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David Nimick

Research Hydrologist (Emeritus)

Contact Info

Short Biography

·         M.S. Degrees in Geology from the University of Washington (1977, glacial geology) and the University of Montana (1990, aqueous geochemistry)

·         Instructor, Geology Department, University of Montana (1989, finite-difference ground-water modeling)

·         Hydrologist and Research Hydrologist with USGS since 1989; currently member of the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program “Watershed Contamination from Hard-Rock Mining” research group

·         Leader of large, interdisciplinary projects:

1.   National Irrigation Water Quality Program—Phase 3 Detailed Studies of the Sun River Irrigation Project (1991-1997)

2.   USGS Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative--Boulder River Watershed (1997-2003)

3.   Diel Metal Cycling (2000-present)

4.   Tongue River Surface Water-Quality Monitoring Network (2004-2007)

5.   Pre-Mining Water Quality in Streams of Historical Mining Districts (2004-2009)

6. Glacial Geology of the Colonia Valley, Northern Patagonian Icefield, Chile (2011-present)

·         Technical advisor and/or participant on technical advisory committees at the request of  USEPA, USFWS, USACE, USFS, BLM, Montana DEQ, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks

My scientific interests are primarily in disciplines essential for understanding environmental health, including hydrology, environmental geochemistry, toxicology, and modeling.  My primary scientific endeavors have explored:

·         settings with contaminants from natural and anthropogenic sources in coal and hard-rock mining areas, irrigated and non-irrigated agricultural areas, wildlife refuges, and Yellowstone National Park;

·         a wide variety of inorganic contaminants including nutrients, base metals, As, Hg, Se, traditional and non-traditional stable isotopes, and U- and Th-series radionuclides;

·         terrestrial and aquatic habitats in mountainous, forested, and prairie ecosystems;

·         hydrologic systems involving surface water, ground water, the hyporheic and vadose zones, rivers, lakes, and/or wetlands;

·         spatial scales from pebbles to watersheds; and

·         temporal scales from minutes to millennia. 

My scientific collaborations with others have ranged broadly and encompassed fish and invertebrate health, biogeochemistry, microbiology, sediment studies, environmental monitoring, and methods for in-situ analysis and passive sampling. 


During the past decade, I have led a group of USGS and non-USGS scientists who have jointly studied diel cycling of trace metals in streams.  Our research focuses on short-term variability of water chemistry in streams, the fundamental biogeochemical processes that affect solid-solution partitioning of metals, and the biological consequences of diel metal cycles.  This research is part of the Watershed Contamination from Hard-Rock Mining project of the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.


Most recently, I initiated interdisciplinary studies that are examining the glacial history of the Colonia glacier (an outlet valley glacier draining Chile's Northern Patagonian Icefield) as well as the causes ands consequences of glacial lake outburst floods from Lago Cachet Dos, which is dammed by the Colonia glacier.  These studies include field mapping, age-dating (dendrochronology, radiocarbon, cosmogenic, optically stimulated luminescence), remote sensing, and glacier modeling.

My USGS Science Strategy Areas

The Role of Environment and Wildlife in Human Health

Energy & Minerals for America's Future

Glacial Geology of the Colonia Valley, Southern Chile

Image of Current Focus for Glacial Geology of the Colonia Valley, Southern Chile

The Northern Patagonia Icefield is the only glaciated terrain worldwide at its latitude, and thus constraining its glacial history provides unique information for reconstructing past climate in the Southern Hemisphere.  The Colonia Glacier is the largest outlet glacier draining the eastern NPI, and we are defining this glacier’s history using age-dating methods such as dendrochronology, lichenometry, radiocarbon, terrestrial cosmogenic nuclides, and optically stimulated luminescence.  Lago Cachet Dos is a lake created in a tributary valley by the Colonia Glacier.  In 2008, Lago Cachet Dos began experiencing glacial lake outburst floods during which the entire pool of water rapidly drains from the lake and flows south-southeast through the Colonia Glacier. We are using remote sensing to monitor temporal changes at this location, which is one of the newest international sites in the USGS Global Fiducial Program—a program providingsystematic monitoring of dynamic and environmentally critical areas with high-resolution imagery.

Diel Metal Cycling

Image of Diel Metal Cycling

Research scientists from the USGS, Montana State University, Montana Tech of the University of Montana, University of Wyoming, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have worked collaboratively for the last decade to improve the understanding of diel metal cycling.  Hypothesized causes of these diel metal cycles include streamflow variation, groundwater exchange, temperature- and pH-dependent sorption, precipitation and dissolution of solid phases, redox cycling, and biotic uptake.  While recent work has begun to document the extent and magnitude of diel cycling and to measure variables likely related to diel cycling, the relative effect of each of the plausible processes has not been ascertained.  Current research plans are directed at determining the relative importance of these processes and providing guidance on appropriate strategies for sampling streams with diel cycles of metal concentrations.

Contact Information

David Nimick
3162 Bozeman
Helena, MT 59601
406-457-5990 - Fax
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