Published: Feb. 14, 2023
Runkel headshot

Robert Runkel earned his PhD in civil engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering in 1993. For his thesis research, Runkel conducted studies of acid mine drainage streams in the Colorado Mineral Belt. He worked with scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and with his thesis advisor, Steve Chapra. As part of this research, he developed a stream water quality transport model that he made available through the USGS. The model has been very widely used by hydrologists, geochemists and ecologists to quantify the transport of  chemical constituents in surface waters. Runkel is now a leading hydrologist at the USGS and is well-regarded as a leading expert on acid rock drainage issues in Colorado. Runkel has published numerous journal articles and data reports based on his research and has served as an associate editor for Water Resources Research, a prominent journal in the field of hydrology. Throughout his career, Runkel has worked with graduate students in the Environmental Engineering Program in their studies of acid mine drainage. These interactions include helping to design and carry out field studies, as well as analyzing the results.

Contributions to the Environmental Engineering Program over the past year:

The topic of acid mine drainage is particularly interesting to graduate students in the Environmental Engineering Program because it is a prominent water quality issue in Colorado. During 2022, Runkel worked closely with a doctoral student, Tanya Petach, as she was analyzing the results of two experiments that were conducted 15 years apart in the same stream. Runkel’s insight and patience were critical to Petach’s progress in completing the analysis. Runkel also helped a previous master’s student write a paper based on his thesis, which addressed acid mine drainage inflows into a major tributary for Dillon Reservoir. At the same time, Runkel worked with another alumna on developing a journal article from her thesis research. These efforts by Runkel helped strengthen the students’ research reputations and supported research that will help to address major water quality problems in Colorado.

Runkel has worked with students in the EVEN program to help them advance their research on contaminant transport in streams and rivers. This collaboration is reflected in the numerous journal articles led by EVEN students on which Runkel is a co-author. Runkel is an excellent role model for students, exemplifying the approach of conducting impactful research at a high level of excellence.