Crown of the Continent Hydrologic Observatory: Flathead Basin




Why a Crown of the Continent Hydrologic Observatory?



Flathead Basin has large gradients in all factors that control hydrologic processes (e.g., climate, topography, vegetation, geology, and land use factors).Consequently, Flathead Basin is very well suited for basic research regarding the fundamental understanding of hydrologic processes.In addition, the basinís pristine areas and rich glacial-climate history offer unique opportunities for isolating the impacts of climate change alone on hydrologic processes.


  • The basin spans the climatic transition from maritime influenced to inter-mountain to continental zones.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††


  • This region shows significant interannaul variability with strong signatures from ENSO and PDO.


  • Subbasins range from wet with dense vegetation to cold and dry with sparse vegetation.


  • Topography ranges from high alpine to flat lowland.


  • Subbasins vary from covered by glaciers to covered by grasslands.




Land use varies from areas that are totally pristine with a long history of federal protection, to areas that have urban and suburban development, to areas that are mined and logged, to areas that have been burned by wildfire.





With its diverse characteristics and location appeal, the Crown of the Continent Observatory will be a facility that the next generation of individual investigators will seek out for testing their hypothesis and conducting scientific research related to hydrologic issues.



The Crown of the Continent Hydrologic Observatory will provide a unique and excellent opportunity to document how climatic stresses have, are, and will modify the hydrologic system. The hydrologic community will gain large integrated core data sets that can be used to test and develop forecasting methods and tools, and insights into methods needed to unravel and define interrelationships among complex watershed, climatic, ecological and human activities. Physical and ecological interactions in this basin form a template, or metric, by which the sources, sinks, stores and transfers within less pristine systems around the world can be framed.



Several sites in the HO are current validation points for NASA MODIS vegetation productivity (MOD15, 17) and ET (MOD16) products. Research is also underway to develop improved algorithms for regional monitoring of water clarity and NPP for large montane lakes in the HO. Additional areas of the HO are also currently designated as future calibration and validation sites for HYDROS.








A Few Example Science Questions


  • How will changes in the precipitation, and snow-pack accumulation and melt

quantity, distribution and timing impact stream flows and related ecological

systems? Recently completed research suggests basin snow-pack is melting earlier

and the glaciers are receding. What is controlling these changes and how will such

changes impact water availability and related ecosystems?


Intermountain development


  • What is the relationship between stream systems and groundwater in pristine and altered landscapes? The unique pristine nature of much of the head waters allows for examination of how natural disturbances, such as fire, affect the storage and transport of water, sediment and nutrients. These watersheds can be compared to watersheds managed for timber harvest and experiencing other changes in land use.



  • How can the location and timing of mountain mass groundwater recharge be quantified? Little overland flow is witnessed in these complex landscapes. The groundwater recharge quantity, timing and the flow systems interconnection with river systems and deep valley aquifers needs to be understood.





Mountain mass groundwater recharge


  • How do large scale water management practices headed in pristine watershed and

intermountain valleys alter the system hydrology, sediment transport and deposition,

floodplain processes, and ecological systems?


  • How can primary physical and ecological linkages and energy flows in basins be maintained in the face of landscape changes. What are the key elements that define a functioning system at this scale?







†††††† Read our full prospectus



Crown HO



Design Team