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Proceedings of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Sediment Workshop, February 4-7, 1997


J.R. Gray,
S.J. Williams,
S. E. Finger, and
J.W. Jones
U.S. Geological Survey


For more than a century the USGS, as its name implies, has been the leading federal earth science research organization for the Nation. With the recent addition to the USGS of the National Biological Service in October 1996, as the Biological Resources Division, the mission of the USGS has broadened and the Survey's research capabilities are strengthened considerably. The USGS is now in a position to provide objective and credible scientific information across the fields of geology, geophysics, hydrology, geography, and biology and to provide the science information in an integrated and truly multidisciplinary manner.

The subject of sediment is one that is critical to nearly every activity in the USGS and is becoming increasingly important to society and protecting, sustaining, and restoring the Nation's natural resources.

The purpose of this workshop is to focus on this common denominator, sedimentary research, and bring together investigators to examine areas of expertise and collaboration on existing studies and to explore potential for future scientific interaction across all four of the divisions. A brief summary of sediment research capability for each division follows.


Sediment monitoring and research activities in the Water Resources Division (WRD) center primarily on the Nation's fresh-water resources and estuaries. Sediment data provided by the WRD are used for a variety of purposes, including evaluations of:

Monitoring Almost all sediment-monitoring activities are performed as part of operations directed from District offices located in the 50 States and Puerto Rico (District operations). Collection of daily suspended-sediment discharge data has declined from a total of 360 sites in the United States in 1982 (Nolan and others, 1994), to 153 sites in 1996 (Lew, Melvin, written commun., 1997). In 1996, more than half of these stations (88) were supported by the Federal-State Cooperative (COOP) Program; a third (51) were supported by other Federal agencies, primarily by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers; and about seven percent (11) were supported solely by the USGS.

Several water-quality programs -- most notably the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA), and the National Stream Quality Accounting Network (NASQAN)-- collect sediment data in recognition of the critical role of sediment in the transport and accumulation of toxic substances in rivers, lakes, wetlands, and estuaries.

Research Sediment research in the WRD is performed under a variety of programs and at numerous locations. Most WRD sediment research takes place as part of the National Research Program (NRP), the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), and as part of District operations.

Oversight and Quality Assurance The Office of Surface Water (OSW) maintains overall responsibility for oversight and assuring the quality of WRD's sediment programs. Issues involving sediment chemistry are coordinated with the Office of Water Quality. The Sediment Action Committee, comprised of representatives from Districts, the Offices of Surface Water, Water Quality, Research, and Technical Support, provides the sound advice required to set priorities for sediment activities in the WRD.

Support Units Sediment Laboratories: The WRD maintains ten sediment laboratories which perform suspended-sediment concentration analyses, and particle-size distribution analyses of bed, bedload, and surficial-material samples by dry or wet sieving, as appropriate. Four of these sediment laboratories also perform full particle-size distribution analyses on whole-water samples.

Federal Interagency Sedimentation Project (FISP): The FISP, located at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, MS, is responsible to the multi-agency Technical Committee of the Subcommittee on Sedimentation, and is staffed by personnel from the USGS and USACE. The FISP supplies standardized, calibrated sediment and water-quality samplers and related instruments to Federal agencies and to foreign governments. FISP's areas of expertise include development, procurement, modification, testing, and calibration of sediment- and water-quality-sampling equipment; sediment-sampling methods; instruments for laboratory analysis of sediment samples; and instruments for automatic measurement of sediment in streams.


Edwards, T.K., and Glysson, G.D., 1988, Field methods for measurement of fluvial sediment: USGS Open-File Report 86-531, 118 p.

Guy, H.P., 1969, "Laboratory theory and methods for sediment analysis: Techniques of Water Resources Investigations Book 5, Chapter C1, 58 p.

Guy, H.P., 1970, Fluvial sediment concepts: Techniques of Water Resources Investigations Book 3, Chapter C1, 55 p.

