Foundations of Physical Hydrology:
Water & Climate

Course Material:

a) Syllabus (Provisional)

b) Demo material for developing instructional technology.)

c) Some resource material :


 See also: Instructor's Main Web Site

Interaction Among the Watershed Elements

Geological Sciences/Environmental Studies 58


Synopsis: Water, its availability and its unique physical properties, is a partner with solar radiation among the primary agents that drive weather and climate. The cycling of water through the Earth's environment is the yin and yang of water − a benefactor sustaining humankind's food supplies, facilitating transportation and producing power, while conversely an adversary responsible for droughts, floods, wildfires and landslides. If the climate is changing, then, without doubt, water, being the most abundant greenhouse gas − far more so than the nearest candidate, CO2 − will be a principal player in the atmosphere, land processes, in the oceans and rivers, and in the soil. But, how this role will be played out remains elusive to science; we first need to understand the "normalcy" of water processes. We need to understand the normal behavior of water − even as we need to understand what are normal extreme events. This course is a qualitative/semi-quantitative introduction to the underlying causes of floods, droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes in the context of environmental processes globally driven by the unique character of water, and by its regional abundance or scarcity. We explore the foundations for understanding the physical mechanisms by which water is transported throughout a hydrologic system, emphasizing the fundamental inter-coupling of atmospheric, surface, soil and ground water. While providing background for future studies, the course is primarily designed to enable informed citizens to thoughtfully critique and comment on fundamental issues of public policy. A pre-college math and physics background is expected.

This course is primarily designed to be a forum in which humanities and science students might explore topics of common interest.





Provisional Topics:


Week 1: Partitioning of Water in the Global Environment: The Hydrologic Cycle Relative Distribution of Water in the Earth's Environment Watersheds: Fundamental units of hydrology

Week 2 Mass Balance in the Water Cycle: Summary of Surface & Subsurface Flow Generation


Week 3 Precipitation Evapotranspiration

Week 4 Infiltration, Depression Storage & Overland Flow Wetlands

Week 5 & 6 Streamflow Generation; Floods


Week 7 & 8 Hydrologic nature of the geologic environment Fundamental Concepts of Ground-Water Flow

Week 9 Visualizing flow patterns in the subsurface

Week 10 Physical Processes in Aquifers Subsurface flow to a discharging (recharging) well Well tests and monitoring wells Regional Flow Patterns

Week 11 & 12 Water Quality Watershed Pollution & Contaminant Migration Overview of water moving through the environment

An alpine glacial lake.

Alpine conifers.

Public Questionnaire on Content

St. Mary's Glacier.

Blackstone River in flood.

More concept images. (Such as shown below.)

A "slant-hole" monitoring well (note water level).

Transition from unconfined to confined aquifer.

Spring runoff in the Blackstone.

Las Vegas Flash Floods - 1999.
(Las Vegas Review Journal. Photo by Jeff Scheid)