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Surficial Processes and the Environment


Hydrosciences faculty

Joe Donovan
Dorothy Vesper
Steve Kite
Shikha Sharma
Kathleen Benison

The near surface processes group includes faculty members and students conducting research in hydrogeology, water quality, geomorphology and geochemistry. We do basic and applied research relevant to water resource development, watershed restoration and management, geochemistry and hydrogeology of springs and acid saline lakes and groundwaters, abatement and remediation of mining-related water problems, water quality, and cave science. In the surface hydrology area, relevant research problems include stream restoration, natural channel design, flooding and landslide hazards, geoarcheology, and landscape evolution. A large portion of the group’s activity centers around the Hydrogeology Research Center (HRC) (, a collaboration between the WV Water Research Institute (WVWRI) and Eberly College of Arts and Sciences under direction of G/G faculty. In addition, the group anticipates sustained activity in the new WVU Environmental Center. While many of the group’s projects focus on the region (West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky), individual scientists are also involved on projects in locations such as Montana, North Dakota, Maine, North Carolina,Indiana, Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Chile.

Current Externally-Funded Research: Funding in the Surface Processes group, including HRC, currently runs about $350K annually. Over the last 10 years, it totaled over $2 million, with funding agencies including EPA, NSF Paleoclimate and Hydrologic Science, USDA National Research Initiative, USDA Forest Service, DOE, NASA, US Geological Survey, National Park Service, National Instite of Health, a number of cultural resource management firms, State agencies including the WV Division of Highways, WV Conservation Agency, Departments of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, and the WV Water Research Institute. Faculty and graduate students have published in journals such as Chemical Geology, Applied Geochemistry, Ground Water, Biogeosciences, Geology, Geofluids, Astrobiology, The Holocene, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, and Journal of Mine Water and the Environment. The nature of the research is broad ranging, from highly applied water resource surveys to fundamental research on the role between water and climate change. Current projects include examination of use of contaminated mine water for power plant cooling, examination of selenium in water discharging from WV mining sites, predicting and managing the flooding of underground mines in the Pittsburgh coal, characterizing natural and man-made Appalachian landscapes, evaluating flood and landslide risks throughout the state with emphasis on watersheds dominated by abandoned and reclaimed mine lands, developing natural stream design methodologies for the Mid-Atlantic Highlands, and assessing the sources and sustainability of municipal and private drinking waters obtained from springs.

History:The growth of the group was the result of addition of key new faculty in 1983, 1992, and 2002, driven by growth in student demand as well as in research opportunities at all levels from local to national. This time period has seen a fundamental shift in employment opportunities from traditional resource extraction sectors (fossil fuels, mining) to ones emphasizing water resources protection and development. Corresponding growth in availability of research funding is continuing into the 21st century.

Educational Linkages: Since 1994, 54% of entering Geology grad students study within this area and a large number of graduates at all levels undertakes career development in the hydrogeosciences. WVU graduates currently hold positions of responsibility in earth-science firms or agencies from Massachusetts to Oregon. The 52 students completing MS or PhD degrees in hydrosciences and surficial processes since 1994 represents over half the Geology graduate program’s production. There will be continued growth in the number of graduate students as new faculty establish their research programs. The Geology master’s degree remains in high demand in private industry and government, with virtually 100% placement in the last decade. The Hydrogeosciences group also plays a pivotal role in technology transfer and extension of research results.

Research Linkages. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the near surface, our faculty and students work extensively with people outside the department including WVU faculty in Biology, Soil Science, Forest Hydrology, Civil-Environmental Engineering, and Mining Engineering, and researchers at other universities and public agencies (e.g., U.S. Department of Energy),. Our interdisciplinary teams include with specialties in Geographic Information Systems, geomicrobiology, soils, hydrology, and wateshed management.