Jobson, H.E., and Andrews, E.D., 1990, Major sedimentation issues for the USGS: Proceedings, 1990 National Conference of the Hydraulic Division, ASCE, San Diego, CA, pp. 1009-1014.

Koltun, G.F., Gray, J.R., and McElhone, T.J., 1994, User's manual for SEDCALC, a computer program for computation of suspended-sediment discharge: USGS Open-File Report 94-459, 46 p.

Lew, Melvin, and Dodds, Betty, 1996, Operation of Hydrologic data-collection stations by the U.S. Geological Survey: USGS Open-File Report 96-132, 28 p.

Nolan, K.M., Parker, R.S., and Jobson, H.E., 1996, Sediment Monitoring - Data availability and data needs, in, Watershed 94, Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Watershed Management Conference, Ashland, Oregon, November 1994, p. 40.

Porterfield, George, 1972, Computation of fluvial-sediment discharge: Techniques of Water Resources Investigations Book 3, Chapter C3, 66 p.



The Geologic Division (GD) actively addresses a broad array of research issues (e.g. contamination, erosion/accretion, habitat/landscape alteration, soil loss, wetland loss, basin analysis sequence stratigraphy, land-use change, mineral extraction, global change, ecosystem restoration) in sedimentary geology in all environmental settings - terrestrial land surfaces, fluvial, lacustrine, estuarine, and coastal/marine - using the following tools: geologic mapping of surface materials, remote sensing of surface and subsurface geology, coastal and seafloor characterization, sedimentary basin analysis, organic and inorganic geochemistry, and paleoenvironmental studies. Sediments and sedimentary processes associated with natural processes and anthropogenic influences can have dramatic long-term effects on humans and the rest of the biological community and erosion and sedimentation occur over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Examples include regional changes in sediment budgets and fluxes (sources, transport, depositional sinks) due to floods and catastrophic coastal storms, and longer-term events such as global climate change and rising eustatic sea level.

Combined with these factors are impacts of population growth and urbanization, and effects of engineering structures such as dams, river channelization, and coastal engineering. Additional environmental stress results from elevated nutrient, chemical, and sediment inputs, often associated with widespread land use changes. Documenting and understanding these environmental impacts with objective and credible science from GD and the rest of the USGS is critical to manage, protect, and restore the Nation's resources.

Providing a scientific understanding of the important sedimentary processes and amassing a baseline of environment information requires a range of research and monitoring activities, such as reconstructing past sediment patterns of erosion transport and deposition, monitoring sedimentary systems undergoing transition, and modeling complex systems responses to natural change as well as possible human alterations.

The sedimentary research conducted by GD staff is carried out through seven science programs that are nation-wide and often international in scope:

In the newly reorganized Geologic Division, funding and management and direction for research activities is the responsibility of the Program Coordinators and the research staff are organized into teams affiliated with the programs. The Chief Scientist of each team and the three Regional Geologists are responsible for implementing the science plan of the division. Each program has 5-year plans that detail the overall strategy and prioritization of research activities and these plans are used in managing and directing the programs. Individual studies are determined by an annual proposal review process that is open to all GD scientists and incorporates peer review by program councils composed of team scientists and managers. As part of that process scientists are highly encouraged to demonstrate collaboration with colleagues in the other three USGS divisions, as well as with other Federal and state agencies and the university community.



The Biological Resources Division (BRD) actively addresses research issues involving aquatic sediments in the freshwater, estuarine, and marine environments. Sediments provide habitat for aquatic organisms and the quantity and quality of those sediments influences the species composition, distribution, and overall health of the biological community. Sediment research is conducted by BRD scientists associated with its 16 research centers and 41 cooperative research units located throughout the country. Emphasis is placed on developing improved methods for assessing the physical and chemical nature of sediments, on linking these habitat characteristics to biological resource status and requirements, and on providing information concerning biological effects to other federal agencies for use in policy and management decisions.

