Riparia — future prospects in geography, ecology and conservation

Riparia is particularly adept at producing scientifically-valid assessment tools for conservation and restoration of wetlands, wildlife, and aquatic resources. We typically design and implement interdisciplinary projects that extend across broad geographic boundaries, such as the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Few institutions are willing to commit to the logistical and financial management required for such extensive projects. To improve the environment, one must interact positively with local and regional decision-makers who can use the knowledge and tools generated in academic institutions. We have an excellent track record in doing just that. Riparia’s leadership believes strongly in the spirit of a land grant institution, such as Penn State, where service to the community, broadly defined, is expected and encouraged.

We are seeking sustained support for Riparia to ensure that this essential, but difficult work can continue. If you are interested in our work and would like more information, or if you are considering making a contribution so that Riparia can continue to create and apply practical and defensible approaches for protecting and improving natural environments throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, and beyond, then please contact the Riparia’s Director, Dr. Robert P. Brooks by telephone at 814-863-1596 or by email at

Our strategic goals for the future include the following activities:

  • Establish (named) graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships for students to work on both research and outreach opportunities with Riparia.

Support for graduate and undergraduate students is the primary focus of Penn State as a student-centered university, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Department of Geography, and Riparia are committed to that goal. We at Riparia consider providing financial support of students to be our highest priority.

Toward that goal, the Robert P. and Rebecca P. Brooks Endowment for Riparia was established in 2005 with a focus on providing financial support for talented graduate and undergraduate students working with Riparia. Funds can be added to this endowment to help reach this goal.

  • Maintain our extensive databases and biological collections in good working order using archival storage techniques for field data, site summaries, historic aerial photographs, and biological specimens. Make more information available to scientists, managers, and citizens through Web-based digital display and retrieval.

As Riparia has matured, the scope of work has expanded, and with that expansion, the costs of operating Riparia’s work space for computing and archival data storage, laboratory and biological reference collections, and field work and equipment have also expanded. Freedom from tending to the requirements of specific contracts would allow more targeted approaches for implementing conservation activities in selected watersheds or communities, and a more dependable source of funding for creative outreach activities.

Sustained funding of personnel with expertise in field data collection and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is critical to Riparia’s productivity. Several potential projects that we would like to fund include Long-term Monitoring of Reference Wetlands, Science Informs Policy Initative, Ecological Indicators of Headwaters, River Otters as Ambassadors of Water Quality, and Wetlands and Watersheds as Outreach and Education Programs.

  • Work with agencies and organizations to offer tailored training, courses, and seminars in wetlands, water resources, wildlife, and conservation.

Riparia is poised to develop and offer a set of courses to reach adult learners through targeted e-education courses on Penn State’s World Campus (Penn State On-Line). For those that desire more hands-on experience, Riparia would continue to offer training workshops that emphasize hands-on field and laboratory techniques.

We envision the possible development of a certificate program in wetlands that would be available to working professionals throughout the region and beyond – with the World Campus there are no geographical limits.

The expected course topics include: wetland science and policy, wetland plant taxonomy and identification, macroinvertebrate taxonomy and collection, wetlands remote sensing and GIS, and hydrogeomorphic (HGM) functional models. Funds are needed for staff to develop and teach these courses, and to maintain administrative continuity.

  • Work with agencies and organizations of the Mid-Atlantic Region to implement a suite of ecological and socioeconomic indicators for assessing the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Riparia, as the lead organization in the Atlantic Slope Consortium, has developed a remarkable set of ecological and socioeconomic indicators that can be used by natural resource managers and citizens to protect and restore important estuaries, rivers, and wetlands. Measures of estuarine water quality, riparian buffer conditions, biological community responses, and landscape patterns detected by remote-sensing imagery are only a few of the nearly 30 indicators developed by team.

During this 5-year project, our study area consisted of the Delaware, Susquehanna-Chesapeake, and Ablemarle-Pamlico basins, and thus, include parts of NJ, NY, PA, ED, MD, VA, WV, and NC. Our 40-person ASC team investigated thousands of sites in over small watersheds and estuarine segments throughout the region and produced a final report documenting these findings. Now, we are working to place these indicators into practice throughout the region. More details on this project can be found at:

  • Continue long-term studies of reference wetlands to determine trends in condition and to continually improve mitigation design criteria for wetlands.

In 2007, Riparia is embarking on a long-term project to evaluate wetland mitigation projects in Pennsylvania, working with the Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 3, and other organizations. We will be applying our monitoring methods across hundreds of created and restored wetlands throughout the Commonwealth. We will develop enhanced design criteria to “build better wetlands” based on characteristics of naturally occurring reference wetlands.

  • Allow Riparia faculty and staff to continue to serve in leadership positions on agency advisory boards, professional society boards, land trust boards, planning commissions, and other capacities all of which help to use science to directly inform policy and planning decisions.

Riparia’s faculty, staff, and students are committed to serving the public, and have committed themselves to numerous efforts to apply scientific findings toward discovering solutions to many types of environmental issues and problems that impact wetlands, streams, and other aquatic habitats. As time and funding allow, we intend to continue this high level of service.