Collaborative Research, WSC-Category 2: Regional Climate Variability and Patterns of Urban Development – Impacts on the Urban Water Cycle and Nutrient Export

Claire Welty, PI, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of CUERE
Michael Barnes, Research Assistant, CUERE


The goal of the proposed work is to evaluate the interactions between urban development patterns and the hydrologic cycle and its associated nutrient cycles, within the context of regional and local climate variability. The paradigm driving this research is that dynamic interactions between the natural and human components of the urbanizing landscape produce striking spatial heterogeneity and temporal variability in water storage and fluxes that are major determinants of water quantity and quality.  Our specific objective is to create a modeling system capable of simulating the feedback relationships that control urban water sustainability.

We propose to address the following research questions: (1) How do human locational choices, water-based ecosystem services, and regulatory policies affect the supply of land and pattern of development over time? (2) How do the changing composition and variability of urbanizing surfaces affect local and regional climate? (3) How do patterns of development (including the engineered water system) and climate variability affect fluxes, flow paths and storage of water and nitrogen in urban areas?

The proposed work will integrate theories and models across the disciplines of hydrologic science, environmental engineering, biogeochemistry, and economics. Core elements include spatial modeling of urban development patterns and individual land use and location processes at parcel and neighborhood scales and for different policy scenarios; three-dimensional modeling of coupled surface water-groundwater and land surface-atmospheric systems at multiple scales (including consideration of the engineered water system), where development patterns are incorporated as input; and field work and modeling aimed at quantifying flow paths and fluxes of water and nitrogen in this system.

We will use the Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER (, as a platform for place-based research to carry out the proposed work.  In doing so, we will take advantage of a 12-year database of hydrologic and chemical characterization data; high-resolution land-cover, land use, and socio-demographic information; and a high-density hydrologic observing system.