The Center for Water, Earth Science, and Technology (CWEST) brings together the expertise and facilities of both the USGS and the University of Colorado (CU) to advance our understanding of the planet’s earth and hydrologic systems. The center is housed at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).

Collaborations between CU and the USGS were aided in 1991 by the establishment of a USGS facility on CU’s East Campus. Since then CU-USGS engagement has been growing, most recently culminating in the establishment of CWEST. Three committees –executive, research, and education– oversee the running of CWEST activities.

For more information on the history of CWEST, please see our Background page. For more information on committee responsibilities and members, please visit our please visit our Committees page.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

USGS Building

Photo by Karen Cozzetto

The U.S. Geological Survey, located within the Department of the Interior, is the premier natural resources research agency of the federal government. Established in 1879, the survey does not have any regulatory or land management responsibilities but rather focuses on providing scientific information relevant for decision-making. This includes conducting monitoring, assessments, and investigations to improve our understanding of the state of our natural resources and of the natural hazards that may threaten us. Science centers around seven different mission areas including: climate and land use change, core science systems, ecosystems, energy and minerals, environmental health, natural hazards, and water resources. The USGS has a variety of programs within these mission areas. CWEST in particular is working with the USGS’s Water Resources Mission Area (WMA). This program focuses on increasing knowledge about processes affecting water availability, movement and quality, and WMA researchers encompass a vast breadth of earth and biological science expertise. Since 1991, the USGS has had a laboratory located near INSTAAR on the East Campus of the University of Colorado, facilitating collaborations between the USGS and INSTAAR and the establishment of CWEST. 

Cheif, Projects Laboratory Branch, Laboratory and Analytical Serivices Division: Dana Erickson - 
USGS WMA website

University of Colorado, Boulder (CU-Boulder)


Photo by Gary Asakawa

In 1876, both the University of Colorado (CU) and the State of Colorado were formally established. CU’s first class consisted of 44 students and was taught by three instructors. Since then CU has grown into a major U.S. university. Today CU’s flagship Boulder campus has 30,000 students in attendance and faculty conducting a vast array of cutting edge water, earth science, and sustainability research. CU-Boulder is a leader in the geoscience field consistently ranking as one of the top universities in the world publishing papers in this area. The campus’s new Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Complex (SEEC) will bring together under one roof first-rate government researchers, industry experts, community members, and students and faculty from across several CU departments and institutes including INSTAAR and CWEST. In doing so, SEEC will catalyze communication, innovation, and collaboration and place CU at the forefront of understanding and addressing pressing energy and environmental challenges. SEEC’s establishment coincides with the selection of Colorado State University and CU-Boulder to manage the U.S. hub of Future Earth. This ambitious, 10-year international research initiative has the goal of mobilizing 60,000 investigators and students from around the world to better understand global environmental and societal changes and develop solutions for transitioning to a more sustainable future.

University of Colorado Boulder website

Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR)


Founded in 1951, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research is the oldest institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was started by a young plant ecologist, Dr. John Marr, interested in obtaining a better understanding of year-round processes in alpine and Arctic regions, especially during the data sparse winter. Since then, INSTAAR has grown to encompass over 225 people participating in interdisciplinary field, lab, and modeling efforts to study both paleo- and current environmental changes and processes occurring from local to global scales. INSTAAR’s research fellows, professional scientists, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students have backgrounds in a variety of physical, biological, and even some social sciences and study a wide range of topics including Quaternary geology, ecology, biogeochemistry, landscape evolution, glaciology, and more. Although the emphasis of INSTAAR’s research is on polar and high-altitude regions, investigators conduct work on all seven continents and on the world’s oceans as well, contributing significantly to the University of Colorado’s position as one of the leading institutions conducting geoscience research in the U.S.

Director: Dr. Gifford Miller, 
INSTAAR website