Mendenhall Research Fellowship: Wildfire impacts on water availability in the Upper Colorado Basin

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Lakewood, CO, United States
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 


Please note: this job post has expired! To the best of our knowledge, this job is no longer available and this page remains here for archival purposes only.

Closing Date: January 4, 2021

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.

How to Apply

Apply Here


Wildfire size, fire severity, and length of fire season have increased substantially in the western U.S. over the past few decades, causing greater impacts on society. Much of the western U.S. relies on forested, high-elevation watersheds for water supply, in addition to protection from flash flooding. These forested watersheds are vulnerable to wildfire, which can substantially increase the post-wildfire flood risk to the built environment, including water supply infrastructure, and lead to changes in the quality and quantity of water supplies. Wildfire effects can also change streamflow quantity and timing though impacts on snow processes, interception, transpiration, and infiltration. After wildfires, increased surface runoff during storms can entrain surface contaminants and carry them to streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These problems lead to decreased water availability, higher water treatment costs, and impairment to aquatic ecosystems. Better understanding of the impacts of wildfire on water quality will increase the accuracy and timeliness of guidance about water availability, water quality, and water-related hazards, and will be used by water providers and land managers to mitigate post-wildfire threats to the Nation’s water security.

The USGS Water Mission Area (WMA) recently selected the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison River basin as the second basin in the NextGen Water Observing System (NGWOS). As the first USGS WMA Integrated Water Science Basin in the western U.S., it will be intensely instrumented, monitored, modeled, and assessed by many other WMA programs, and thus is the ideal watershed to evaluate the impacts that wildfire has on water availability. The basin has experienced long-term drought conditions and recent large wildfires, adding urgency to USGS efforts to apply integrated approaches for observing, delivering, assessing, predicting, and informing water resource conditions.

Description of the Research Opportunity:

Wildfire can change nearly all aspects of the hydrologic cycle, including interception, transpiration, snow accumulation and ablation, infiltration, groundwater recharge, erosion, contaminant entrainment, and stream temperature. In addition to these shifts in hydrologic states and fluxes, wildfire introduces changes in surface and subsurface parameters required for adequate representation in integrated hydrologic models. Yet, many of these relationships are neither fully understood nor systematically implemented in hydrologic modeling schemes. The duration of these hydrologic shifts and associated model parameterization problems are poorly characterized. Water-quality degradation may depend on tree species, fire severity, ash loading, soil thickness, soil textural classification, soil depth to bedrock, presence of historical mining activities, land use, and river corridor effects such as hyporheic exchange. Studies proposed under the Mendenhall postdoc opportunity may have field, laboratory, remote sensing, and/or numerical modeling components. New and existing datasets may be utilized to advance understanding and improve prediction of the wildfire impacts on water availability. The research is anticipated to use a framework of smaller-scale research integrated with basin-scale analysis and modeling to improve basin-to-regional scale assessments of fire-driven shifts in water quality and quantity affecting water availability. A successful proposal will build on ongoing USGS post-wildfire research and will be evaluated for scientific originality and innovation. The geographic focus of research will be in the Upper Colorado/Gunnison basin and similar, adjacent basins. However, we anticipate that research methodologies will be extensible to other basins in the western U.S.

We strongly encourage interested applicants to reach out to the research advisors early in the application process to discuss project ideas and address questions regarding the scope and methodologies for the research opportunity.

Proposed Duty Station: Lakewood, CO

Areas of PhD: Hydrology, geology, civil engineering, forestry, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Hydrologist, Research Geologist, Research Physical Scientist, Research Civil Engineer, Research Forester

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact: Beverly Ledbetter, 916-278-9396,