The critical zone is a thin layer at the Earth’s surface where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact. The critical zone supports life on Earth. In the western United States, the critical zone is sensitive to changes in the environment, such as fires and droughts.  Our newly funded critical zone project is seeking highly motivated graduate students who are broadly interested in earth and environmental sciences, including hydrology, biogeochemistry, forest ecology, geophysics, and/or geology.  Field experiments and modeling efforts will occur across five watersheds in Colorado and California. The project links the fields of water science, forest ecology, rock chemistry and soil chemistry. The project connects the way water moves and is stored in the ground to how trees grow and to how soil and rocks change. Studying these interactions is important to understanding how Earth will respond to future changes in climate. 

The project is a collaboration among nine researchers from six universities and student opportunities exist across institutions. In addition, graduate students will have an opportunity to visit a collaborating institution and work with a diverse team. Below is the list of professors, institutions, and focal areas. Applicants do not need to have a degree in Earth Science or Geoscience to be considered; degrees in fields such as biology, physics, chemistry, engineering, applied math or other physical science fields are encouraged to apply. Underrepresented students and first-generation college students are strongly encouraged to apply. Prospective students should email the professor in their field of interest.  If you are interested in more than one field or school, please send a single email with all professors/schools copied to which you are interested in applying.



Expertise (linked to websites)

University of Colorado - Boulder

Holly Barnard (

Forest Hydrology and Ecology

Katherine Lininger (

Geomorphology and Carbon in River Corridors

Eve-Lyn Hinckley (

Soils and Biogeochemistry

Colorado School of Mines

Alexis Navarre-Sitchler (

Geochemistry and Weathering, Numerical modeling

Kamini Singha (

Hydrogeology and Geophysics

Penn State University

Li Li (

Hydrology, Biogeochemistry and Modeling

Oregon State University

Pam Sullivan (

Forest hydrology and Root Geochemistry

University of Nevada – Reno 

Adrian Harpold (

Snow and Forest Hydrology 

University of California – Santa Barbara

Naomi Tague (

Numerical Modeling of Forest Hydrology and Ecology