CU Boulder CU Boulder CU Boulder CUB SearchUniversity A to ZUCB Map

Boulder Creek CZO


Betasso Meteorological Station Web page is now live
Located at the top of Betasso research catchment, output is every 10 seconds.

Fourmile Canyon Fire and the CZO
Evaluating the effects of wildfire on water quality in Boulder County

More news >>


We study critical zone architecture, the processes responsible for its evolution, and the ecological and hydrological services it provides, in a landscape with erosion histories that vary significantly across the catchment.


  • What is the legacy of climate and geologic history in critical zone architecture?
  • How are the dynamics of key interfaces within the critical zone governed?
  • What are the feedbacks between hydrologic and ecological processes and critical zone evolution?
  • How do landscape position, slope aspect, microclimate and rock properties control the evolution of the critical zone?

What is the Critical Zone? Why study It? >>

More Info

We seek to understand how erosion and weathering control the architecture and function of the Critical Zone, the weathered, hydrologically active near surface environment. The headwaters of Boulder Creek encompass widely varying erosion histories —glacial scouring, slow post-Laramide denudation, and recent base level lowering —so that the effects of these on weathering can be explored.

The field sites span climate and ecological gradients from lower montane to alpine tundra. The Boulder CZO team has established research watersheds in each erosional regime (see Sites tab). Characterization of depth to bedrock, character of weathered materials, microbial ecology, stream water inorganic and organic chemistry, and meteorological parameters is underway. Field sites are on City of Boulder land, Boulder County Open Space, and U.S. Forest Service land, and share some overlap with the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, and the Southern Rockies-Colorado Plateau domain of the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON).

An Introduction To Our Research Topics


Geomorphology the study of landforms and the processes that shape them. Geomorphologists use several types of models to evaluate spatial patterns of the earth...


Geophysical surveys allow us to study the structure of the critical zone over large areas without disrupting the soil profile. These surveys provide context for the biological, geochemical and hydrological functions driving weathering and transport within the catchments...


Three weather stations are currently established along an elevational transect ranging from the top of the Betasso catchment at 1960 meters to the outlet of Green Lake 4 at 3740 meters. 

Cosmic Rays

Cosmic rays impact the surface of the earth with sufficient energy to split atoms. Some of the newly created atoms are only made in this way – these are cosmogenic nuclides...


Discharge, or the volumetric flow rate of water, is commonly estimated in rivers and streams from the measured water-surface elevation (stage) using an empirical fit to measurements of stage and concurrent discharge...

Stream Chemistry

Streams serve as integrators of the landscape and by measuring various constituents within the water we are able to assess watershedfunctions (e.g. nutrient availability).  In addition, sampling streams provides us information about the stream ecosystem and how it functions (e.g. dissolved organic material quality and quantity and planktonic community composition)...


About 20,000 years ago, in the last glacial maximum, or LGM, the glaciers in the Colorado Front Range extended much farther downstream of their present-day position (see figure left)...

Every 24 hours, a time-lapse camera above Green Lake 4 captures an image of Green Lakes Valley in the direction of the continental divide...

Soil & Weathering

Soil grows downward over time as parent material (bedrock or sediment) weathers and mixes with organic material and dust from the ground surface.   In time, soil layers (“horizons”) develop parallel to the surface. 

GIS & Remote Sensing

GIS (Geographic Information System) is a system of hardware and software used for storage, retrieval, mapping and analysis of spatial data...

Remote sensing (RS) is a way to gather information about Earth from a distance by using special instruments mounted on airplanes, satellites...