The USGS and INSTAAR are home to a vast array of laboratories and a wealth of expertise for analyzing water, soil, air, and biological samples. Several CWEST researchers have also been involved in the development of a variety of premier water chemistry and transport and earth surface process models. These research tools are used by investigators both in the U.S. and around the world.

In order to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of analytical capacity and know-how and also in order to provide opportunities for learning new analyses or modeling techniques, here we are putting together a list of CWEST research capabilities along with brief descriptions and points of contact. If you are interested in a particular research capability, we encourage you to get in touch with one of the contacts listed or with CWEST’s program manager ( to get more information. Please check back in for periodic updates.


Colorado Snow Lab (CSL), INSTAAR

Colorado Snow Lab (CSL), INSTAARThe Colorado Snow Lab is the facility used by the Mountain Hydrology Group at INSTAAR. Equipment includes a spectrometer, ground penetrating radar, spectral snowpack profiler, hemispherical camera, snow depth sensors, and near infrared photography.

Contact: Noah Molotch, Lab Manager - 
LinkMountain Hydrology Group INSTAAR webpage


Diatom Lab, INSTAAR

Diatom Lab, INSTAARThe Diatom Lab has three research grade microscopes equipped with digital imaging cameras and software to facilitate diatom identification and documentation of voucher material. The INSTAAR Diatom Collection is based on a locality database containg several thousand microslides and archive material from Arctic, Antarctic, and alpine freshwaters. INSTAAR also hosts major online floras, Diatoms of the United States and Antarctic Freshwater Diatoms databases, with Dr. Sarah Spaulding as the project lead.

Contact: Dr. Sarah Spaulding, Lab Director - 
LinksDiatom Lab INSTAAR webpage
Diatom Lab Tour educational webpage

Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) Characterization Lab, INSTAAR

DOM Lab, INSTAARThe DOM Characterization Lab is equipped with a Shimadzu 5000 total organic carbon analyzer, an Agilent ultraviolet spectrophotometer, two spectrafluorometers – a Fluoromax-3 and a Fluoromax-4, numerous resin columns with which to perform resin chromotagraphy, and an Ultrafilter to conduct size-excluding filtration. The lab holds periodic trainings on DOM analyses and the use of the Parallel Factor Analysis (PARAFAC) computer model coupled with the Cory-McKnight MATLAB model for the analysis of DOM fluorescence characteristics.  The Cory-McKnight model was developed by former INSTAAR graduate student, Dr. Rose Cory, and CWEST Director, Dr. Diane McKnight and is now widely used by DOM researchers. A training is currently scheduled for late summer or Fall 2016, please contact Chris Florian for more information.

ContactsDr. Diane McKnight, Lab Director -; Chris Florian, post-doctoral researcher - Christopher.Florian@Colorado.EDU; Garrett Rue, graduate student - 
Links: DOM Lab INSTAAR webpage
DOM Lab CWEST Lab Tour educational webpage 
DOM Lab anyalytical services and costs

Arikaree Environmental Lab, INSTAAR

Kiowa Environmental Chemistry Lab, INSTAARThe Arikaree Environmental Lab is the environmental chemistry lab for the Niwot Ridge Long-Term Ecological Research site.  The lab can analyze water, snow, soil, and air samples for major solutes and nutrients.  Equipment includes an ion chromatograph, atomic absorption spectrometer, total organic carbon analyzer, spectrophotometric flow injection analyzer, and isotopic liquid water analyzer among other instruments. 

Contact:  Holly Miller, Lab Manager - 
LinkArikaree Environmental Lab INSTAAR webpage 
Arikaree Environmental Lab analytical services

Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) Lab, INSTAAR

ICP-MS Lab, INSTAARINSTAAR’s ICP-MS lab houses a Thermo Finnigan Element2 sector field inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer.  It analyzes trace and minor elements mainly in the calcium carbonate of foraminifera shells to reconstruct past climates.  On occasion, the lab also analyzes trace and minor elements in natural waters as well. 

ContactDr. Tom Marchitto, Lab Director - 
Link: ICP-MS Trace Element Lab INSTAAR webpage

Phycology Lab, INSTAAR

Phycology Lab, INSTAARThe phycology lab is equipped with two research grade microscopes, a spectrophotometer and a FlowCam that facilitates the counting and identification of algae.

Contacts: Dr. Diane McKnight, Lab Director -, Kathi Hell, Lab Manager - 
LinkPhycology Lab CWEST Lab Tour educational webpage


Stable Isotope Laboratory (SIL), INSTAAR

Stable Isotope Laboratory (SIL), INSTAAREstablished in 1989, INSTAAR’s Stable Isotope Lab analyzes carbon, hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in water, air, and organic material samples coming from all over the world. Utilizing 8 mass spectrometers and a growing number of laser-based spectroscopy instruments, the lab continues to pioneer new methods and techniques using stable isotopes for a variety of applications.  A cornerstone of their research is in collaboration with the NOAA Global Monitoring Division, analyzing isotopes in thousands of atmospheric air samples every year, creating one of the largest and most precise databases of isotopes in atmospheric greenhouse gases today.  The lab also has a long history of generating paleoclimate records of stable isotopes in polar ice cores, and recently just finished producing the highest resolution isotopic record from an ice sheet, with over 2,400 values per meter for the entire core. 

