Freshwater systems are essential to human health and well being. Globally, governments are increasingly challenged to provide reliable and affordable water supplies to growing human populations and local communities are concerned that water development is degrading freshwater ecosystems and disrupting ecosystem services. However, stresses due to land use change, climate change, emerging pollutants and other anthropogenic pressures increasingly threaten the sustainability of freshwater systems, and amplify risks of extreme flood and drought.
The Pacific Northwest is a nexus of intensifying pressures on freshwater. Climate and land-use (urbanization, agriculture) change are shifting the timing, frequency and magnitude of hydrological processes that move water, sediment, nutrients, contaminants and other constituents, significantly impacting terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and the critical services they provide. For example, these changes threaten to reduce mountain snowpack used for water supply while increasing stream temperatures, flooding and sediment delivery. Basic research and predictive modeling in hydrology and terrestrial and aquatic ecology have been typically conducted independently, yet global change impacts on water sustainability require a systems approach that unifies disciplinary research and considers humans as integral components of the water system. Progress in understanding and modeling freshwater systems as coupled interacting systems has been limited, and holds tremendous challenges and opportunities for scientific advances and analytical approaches to guide policy.
To address this critical research gap, the Mountain to Sound Initiative will catalyze and facilitate water sustainability research at UW by addressing key questions directly relevant to the Pacific Northwest; efforts which can then be translated to national and global scales. The initiative is a joint venture of interdisciplinary faculty from the College of Engineering, the College of the Environment and the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (UWT) whose research areas include hydrology, carbon cycling, fisheries and aquatic ecology, estuarine hydrodynamics, and contaminant fate. This initiative will facilitate interaction and generate new interdisciplinary research directions within the entire water sciences community at UW.
Due to their complexity and inherent interconnectivity challenges to freshwater systems must be addressed with a coordinated interdisciplinary effort that considers geochemistry and hydrology, ecosystem impacts and human interactions. The UW has nationally recognized expertise in each of these areas including: hydrological observations and modeling (CEE), environmental engineering (CEE), freshwater ecology (SAFS), estuarine and coastal hydrodynamics (CEE and Oceanography), biogeochemistry and forest sciences (SAFS, SEFS) and climate change science (all units).
The UW initiated a faculty cluster hire in 2012 in the College of the Environment, the College of Engineering, and UW Tacoma to strengthen science, engineering, resources management, and educational capacity in freshwater sciences. Mountains to Sea advances a number of major goals of the initiative; specifically, to build a collaborative network in Freshwater Sciences and Engineering that can effectively catalyze coordinated, multi-disciplinary research, teaching and outreach efforts.