The Wasatch Environmental Observatory: A mountain to urban research network in the semi-arid western US

Jennifer J. Follstad Shah, Ryan Bares, Brenda B. Bowen, Gabriel J. Bowen, David R. Bowling, David P. Eiriksson, Benjamin Fasoli, Richard P. Fiorella, Anna Gannet Hallar, Sarah J. Hinners, John D. Horel, Alexander A. Jacques, Logan R. Jamison, John C. Lin, Daniel L. Mendoza, Logan E. Mitchell, Diane E. Pataki, Sarah Mc Kenzie Skiles, Rose M. Smith, Margaret A. WolfPaul D. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The 2085 km2 Jordan River Basin, and its seven sub-catchments draining the Central Wasatch Range immediately east of Salt Lake City, UT, are home to an array of hydrologic, atmospheric, climatic and chemical research infrastructure that collectively forms the Wasatch Environmental Observatory (WEO). WEO is geographically nested within a wildland to urban land-use gradient and built upon a strong foundation of over a century of discharge and climate records. A 2200 m gradient in elevation results in variable precipitation, temperature and vegetation patterns. Soil and subsurface structure reflect systematic variation in geology from granitic, intrusive to mixed sedimentary clastic across headwater catchments, all draining to the alluvial or colluvial sediments of the former Lake Bonneville. Winter snowfall and spring snowmelt control annual hydroclimate, rapid population growth dominates geographic change in lower elevations and urban gas and particle emissions contribute to episodes of severe air pollution in this closed-basin. Long-term hydroclimate observations across this diverse landscape provide the foundation for an expanding network of infrastructure in both montane and urban landscapes. Current infrastructure supports both basic and applied research in atmospheric chemistry, biogeochemistry, climate, ecology, hydrology, meteorology, resource management and urban redesign that is augmented through strong partnerships with cooperating agencies. These features allow WEO to serve as a unique natural laboratory for addressing research questions facing seasonally snow-covered, semi-arid regions in a rapidly changing world and an excellent facility for providing student education and research training.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14352
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Jordan River
  • Utah
  • atmospheric science
  • central Wasatch
  • climate
  • hydrology
  • meteorology
  • snow science
  • water quality
  • water supply

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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