EGRET) and dataRetrieval: R Packages for Hydrologic Data, USGS Techniques and Methods 4-A10, 95p. [Link]

Green, C. T., B. A. Bekins, S. J. Kalkhoff, R. M. Hirsch, L. Liao, and K. K. Barnes, 2014, Decadal surface water quality trends under variable climate, land use, and hydrogeochemical setting in Iowa, USA, Water Resour. Res., 50, 2425–2443, [Link]

Murphy, J. C., Hirsch, R. M., and Sprague, L. A.: 2014, Antecedent flow conditions and nitrate concentrations in the Mississippi River basin, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 967-979 [Link]

Hirsch, R. M., (2014) Large Biases in Regression-Based Constituent Flux Estimates: Causes and Diagnostic Tools, Journal of the American Water Resources Association. [Link]

Corsi, S.R., De Cicco, L.A., Lutz, M.A., and Hirsch, R.M., 2014, River chloride trends in snow-affected urban watersheds: increasing concentrations outpace urban growth rate and are common among all seasons. Science of the Total Environment, 508, 1 March 2015, 448-497. [Link]

Hirsch, Robert M., and Gary T. Fisher. "Past, present, and future of water data delivery from the US Geological Survey." Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 153.1 (2014): 4-15. [Link]

Murphy, J.C., Hirsch, R.M., and Sprague, L.A., 2013, Nitrate in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, 1980–2010—An update: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5169, 31 p [Link]

Peterson, T.C., Heim, R.R., Hirsch, R., Kaiser, D.P., Brooks, H., Diffenbaught N.S., Dole, R.M., Giovannettone, J.P., Guirguis, K., Karl, T.R., Katz, R.W., Kunkel, K., Lettenmaier, D., McCabe, G.J., Paciorek, C.J., Ryberg, K.R., Schubert, S., Silva, V.B.S., Stewart, B.C., Vecchia, A.V., Villarini, G., Vose, R.S., Walsh, J., Wehner, M., Wolock, D., Wolter, K., Woodhouse, C.A., and Wuebbles, D., 2013, Monitoring and Understanding Changes in Heat Waves, Cold Waves, Floods and Droughts in the United States: State of Knowledge. Bulletin American Meteorology Society, June 2013, p 821-834 [Link]

Hirsch, R.M., 2012, The Science, Information, and Engineering Needed to Manage Water Availability and Quality in 2050, in "Toward a Sustainable Water Future: Visions for 2050" pp 217-226, editors Grayman, Loucks, and Saito, American Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA, 398 pp.

Hirsch, R.M. and Ryberg, K.R., 2012, Has the magnitude of floods across the USA changed with global CO2 levels?, Hydrological Sciences Journal, Vol 57, Issue 1. [Link]

Medalie, L., Hirsch, R.M., and Archfield, S.A., 2012, Use of flow-normalization to evaluate nutrient concentration and flux changes in Lake Champlain tributaries, 1990-2009, Journal of Great Lakes Research, 38, Supplement 1, p. 58-67. [Link]

Rice, K.C. and Hirsch, R.M., 2012, Spatial and Temporal Trends in Runoff at Long-Term Streamgages within and near the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report, 2012-5151, 55 p. [Link]

Hirsch, R.M., 2012, Flux of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Suspended Sediment from the Susquehanna River Basin to the Chesapeake Bay during Tropical Storm Lee, September 2011, as an Indicator of the Effects of Reservoir Sedimentation on Water Quality, U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5185, 17 p. [Link]

Moyer, D.L., Hirsch, R.M., and Hyer, K.E., 2012, Comparison of two regression-based approaches for determining nutrient and sediment fluxes and trends in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5244, 118 p. [Link]

Sprague, Lori A.; Hirsch, Robert M.; Aulenbach, Brent T., 2011. Nitrate in the Mississippi River and its tributaries, 1980 to 2008: Are we making progress?. ACS Publications , 8 p. [Link]

Hirsch, R.M., 2011, A Perspective on Nonstationarity and Water Management, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 47, 436-446. [Download File]

Lins, Harry F.; Hirsch, Robert M.; Kiang, Julie, 2010. Water-the Nation's Fundamental Climate Issue A White Paper on the U.S. Geological Survey Role and Capabilities. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1347, iv, 9 p. [Link]

Hirsch, R.M, Moyer, D.L., and Archfield, S.A., 2010, Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season (WRTDS), with an Application to Chesapeake Bay River Inputs, Journal of the American Water Resources Association p. 857-880. [Link]

Milly, P.C.D., Betancourt, J, Falkenmark, M., Hirsch, R.M., Kundzewicz, Z.W., Lettenmaier, D.P., and Stouffer, R.J., 2008, Stationarity is Dead: Whither Water Management?: Science, vol. 319, p. 573-574. [Download File]

Helsel, Dennis R.; Hirsch, Robert M., 2002. Statistical Methods in Water Resources. Techniques of Water-Resource Investigation 04-A3, 523 p. [Link]

Hirsch, R.M., Alexander, R.B., and Smith, R.A., 1991, Selection of methods for the detection and estimation of trends in water quality: Water Resources Research, v. 27, no. 5, p. 803-813. [Download File]

Hirsch, Robert M.; Alley, William M.; Wilber, William G. , 1988. Concepts for a National Water-Quality Assessment Program. U.S. G.P.O., Circular 1021, vii, 42 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.

Hirsch, R.M., and Slack, J.R., 1984, A nonparametric trend test for seasonal data with serial dependence: Water Resources Research, v. 20, no. 6, p. 727-732. [Download File]

Hirsch, R.M., Slack, J.R., and Smith, RA., 1982. Techniques of trend analysis for monthly water-quality data: Water Resources Research, v. 18, no. 1, p. 107-121. [Download File]

Hirsch, Robert M.; Slack, James Richard; Smith, Richard A., 1981. Techniques of trend analysis for monthly water-quality data. U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report 81-488, 33 p. :ill. ;28 cm.