Monday, December 4, 2017

Episode 397 (12-4-17): Where Headwaters Flow, Rivers Begin

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:48).

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, images, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 12-1-17.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of December 4, 2017.

MUSIC – ~8 sec

This week, that excerpt from “Mountain Stream,” by Bob Gramann of Fredericksburg, accompanied by Laura Lengnick, opens our examination of the most upstream part of watersheds—the highest areas where water starts following a channel and flowing overland towards rivers.  Have a listen for about 10 seconds to two Virginia examples, and see if you can guess this watershed feature.  And here’s a hint: get this right and you’ll stream to the head of water class.

SOUND - ~ 10 sec

If you guessed headwater streams, you’re right!  Headwater streams are the first flowing waters in the upper part of a river’s watershed.  These relatively small streams have a big range of functions, including as habitat for certain organisms or life stages, and as a source of water, materials, and organisms for downstream waters.

Understanding the location and length of headwater streams in the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in response to storms, is the research goal of Carrie Jensen, a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.   In early November 2017, Ms. Jensen described her research and its significance in just 90 seconds during the “Nutshell Games,” held by Tech’s Center for Communicating Science.  Here’s Ms. Jensen’s presentation.

VOICE - ~89 sec

As Ms. Jensen’s work shows, there’s much to know about headwaters, and such information can help us better understand quantity and quality patterns far downstream.

Thanks to Carrie Jensen for permission to use the audio from her talk.  Thanks also to Bob Gramann for this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “Mountain Stream.”

MUSIC - ~18 sec


For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The audio of Carrie Jensen was derived from the video of her presentation at the Second Annual Nutshell Games conducted on November 4, 2017, at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  The videos from that day are available online at (as of 11/30/17).

The Nutshell Games are organized by the Virginia Tech Center for Communicating Science to give graduate students a forum for describing their research in a short presentation designed for non-scientists.  More information about the Center for Communicating Science is available online at  Two news articles about the Nutshell Games are New center focuses on the art of communicating science effectively, Virginia Tech News, 2/28/17; and Understandable communication aim of first 'Nutshell Games', Roanoke Times, 3/3/17.  For another Virginia Water Radio episode featuring a Nutshell Games presentation, please see Episode 376, 7-10-17.

“Mountain Stream,” from the 2001 album “See Further in the Darkness,” is copyright by Bob Gramann; used with permission. Laura Lengnick accompanied on fiddle.  This selection was also used in Virginia Water Radio Episode 156 (4-8-13) and Episode 209 (4-14-14).

The sounds of headwater streams heard in this episode were recorded in Blacksburg, Va.’s Heritage Park on July 27, 2016, and in Blacksburg on Brush Mountain on January 31, 2010 (the latter stream is shown in the photos below).

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.   More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Two views of a headwaters stream tributary to Toms Creek (New River basin) on Brush Mountain in Blacksburg, Va.: upper photo December 25, 2013; lower photo December 2, 2017.


Richard B. Alexander et al., “The Role of Headwater Streams in Downstream Water Quality,” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Vol. 43, No. 1, February 2007, pages 41-59; available online at (subscription may be required).

Carrie Jensen, “Project Report, 2016 VWRRC Student Grant: Sensors reveal the timing and pattern of stream flow in headwaters after storms,” July 10, 2017, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg (unpublished report).

Sacramento [Calif.] River Watershed Program, “Importance of the Headwaters,” online at

Craig Snyder, et al., “Significance of Headwater Streams and Perennial Springs in Ecological Monitoring in Shenandoah National Park,” 2013, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1178; available online (as a PDF) at

U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Resources of the United States/Water Basics Glossary/Headwaters,” online at

U.S. Geological Survey, “Water Science School/Glossary/Headwater,” online at

Virginia Tech Center for Communicating Science, online at

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, “The Importance of Headwater Streams,” online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Rivers, Stream, and Other Surface Waters” and “Science” subject categories.

Following are links to some other episodes on Virginia watersheds and headwaters.
Mountain Gaps – Episode 288, 11/2/15.
Watersheds – Episode 156, 4/8/13; Episode 209, 4/14/14; Episode 251, 2/2/15.


The episode may help with Virginia 2013 Music SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

This episode may also help with the following Virginia 2010 Science SOLs:

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decision, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle, other cycles, and energy flow.

Earth Science Course
ES.2 - understanding scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science (for this SOL, please see the link above to the entire selection of Nutshell Games videos).

Biology Course
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Physics Course
PH.3 – nature and practice of science (for this SOL, please see the link above to the entire selection of Nutshell Games videos).

The episode may also help with the following Virginia 2015 Social Studies SOLs:

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to previous Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.
Episode 249 (1-19-15) – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 250 (1-26-15) – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade;
Episode 255 (3-2-15) – on density, for 5th and 6th grade;
Episode 282 (9-21-15) – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten;
Episode 309 (3-28-16) – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade; Episode 332 (9-12-16) – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.