Methods for generating multi-scale watershed delineations for indicator development in Great Lake coastal ecosystems

Thomas P. Hollenhorst, Terry N Brown, Lucinda B Johnson, Jan J.H. Ciborowski, George E Host

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Watersheds represent spatially explicit areas within which terrestrial stressors can be quantified and linked to measures of aquatic ecosystem condition. We delineated thousands of Great Lakes watersheds using previously proven and new watershed delineation techniques. These were used to provide summaries for a variety of anthropogenic stressors within the Great Lakes. All delineation techniques proved useful, but each had applications for which they were most appropriate. A set of watershed delineations and stressor summaries was developed for sampling site identification, providing relatively coarse strata for selecting sites along the U.S. Great Lakes coastline. Subsequent watershed delineations were used for high-resolution site characterization of specific sites and characterizing the full coastal stressor gradient. For these delineations we used three general approaches: 1) segmentation of the shoreline at points midway between adjacent streams and delineation of a watershed for each segment; 2) specific watershed delineations for sampled sites; and 3) a Great Lakes basin-wide, high-resolution approach wherein sub-basins can be agglomerated into larger basins for specific portions of the coast. The third approach is unique in that it provides a nested framework based on hierarchies of catchments with associated stressor data. This hierarchical framework was used to derive additional watershed delineations, and their associated stressor summaries, at four different scales. Providing anthropogenic stressor metrics in such a format that can quickly be summarized for the entire basin at multiple scales, or specifically for particular areas, establishes a strong foundation for quantifying and understanding stressor-response relationships in these coastal environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-26
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue numberSPEC. ISS. 3
StatePublished - 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Nick Danz, Connie Host, Paul Meysembourg, Jennifer Olker, and Gerald Sjerven who helped compile and analyze essential data sets for this project. This research has been supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results Estuarine and Great Lakes program through funding to the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators project (U.S. EPA Agreement EPA/R-8286750) and the Reference Condition project (U.S. EPA Agreement EPA/R-82877701-0). Although the research described in this article has been funded in part by the U.S. EPA through the cooperative agreement -, it has not been subjected to the agency’s required peer and policy review and therefore does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. This is contribution number 470 of the Center for Water and the Environment, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.


  • Aquatic ecology
  • Coastal
  • Great Lakes
  • Indicators
  • Scale
  • Watersheds


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