Urban Systems

Urban areas are rapidly expanding and an increasing fraction of the world’s population lives in urban or suburban areas.  Our research in urban areas quantifies the impacts of urbanization on water quality, water availability and flood risk. We also look at urban areas as functioning ecosystems – examining how vegetated patches in urban environments – lawns, riparian corridors, storm water detention ponds – provide ecosystem services including nitrogen cycling and carbon sequestration, habitat provision and more.

Research Questions
  • What is the role of vegetation in urban ecohydrology? How does urbanization impact plant water use and productivity, carbon sequestration, streamflow and nutrient cycling?
  • How do can we strategically use urban design to change how water and materials move through the system – e.g how do patterns of impervious area influence urban ecosystem function and streamflow? Under what geoclimatic conditions does restoration of urban streamflows reduce nutrient export? Where should we optimally focus storm water management actions (detention ponds, riparian restoration)?
  • How will a changing climate alter urban ecosystems and hydrology?


Urbanization in semi-arid landscapes:  Semi-arid landscapes are characterized by infrequent and often extreme precipitation events. We apply the RHESSys model to an urbanizing semi-arid catchment in Santa Barbara, CA to explore the impact of different configurations of impervious area on urban vegetation and streamflow. This work is part of the Santa Barbara LTER (check it out).

Storm water management: We combine field-based analysis with RHESSys to investigate how best management practices in urban environments (swales, detention ponds, riparian restoration) can be strategically placed to reduce nutrient export  (take a look).

Relevant Poster Presentations

The following are recent poster presentations given by members of our lab at various conferences. Click a figure to view the presentation.

Relevant Research
  • Wetherley, E.B., Roberts, D.A., Tague, C.L., Jones, C., Quattrochi, D.A., McFadden, J.P. (2021) Remote sensing and energy balance modeling of urban climate variability across a semi-arid megacity, Urban Climate 35: 100757. doi:10.1016/j.uclim.2020.100757.   
  • Miller, D.L., Alonzo, M., Roberts, D.A., Tague, C.L., McFadden, J.P. (2020) Drought response of urban trees and turfgrass using airborne imaging spectroscopy, Remote Sensing of the Environment 240: 111646. doi:10.1016/j.rse.2020.111646. 
  • Bell, C.D., Tague, C.L., McMillan, S.K. (2019) Modeling runoff and nitrogen loads from a watershed at different levels of impervious surface coverage and connectivity to stormwater control measures, Water Resources Research 55(4): 2690-2707. doi:10.1029/2018WR023006.

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