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The Watershed Science Laboratory conducts research broadly related to watershed issues with an emphasis on the use of sedimentary archives as a tool for reconstructing long-term hydro-climatic and landscape changes and evaluating modern human impacts within the context of natural variability. We also emphasize the use of geographic information systems (GIS) as a tool for evaluating connections between landscape and landuse characteristics and lake, river, and watershed processes. In addition to carrying out field and laboratory investigations we develop and utilize tools for data analysis, data mining, and data visualization. Our research focuses on issues relevant to Massachusetts and the northeastern US as well as topics that are of global significance.

Students play an integral role in the Watershed Lab's research program and opportunities exist for students in all stages of their academic careers. Students often carry out semester-long independent research projects for credit. These projects frequently involve a combination of field, laboratory, and GIS work and commonly focus on local water bodies.  In addition, paid summer opportunities often exist to work alongside faculty during the summer on ongoin research projects. Many of these project involve extensive fieldwork and opportunities to travel nationally and/or international.  With advance planning it is also possible for students to develop their own research project and even secure their own sources of funding. Interested students should contact Professor Tim Cook. 

The Watershed Science Laboratory is well equiped to help local watershed or lake associations generate results needed for effective management decisions. The Watershed Lab provides an excellent opportunity for local organizations to efficiently obtain the results they desire while simultaneously contributing to student training. 


Our primary research in the northeastern US is investigating a series of overlapping and related questions. These include fundamental geologic questions about the factors that control regional differences in the rate of erosion and sediment yield from watersheds in different parts of New England; the impact and legacy of human activity on the New England landscape; factors controlling the magnitude and frequency of extreme flooding in northeastern rivers; and the relative impacts of floods, long-term climate change, and humans on erosion. These questions are primarily being addressed through the collection and analysis of cores from lakes which record the input of terrestrial sediment from their surrounding watershed and the analysis of historical hydrological and meteorological data. Initial results comparing the relative significance of human and climatic impacts on erosion in a single watershed in Vermont were published in Geophysical Research Letters in 2015 while an examination of the cause of the exceptionally high erosion associated with Tropical Storm Irene in 2012 was recently published in the journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. Our goals are to test the hypotheses generated in these preliminary investigations on a broader and more comprehensive cross section of the northeastern US.

Another current focus of the Watershed Lab involves basic research on the role of lakes in the global carbon cycle and efforts to reconstruct the climate history of the Mealy Mountains of southeastern Labrador, Canada. With funding from the American Chemical Society we completed two summers of field work in this remote wilderness setting. This region was targeted because it lies at the boundary between boreal forest and tundra ecosystems and has a high density of lakes in close proximity. Thus the setting is ideal for performing a comparative study evaluating lake and watershed controls on organic carbon burial in lakes. The research involved the establishment of automated weather stations in the field area and installation of moorings in individual lakes to record water temperature variations and annual sediment accumulation. In addition, sediment cores were collected from each lake in order to quantify long-term rates of carbon burial and to reconstruct the post-glacial climate and environmental history of the region. Analysis of instrumental data and laboratory analysis of sediment cores for this project is ongoing.


[10] Yellen, B., Woodruff, J.D., Cook, T., Newton, B., 2016. Unprecedented Historical Erosion from Tropical Storm Irene due to High Antecedent Precipitation. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, doi: 10.1002/esp.3896.

[9] Cook, T. C., Yellen, B., Woodruff, J. D., and Miller, D., 2015. Contrasting human versus climatic control of erosion. Geophysical Research Letters, 42, doi:10.1002/2015GL064436

[8] Woodruff, J.D., Kanamaru, K., Kundu, S., and Cook, T.L., 2014. Depositional Evidence for the Kamikaze Typhoons and Links to Changes in Typhoon Climatology. Geology, doi:10.1130/G36209.1.

[7] Brigham-Grette, J., Melles M., Minyuk,P., Andreev, A, Tarasov, P., DeConto, R., Koenig, S., Nowaczyk, N., Wennrich, V., Rosén P., Haltia, E., Cook, T., Gebhardt, T., Meyer-Jacob, C., Snyder, J., Herzschuh, U., 2013. Pliocene Warmth, Polar Amplification, and Stepped Pleistocene Cooling recorded in NE Arctic Russia. Science, 340: 1421-1427.

[6] Melles, M., Brigham-Grette, J., Minyuk, P., Nowaczyk, N. R., Wennrich, V., DeConto, R.M., Anderson, P.M, Andreev, A.A., Coletti, A., Cook, T. L.., Haltia-Hovi, E., Kukkonen, M., Lozhkin, A.V., Rosen, P., Tarasov, P., Vogel, H., Wagner, B., 2012. 2.8 Million Years of Arctic Climate Change from Lake El'gygytgyn, NE Russia. Science, 337: 315-320.

[5] Melles, M., Brigham-Grette, J., Minyuk, P., Koeberl, C., Andreev, A., Cook, T., Gebhardt, C., Haltia-Hovi, E., Kukkonen, M., Nowaczyk, N., Schwamborn, G., Wennrich, V., and the El´gygytgyn Scientific Party. 2012. The Lake El’gygytgyn Scientific Drilling Project – Conquering Arctic Challenges through Continental Drilling, Scientific Drilling, 11: 29-40.

[4] Cook, T. L., and Bradley, R. S., 2010. An analysis of past and future changes in the ice cover of two high-arctic lakes based on synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and Landsat imagery, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, 42: 9-18. 

[3] Kaufman, D. S., Schneider, D. P., McKay, N. P., Ammann, C. M., Bradley, R. S., Briffa, K. R., Miller, G. H., Otto-Bliesner, B. L., Overpeck, J. T., Vinther, B. M., and Arctic Lakes 2k Project Members (Abbott, M., Axford, Y., Bird, B., Birks, H. J. B., Bjune, A. E., Briner, J., Cook, T., Chipman, M., Francus, P., Gajewski, K.., Giersdottir, A., Hu, F. S., Kutchko, B., Lamoureux, S., Loso, M., MacDonald, G., Peros, M., Porinchu, D., Schiff, C., Seppa, H., and Thomas, E.), 2009. Recent warming reverses long-term Arctic cooling. Science, 325: 1236-1239.

[2] Cook, T. L., Bradley, R. S., Stoner, J. S., and Francus, P. 2009. Five thousand years of sediment transfer in a High Arctic watershed recorded in annually laminated sediments from Lower Murray Lake, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada, Journal of Paleolimnology. DOI: 10.1007/s10933-008-9252-0

[1] Cook, T. L., Sommerfield, C. K., and Wong, K.-C., 2007. Observations of tidal and springtime sediment transport in the upper Delaware Estuary, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, vol. 72: 235-246. doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2006.10.014. 

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Worcester, MA 01602

Phone: (508) 929.8574