The physical characteristics of sediments are a major component in defining the habitat quality for fish and aquatic invertebrates. BRD research scientists define the physical conditions necessary for optimum habitat and apply this information to models that evaluate the amount and quality of habitat available in different ecosystems. Information such as sediment transport, particle size distribution, and the amount of interstitial space for habitat are critical to understanding biological requirements for aquatic communities.

The chemical nature of sediments also plays an important role in determining habitat quality. Scientists study not only the chemical composition of the sediment, but also the toxicological effects of the sediment on the biological community. This is accomplished through toxicity assessments of whole sediments and associated interstitial waters, as well as ecological assessments that provide information concerning the species, populations, and communities inhabiting those sediments.

In general, research capabilities for sediment investigations in BRD exist at all of its research centers and in many university cooperative facilities. For example, the Great Lakes Science Center maintains the lead on research concerns within the Great Lakes region, but BRD scientists from the other centers also have research involvement in this area. Similarly, the Midwest Science Center has historically maintained the lead on issues related to the toxicological characterization of both water and sediments. However, such expertise is now available in other research centers and cooperative research units of BRD. Within BRD, scientists from different centers commonly work cooperatively to address issues at the ecosystem level.

Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) is a national BRD monitoring program that was formally implemented in Fiscal Year 1991 to collect high quality scientific credible information across spatial and temporal time scales regarding the occurrence of environmental contaminants and their effects on biotic and abiotic resources managed by the Department of Interior. The BEST program includes assessment of analytical chemistry, biomarkers and organism health, bioassay and toxicity testing, and population and community ecology evaluations. Although the BEST program is still under development, toxicological effects of sediment porewaters on aquatic organisms are being monitored at locations throughout the country. The BEST program is currently coordinated by the BRD Headquarters in Reston.



The National Mapping Division (NMD) conducts research and possesses technological and personnel resources which can contribute to the Bureau's research of sediment processes and the application of knowledge gained to resource management decision-making. NMD research applies Geographic Information System (GIS), remote sensing, field-survey spatial referencing (that is, global positioning system), and scientific visualization technologies to earth science research. These are important tools in both the quantitative modeling of sediment sources, transfer mechanisms, and sinks, and in the assessment of the environmental impacts and socio-economic implications of sediment processes. Additionally, NMD researchers continue to explore complex issues inherent in spatially distributed, physically and statistically based environmental modeling.

The use of data collected by earth orbiting satellites and GIS technology becomes necessary when attempting to monitor, understand, and forecast the behavior of environmental processes over large spatial and temporal domains or when assembling multi-variate information in a unified framework. For example, NMD research is demonstrating that spatially distributed information on vegetation conditions, created from standard USGS data products that are derived from satellite imagery collected over large areas with high temporal frequency, can improve our ability to monitor and forecast streamflow conditions or for characterizing watersheds at macroscales (Jones, 1997). In an investigation of carbon cycling over broad spatial and temporal scales, NMD researchers are helping to build and apply models by characterizing landscapes in terms of productivity, soil erosion, and sediment transport using remote sensing inputs in an integrated GIS and modeling framework (Bliss, this volume). Other NMD research is developing techniques for extracting information from airborne digital multi-spectral video imaging systems for applications such as flow resistance modeling over subtle topographic gradients (McPherson and others, 1995). This imaging system and associated data collection and processing expertise provides a flexible and relatively inexpensive means of custom multispectral data collection of use in channel mapping, sediment load estimation, land cover/surface change detection, and the monitoring and assessment of mitigation or remediation strategies. NMD researchers are currently investigating means of fusing products from airborne systems with other remotely sensed data of different spatial, spectral, and temporal resolutions for the derivation of biophysical information across broad areas (Anderson and others, 1997).

GIS technology and experience in addressing issues of scale are particularly important in research aimed at testing the efficacy of concepts developed at small, local scales for macroscale hydrologic and geomorphologic modeling. For example, terrain and other spatial modeling techniques are being applied in a scaling analysis, ranging from less than 30 meters to the entire watershed, in a characterization of sediment production and mobility in the Rio Puerco watershed in the southwestern United States (Watts, 1997).

