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Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program

COVID-19 Message from Gary Geernaert, Director, BER Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division

"We are in unprecedented times with this pandemic, and we anticipate that the interruptions that we are facing may continue for some time. Our National Labs have shut down most operations; field campaigns have been postponed; and universities are unable to provide the same level of institutional support that you are accustomed to having. Similarly, DOE staff are operating in a virtual space. On top of the stresses on our personal lives during this period, the pandemic has also introduced stresses that affect our scientific lives. We in DOE recognize that many of these stresses introduce uncertainties in the success of some projects, and we are willing to be creative to help mitigate where we can." [More]

Predictive Understanding of Watershed Systems

Predictive Understanding of Watershed Systems. Watersheds serve as the fundamental hydrological units that connect terrestrial and aquatic systems. The overarching goal of the Subsurface Biogeochemical Research program is to advance a robust, predictive understanding of watershed function and response to perturbations as needed to address U.S. energy and environmental challenges. [Image courtesy LBNL and SLAC]


The Subsurface Biogeochemical Research (SBR) program seeks to advance a robust, predictive understanding of how watersheds function as integrated hydrobiogeochemical systems and how these systems respond to perturbations caused by changes in weather patterns, extremes, land use, water management, vegetation cover, snowmelt timing, and nutrient and contaminant release. SBR researchers are encouraged to use a systems approach to probe the multiscale structure and functioning of watersheds and to capture this understanding in mechanistic models representing both the complexities of the terrestrial subsurface and ecohydrological interactions with surface waterbodies and vegetation.

To accomplish this goal, SBR has five priority research objectives that are being pursued through a network of watershed testbeds within the contiguous United States. These objectives include:

  • Quantifying how biological behavior, abiotic-biotic interactions, and molecular transformations control the mobility of contaminants (e.g., uranium, technetium, and mercury), nutrients (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon), and critical biogeochemical elements (e.g., sulfur, iron, and manganese).
  • Quantifying and predicting how hydrology drives fine-scale biogeochemical processes in surface-subsurface systems.
  • Translating biogeochemical behavior across relevant molecular to watershed scales to accurately and tractably predict flows of water, nutrients, and contaminants.
  • Identifying, quantifying, and predicting watershed responses to natural and anthropogenic perturbations and shifts to new states.
  • Translating predictive understanding of watershed system function and evolution into near- and long-term environmental and energy strategies.

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Research Highlights

This research was sponsored by the SBR program, except for select highlights related to SBR research (noted as such) that were funded by other BER programs. Click on the "read more" link for information on funding sources.

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Subsurface Biogeochemical-Related BER Research Highlights

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Open Watershed Science by Design Workshop Report

October 2019

EESSD Strategic Plan 2018

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Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Overview

November 2019 [PDF]