Contacts: Dr. Jim White, Lab Executive Director - james.white@Colorado.EDU; Bruce Vaughn, Lab Managing Director -
LinksStable Isotope Lab INSTAAR webpage 
Stable Isotope Lab CWEST Lab Tour educational webpage



LOADEST, USGSLoad Estimator (LOADEST) is a FORTRAN program developed by USGS researcher and CWEST member Rob Runkel and two USGS colleagues for estimating constituent loads in streams and rivers. According to the LOADEST documentation, “given a time series of streamflow, additional data variables, and constituent concentration, LOADEST assists the user in developing a regression model for the estimation of constituent load (calibration). Explanatory variables within the regression model include various functions of streamflow, decimal time, and additional user-specified data variables. The formulated regression model then is used to estimate loads over a user-specified time interval (estimation). Mean load estimates, standard errors, and 95 percent confidence intervals are developed on a monthly and (or) seasonal basis.”

Contact: Dr. Rob Runkel - 
Link: LOADEST USGS webpage


QTEQ, USGSThe One-Dimensional Transport with Equilibrium Chemistry (OTEQ) computer model was developed by USGS scientist and CWEST researcher, Dr. Rob Runkel. It is used to characterize the fate and transport of waterborne solutes in streams and rivers. As explained in the OTEQ documentation, “the model is formed by coupling a solute transport model with a chemical equilibrium submodel. The solute transport model is based on OTIS, a model that considers the physical processes of advection, dispersion, lateral inflow, and transient storage. The equilibrium submodel is based on MINTEQ, a model that considers the speciation and complexation of aqueous species, acid-base reactions, precipitation/dissolution, and sorption.”

Contact: Dr. Rob Runkel - 
Link: OTEQ USGS webpage


OTIS, USGSThe One-Dimensional Transport with Inflow and Storage (OTIS) computer model was developed by USGS researcher and CWEST member, Dr. Rob Runkel, to characterize the fate and transport of water-borne solutes in streams and rivers. For conservative (non-reactive) solutes, four processes can be simulated – advection, dispersion, inflow, and transient storage. For nonconservative (reactive) solutes, two additional processes can be simulated – sorption and first order decay. Data for the model can be obtained by running field-scale tracer experiments.

Contact: Dr. Rob Runkel - 
Link: OTIS USGS webpage


PHREEQC, USGSPHREEQC is a computer code developed by the USGS that can be used for simulating chemical reactions and transport processes in natural or polluted water, in laboratory experiments, or in industrial processes. The program is based on equilibrium chemistry of aqueous solutions interacting with minerals, gases, solid solutions, exchangers, and sorption surfaces, which accounts for the original acronym — pH-REdox-EQuilibrium. The program has evolved to include the capability to model kinetic reactions and 1D (one-dimensional) transport.   PHREEQC is written in the C and C++ programming languages.   Several CWEST researchers at the USGS’s Marine Street location in Boulder use PHREEQC and can provide assistance in employing the model and the code.

Contacts: Dr. Kirk Nordstrom - , Dr. Kate Campbell -, Dr. Blaine McCleskey - 
LinkPHREEQC USGS webpage


WATEQ4F, USGSWATEQ4F is a computer code developed by USGS researcher Dr. James Ball and USGS researcher and CWEST member Dr. Kirk Nordstrom to determine chemical speciation of major, trace, and redox elements in natural waters.   The code uses field measurements of temperature, pH, Eh, dissolved oxygen and alkalinity, and the chemical analysis of a water sample as input and calculates the distribution of aqueous species, ion activities, and mineral saturation indices that indicate the tendency of a water to dissolve or precipitate a set of minerals (see Drever, 1988; Nordstrom and Munoz, 1994). The code uses the ion-association model and assumes homogeneous aqueous phase equilibria, except for redox species. Equilibrium with respect to mineral solubilities is not assumed. The program results are used primarily to examine the tendency of a water to reach mineral solubility equilibria as a constraint on interpreting the chemistry of natural waters.  A recent update includes an electrical conductivity calculation that can be compared to the measured conductivity for QA/QC (McCleskey et al, 2010). Results from the WATEQ4F code can be used as input for other programs such as PHREEQC to model geochemical reactions.

Contacts: Dr. Kirk Nordstrom -, Dr. Blaine McCleskey - 
Link: WATEQ4 USGS webpage


CWEST members have a variety of field equipment available from pH and conductivity meters to tracer injection pumps, waders and much more.  If you are looking to borrow field equipment, please feel free to email CWEST’s managing director at with your request, detailing what equipment you need, when you need it, and what the equipment will be used for.  We would be happy to email our members to see if we can facilitate the sharing of equipment.