Donald O. Rosenberry

Donald O. Rosenberry
U.S. Geological Survey

2017 O.E. Meinzer Award

Presented to Donald O. Rosenberry

Citation by Donald Siegel

I am delighted to present Donald Rosenberry’s O.E. Meinzer Award citation. Don serves as a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and specializes in wetland hydrology, water budgets of lakes and wetlands, and hyporheic processes.

Hydrologists know that ground water sustains base flow to many streams. But how groundwater and surface water actually interact turns out to be complicated. Donald Rosenberry has become a leader in developing and critiquing ways to physically measure water and solute fluxes to and from groundwater and surface water by using multiple methods at different scales. Don work has fundamentally changed the way hydrologists view the surface water-groundwater interface.

In the first paper I cite, published in Groundwater, Don describes a novel way to measure water fluxes by using electromagnetic methods. This approach is a major technical advance.

In the second paper, published by the USGS, Don reviews and compares a wide range of methods to measure groundwater water fluxes. Academics widely cite this paper and applied hydrologists use it.

Don shows in a third paper, published in Groundwater, how vegetation can show where ground water discharges to lakes and streams. This paper expands on O.E. Meinzer’s own work in the 1920s.

Finally, in a fourth paper published in Groundwater, Don shows how perched water tables form around lake margins through a combination of physics, numerical modeling, and field studies. This is perhaps the only paper that so clearly shows that perched water tables actually exist.

Finally, I have to add that Don Rosenberry is one of the most gracious and centered hydrogeologists I know—and I don’t mean to slight anyone else here at our Division’s awards celebration. Don’s extraordinarily calm research style leads to outstanding research collaborations as well as scientific advances. I’ve known Don for decades, and only once have I seen him ever so slightly lose his composure—deep in the middle of a remote bog at the beginning of a blizzard; when complex equipment kept failing; the light was getting low; and the helicopter revved up to leave. After casting a few surprisingly choice words to the wind, Don fixed the problem and the group got out safely for beer.

I cite the following papers in support of the 2017 Meinzer Award.

  1. Rosenberry, D.O., and Morin, R.H., 2004, Use of Electromagnetic Seepage Meter to Investigate Temporal Variability in Lake Seepage: Ground Water, v. 42, p. 68–77, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6584.2004.tb02451.x.
  2. Rosenberry, D.O., LaBaugh, J.W., and Hunt, R.J., 2008, Use of monitoring wells, portable piezometers, and seepage meters to quantify flow between surface water and ground water, in Rosenberry, D.O., and LaBaugh, J.W., eds., Field techniques for estimating water fluxes between surface water and ground water: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 4-D2, p. 39–70 (
  3. Rosenberry, D.O., Striegl, R.G., and Hudson, D.C., 2000, Plants as Indicators of Focused Groundwater Discharge to a Northern Minnesota Lake: Ground Water, v. 38, p. 296–303, doi:10.1111/j.1745-6584.2000.tb00340.x.
  4. Rosenberry, D.O., 2000, Unsaturated-zone wedge beneath a large, natural lake: Water Resources Research, v. 36, p. 3401–3409, doi:10.1029/2000WR900213.

top2017 O.E. Meinzer Award — Response by Donald O. Rosenberry

Thanks so much, Don, for those effusive words. And thanks to colleagues who wrote letters of support, the Meinzer committee, and the Hydrogeology Division. The list of names on the Meinzer Cup is amazing, starting with Jozsef Toth back in 1965. Toth wrote that he was shocked to receive such an award. The names accumulated since are a who’s who of hydrogeology and to have mine etched alongside them, well, it’s an incredible honor.

Don Siegel’s name is on that cup. He too knows what an honor this is. He also knows that there is a bit of luck involved. How lucky for me that Don collaborated with Tom Winter way back in the 1970s to study exchange between groundwater and lakes, research that led directly to the Williams Lake study, which led to my exposure to in-lake piezometers and seepage meters.

Tom Winter’s name is on the cup for his pioneering work on groundwater-surface-water exchange. One of my luckiest days was when Tom offered me a job with USGS. That was back in the eighties when I didn’t know the Meinzer Cup from the Stanley Cup. I foolishly told him no, I was going to make my fortune drilling oil wells. Thankfully, Tom gave me a second chance when the boom went bust, which led to 25 enviable years of working with and learning from him on a nearly daily basis. Oh that he were still here with us.

My timing was lucky. Research on exchange between groundwater and lakes was just gaining momentum when I was first exposed to hydrogeology. Mary Anderson, another Meinzer recipient, was one of many talented people exploring this interface. David Lee had recently invented the half-barrel seepage meter when I began quantifying exchange between groundwater and lakes. When I first saw David’s 1977 L&O paper I thought, “Really? Could something so simple actually work?” As it turns out, the answer is no; not unless you’re really, really careful. Well lucky me. That happens to be one of my character flaws.

Another example of my good fortune is the paper Don cited about unsaturated sediments beneath a lake. Tom said nobody would believe those crazy field data unless I could confirm them with a numerical model. Amazingly, Rick Healy was right around the corner to get me started with a VS2D model that confirmed the results and put them in perspective.

Olaf Pfannkuch, who was Tom’s Ph.D. advisor and later my master’s advisor at the University of Minnesota, was also advancing the topic. I thank Olaf for showing me the joy of research and for his continuing guidance and friendship. I thank John Pitlick, my Ph.D. advisor at the University of Colorado. When I told John I thought seepage and sediment transport were intertwined, he challenged me to prove it. Fortunately, over the next several years I found the evidence to overcome his skepticism.

I thank my great friend and incredibly talented colleague, Masaki Hayashi, from the University of Calgary, for grounding my science. I focus primarily at the sediment-water interface, but Masaki can do it all, and really well. Whenever I would step beyond my familiar terrain, there was Masaki to say, “Well, you know, Don, that’s not really how that works.”

I thank Laura Toran for showing me how much more you can do with a few talented and insightful graduate students, and I thank Peter Engesgaard and Bertel Nilsson for sending some of the best my way. I thank my many USGS colleagues with real-world problems that required the tools and methods that I happened to know something about. Perry Jones, Rich Sheibley, Steve Cox, Bill Simonds, Ramon Naranjo, and most recently Marty Briggs, our Kohout Award winner this year. You made this work real, and relevant.

I thank my wife, Joan, who has been amazingly supportive and graciously tolerates my countless weeks in the field. Sorry about bringing home those wayward woodticks.

The plan has always been an iterative back-and-forth between modeling and field work, but the field portion has been vastly more demanding, and expensive, and absolutely necessary. To that end, I thank my USGS managers for their continuing commitment to supporting this research. The exciting advances at this interface between groundwater and surface water have required contributions from many different disciplines and backgrounds and perspectives. My small part of this process would not have happened without those many days and nights on, in, and under the water. How lucky.