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Dr. James E. Almendinger

Dr. James E. Almendinger, Senior Scientist

Ph.D., University of Minnesota (Ecology), 1988
B.A., Ohio Wesleyan University (Botany), 1978

Phone: (651) 433-5953 ext. 19

Research Interests

Dr. James E. AlmendingerWater is the common thread that runs through virtually all of my research interests, which may be summarized as the use of hydrology as a tool to answer ecological and paleoecological questions.

Watershed modeling: the TAPwaters office

Computer models of watershed processes are extremely useful tools to answer critical questions about how land-use changes can impact water quality, or how climate change may alter stream flow. To establish our expertise in modeling and provide a platform for collaboration, we created the Technical Assistance Program for Watersheds, or "TAPwaters." Our current focus is to use the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), which is a modeling program developed by the USDA, to help water-resource managers make informed decisions and to improve our understanding of fundamental watershed processes. Most of our SWAT projects have been within the St. Croix River basin, but there are few limits to the scale and geographical applications of SWAT. With SWAT we can:

  • identify hot-spots of nonpoint-source pollution and evaluate management scenarios to mitigate the problem
  • see how drainage practices have altered the water budgets of watersheds
  • investigate the mechanisms of watershed-scale erosion
  • predict how climate change will alter stream flows and groundwater recharge

Human impacts on watershed hydrology

Humans change the watershed surface tremendously by building cities, farming, and logging. These landscape-scale changes alter the way water moves from the watershed into receiving waters such as streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, which can become degraded from increased loads of silt, nutrients, or toxic materials. Recent projects include studies of how restored prairie can reduce erosion in agricultural landscapes, how watershed urbanization can affect trout streams, and how erosion has increased in the upper Mississippi River Basin as a consequence of human impacts during the last 200 years. These studies provide the supporting data sets that are critically needed to calibrate and constrain watershed models such as SWAT (see above).

Hydrobiological survey of western Mongolia

One of my most exciting project revolves around our 2004-05 expeditions to western Mongolia to survey the biodiversity of small aquatic organisms. This was truly a voyage of discovery to search for new species of diatoms (a type of algae), ostracodes (a type of crustacean), and chironomids (a type of insect). My role was to characterize the water chemistry of the lakes, streams, and springs where these organisms live. We still have data to analyze and papers to publish, and are working to return to the "land of the eternal blue sky."

Quaternary paleoecology and paleoclimatology

Lake sediments accumulate annually and record a history of watershed and climate conditions. Analysis of cores of lake sediment therefore can provide "signals" of past conditions. However, interpreting these signals is not always straightforward. I use various hydrologic computer models to help us understand how lakes, groundwater, watershed conditions, and climate are linked so that we can go back in time and infer past conditions from the signals left behind in the sediments.

Representative Publications

(See also reports to funding agencies available as pdf documents elsewhere on our website; in particular the TAPwaters website offers downloads of our modeling reports and other helpful information about watershed modeling.)

Almendinger, J.E., M.S. Murphy, and J.S. Ulrich. (in press). Use of SWAT to scale sediment delivery from field to watershed in an agricultural landscape with topographic depressions. Journal of Environmental Quality.

Shinneman, A.L.C., J.E. Almendinger, C.E. Umbanhowar, M.B. Edlund, and S. Nergui. 2009. Paleolimnologic evidence for recent eutrophication in the Valley of the Great Lakes (Mongolia). Ecosystems 12: 944-960.

Tesoriero, A.J., J.H. Duff, D.M. Wolock, N.E. Spahr, and J.E. Almendinger. 2009. Identifying pathways and processes affecting nitrate and orthophosphate inputs to streams in agricultural watersheds. Journal of Environmental Quality 38: 1892-1900.

Engstrom, D.R., J.E. Almendinger, and J.A. Wolin. 2009. Historical changes in sediment and phosphorus loading to the upper Mississippi River: mass-balance reconstructions from the sediments of Lake Pepin. Journal of Paleolimnology 41: 563-588. DOI 10.1007/s10933-008-9292-5.

Shinneman, A.L.C., M.B. Edlund, J.E. Almendinger, and N. Soninkhishig. 2009. Diatoms as indicators of water quality in Western Mongolian lakes: a 54-site calibration set. Journal of Paleolimnology

Almendinger, J.E., and M.S. Murphy. 2007. Problems and solutions in applying SWAT in the Upper Midwest USA. In Srinivasan, R. (ed.) 4th International SWAT Conference Proceedings. UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands, pp. 398-407.

Almendinger, J.E.  1999. A method to prioritize and monitor wetland restoration for water-quality improvement. Wetlands Ecology and Management 6:241-251.

Almendinger, J.E., and J.H. Leete. 1998. Regional and local hydrogeology of calcareous fens in the Minnesota River Basin, U.S.A. Wetlands 18: 184-202.

Almendinger, J.E., and J.H. Leete. 1998. Peat characteristics and ground-water geochemistry of calcareous fens in the Minnesota River Basin, U.S.A. Biogeochemistry 43: 17-41.

Almendinger, J.E. 1993. A groundwater model to explain past lake levels at Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, USA. The Holocene 3: 105-115.