Susquehanna Shale Hills CZO

We were are a nationally funded Critical Zone Observatory established in 2007 - 2020. We continue to strive to keep this field research facility in operation. Our research promotes the understanding of how a forested, first-order catchment of shale bedrock evolves over multiple time scales in a temperate climate.

"We emphasize quantitative prediction of Critical Zone creation and structure, focusing on pathways and rates of water, solutes, and sediments"


Science Questions:

How does water sculpt a landscape on shale bedrock?

What controls the hydrologic and elemental budgets of the catchment?

What are the rates and mechanisms of important hydrological, ecological, and geochemical processes?

Our CZO is a forested, first-order catchment on shale bedrock in a temperate climate.

Our research promotes understanding of how the forested catchment evolves over multiple timescales ranging from the meteorological to the geological.

SSHCZO Organization Chart - September 2017


With processes occurring on the order of minutes (meteorological) to millennia (geological), we investigate how water sculpts a shale bedrock landscape and what controls the hydrologic and elemental budgets of the catchment. We seek to quantify the rates and mechanisms of important hydrological, ecological and geochemical processes. Our research team spans three colleges within PSU: Engineering, Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Agricultural Sciences.

(Photo) Nick Kaiser, summer REU student, collecting soil respiration data from the south swale transect within Shale Hills, PA.

Building upon the Past

The Shale Hills watershed along with a sister catchment, Leading Ridge watershed, have been the focus of long-term studies since 1958. Originally established to evaluate best management practices in forested and managed watersheds, todays Susquehanna Shale Hills CZO is building upon legacy data such as streamflow, precipitation, climate and water quality.

(Photo) George Holmes, MS alum from Civil and Environmental Engineering, collects precipitation samples from the Eigenbrodt NSA-181S for isotope analysis.

Education and Outreach

From summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) and a STEM academy with local high school pre-term freshmen to International Collaboration Experiences and beyond, we offer ongoing mentoring activities on catchment projects to develop and enrich your path to a science and engineering career. Our research team is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists by providing workshops and regular camp and field school experiences.

(Photo) Postdoctoral Scholar Chris Graham works with the local high school "pre-term freshman" in the first STEM academy offered at the CZO in August of 2010.


The Susquehanna Shale Hills CZO offers outstanding multidisciplinary opportunities for research collaborators and especially for graduate-student research. To schedule a field visit or take advantage of our data and infrastructure, please complete the Collaboration Request Form.

(Photo) Jane Wubbles, MS alum from Ecology, demonstrates the art of "Tree Climbing," a skill necessary for leaf and small branch collection in the upper-most canopy.