Western Carolina University Groundwater Monitoring and Research Station

Jackson County, NC

Initial Site:
Primary Purpose: designed to study groundwater interaction with stream in a headwaters region typical of the southern Appalachians.
Site design: 43 GW wells, most in nests, at 12 locations and three study sites on Western Carolina University property.
Data from original site infrastructure:
  • ~6 sediment core descriptions
  • Hydraulic conductivity values (slug tests) of ~35 wells
  • Groundwater level data collected at ~2-week intervals for almost 2 years
  • Chemical sampling of most wells and adjacent streams
WCU Research Station Map
Additional Site Infrastructure added by WCU since GW wells installed:
  • 4 Stream gages with continuous level recorders (at uplands site and adjacent to primary GW nest sites)
  • 2 precipitation/climate stations
  • 8 Soil moisture probe nests at Long Branch and Gribble Gap sites, and along two upland slopes in headwaters.
  • Sampling lysimeter and tensiometer at upland recharge site in Gribble Gap catchment.
  • Rainwater isotope (H&O) sampling device 
  • Temperature loggers embedded in stream bed, ~ 20 cm depth, 9 sites
  • NSF grant ($200,000) to WCU researchers (D. Kinner & M. Lord) for site research and student involvement.

Preliminary Findings:

  • Hydraulic conductivity patterns reflect geomorphic setting.
  • GW flow influenced by K and proximity to high-relief slopes.
  • Sites show similar seasonal water level patterns but have divergent responses over small space & time scales.
  • Type & degree GW-SW interaction is spatially and temporally more variable upstream than downstream.
  • Water chemistry has similar traits overall, but can vary locally.
  • Upland area GW-SW interaction very complex mix of gaining & losing reaches controlled by local topography & geology
  • GW recharge—precipitation thresholds are being established
  • Ongoing H & O isotope sampling shows promising patterns to better map out flowpaths and understand GW recharge patterns.
  • Preliminary Results have been presented at 4 professional meetings.
Educational Impact:
7 classes, involving over 100 students, have directly used the site for course research, taught by Lord and/or Kinner: Hydrogeology, Soils & Hydrology, Geomorphology, Environmental Geology, Geology Research Seminar, and Science Education. Students have contributed to site research and, in some cases, have presented findings at professional meetings.
All studies ongoing will continue, including monitoring of GW, surface water, climate, and soil moisture.  One objective is to link shallow GW flow system monitoring into deeper GW flow system and bedrock geology.
All GW wells were installed with a truck mounted push probe, thus none penetrate bedrock. A deeper groundwater well nest would permit site research to understand the linkage between the shallow GW system that directly interacts with streams, tie into research at other REP sites, permit pump tests, permit deeper GW chemical & isotope sampling, and better understand the interface of sediments with bedrock. One well nest would be installed at the primary well location at each of the three sites. The nest should include a deep bedrock well (~200 ft), s shallow bedrock well (~30 ft), and a transition well just above the solid bedrock interface.
Grants obtained by project partners to date:
2011, Testing the Benefits of Undergraduate Research-Based Learning at Various Curricular Levels Using Authentic Research Questions in Hydrogeomorphology. National Science Foundation: Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Program, David Kinner and Mark Lord, awarded $199,099.
2011, Groundwater Recharge in Different Landscape Elements, Western North Carolina, WCU via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funds: David Kinner and Mark Lord, with Jerry Miller and Ben Tanner: awarded $43,800


Asheville Regional Office
2090 U.S. 70 Highway, Swannanoa, NC 28778