The ability of researchers to understand the appropriateness and quality of model inputs and outputs, and their capacity to convey complex concepts to a broad spectrum of audiences are important components of the sediment research programs of the USGS. GIS and related scientific visualization capabilities of the NMD can be used to place our research into the context of federal land management or to present our advances in understanding to decisionmakers and the public (e.g., Jones, 1993). Those interested in leveraging unique NMD facilities and personnel resources for the conduct of sediment related research and applications are encouraged to contact the NMD scientists (e.g., those cited here), program management of the NMD (e.g., the Senior Program Group for Research and Development), and the staff associated with the geospatial technology laboratories that are operated by the NMD in regional mapping centers.


Anderson, J.E., Desmond, G.B., Lemeshewsky, G., and Morgan, D.R., 1997. Reflectance Calibrated Digital Multispectral Video: A Test-Bed for High Spectral and Spatial Resolution Remote Sensing. In Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing. In Review.

Jones, J.W., 1993. A Temporal Comparison of Forest Cover Using Digital Earth Science Data and Visualization Techniques. In the Proceedings of the Twelfth PECORA Symposium. ASPRS. Bethesda. pgs 301-310.

Jones, J.W., 1997. Relationships between Vegetation Indexes and Macroscale Hydrologic Fluxes. NHRI Symposium Series: The Third International Workshop on the Application of Remote Sensing in Hydrology. In Press.

McPherson, B.F., Higer, A.L., Gerould, S., and Kantrowitz, I.H., 1995. South Florida Ecosystem Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. Fact Sheet FS-134-95.

Watts, R.D., 1997. Personal Communication.



Susan E. Finger,
Aquatic Ecotoxicologist
U.S. Geological Survey
Biological Resources Division
Columbia, Missouri 65201

Currently serves as Program Coordinator for the Midwest Science Center. During the past 20 years, her career has focused on assessing the ecological effects of environmental contaminants on aquatic systems. Specifically, she has expertise in the response of biological communities to irrigation drainwaters of the western United States, ecological response and recovery of aquatic communities exposed to freshwater oil spills, environmental implications of fire fighting chemicals, influences of mining activity on aquatic organisms, and evaluation of habitat requirements for larval fish survival in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

John R. Gray,
Hydrologist/Sediment Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Division
Reston, Virginia 20192

Currently serves in the Office of Surface Water as hydrologist/sediment specialist. His 20-year USGS career includes research and data-collection in bedload and suspended sediment, hydraulics, geomorphology, streamflow, precipitation-runoff processes, water quality of streams and lakes, radionuclide/toxic substance transport in fluvial systems, and hydrologic instruments.

S. Jeffress (Jeff) Williams,
Program Coordinator,
Coastal and Marine Geology
U.S. Geological Survey
915 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192

Jeff Williams, a marine geologist specializing in coastal and inner continental shelf areas, has concentrated for over two decades on a variety of coastal and marine research topics dealing with exploration of hard mineral resources, wetlands and coastal processes, and geologic origins and evolution of coastal and estuarine systems and continental shelves. He has directed or participated in more than 70 geological field investigations along the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes as well as the Irish Sea, United Kingdom.

John W. Jones
Geographer(BR) U.S. Geological Survey
National Mapping Division
Reston, Virginia 20192

Currently serves in the Senior Program Group for Research and Development as Remote Sensing/Geographic Information Systems Applications Research Coordinator. John has been applying GIS and remote sensing in environmental management and earth science research activities for the past fifteen years through positions with State governments, private industry, and the USGS. Since joining the USGS in 1990, John has investigated spatially distributed hydrologic process modeling, bio-physical remote sensing, land cover and land surface change detection, and scientific visualization for environmental decision-making and public education.

Workshop Proceedings
Contributions from Other Federal Agencies
Contribution from the USGS