Hursh, Charles R

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Charles R (Chuck) Hursh 1895 (Jonesboro, Illinois, USA) - 1988


A native of Jonesboro, Illinois, he received a B.S. from the University of Missouri and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

The Weeks Law of 1911 provided for the establishment of National Forests in the East, primarily to protect forest and water resources in headwaters of navigable streams. At the time, little was known about the influence of forests on water holding and regulation of streamflow. Interest in this issue was at a high level in 1926 when Charles R. Hursh, an ecologist, joined the five-man staff of the newly established Appalachian Forest Experiment Station. He pioneered research in ecology and forest hydrology, and many of the basic principles of wild land hydrology and watershed management are directly attributable to his innovative thinking and aggressive research leadership.

In later years, Hursh continued his advocacy for maintenance and improvement of environmental quality as a scientist-scholar and consulted in the United States and abroad, including France, Japan, Turkey, and Kenya. In 1953, he received the prestigious Nash Conservation Award. His contributions to the hydrologic sciences are documented in over 125 publications.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

The first goal of his research was to define the characteristics of the soil, water, and climate of forests and abandoned agricultural land. He foresaw the need for complete instrumentation of watersheds to provide continuous measurements of precipitation, ground water levels, and streamflow. By 1932, Hursh had studied the various needs of the mountain and Piedmont regions of the Southeast and had prepared a comprehensive analysis of watershed problems and an approach to solving them. He concluded that "the purpose of the streamflow and erosion study in its broader sense is to determine the principles underlying the relation of forest and vegetative cover to the supply and distribution of meterological water." He was responsible for the choice of the experimental basin that became the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory.

He also recognized the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the research. The indefatigable Hursh utilized manpower and funds from various federal relief programs of the 1930s (the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Work Projects Administration, and so on) to completely instrument components of the hydrologic cycle on numerous watersheds. He was small in stature, a giant in intellect, and completely intolerant of bureaucratic obstacles to science.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Hursh's work in collaboration with other outstanding hydrologists, like E. F. Brater and M. D. Hoover, shaped current concepts of streamflow generation on forest land and quantified many effects of forest removal on streamflow and water quality. He developed the first successful infiltrometer and studied water movement through the soil profile. Although a strong advocate of the scientific method, Hursh was equally adept and successful in developing solutions to very practical questions and he was perhaps proudest of his research on naturalization of highway roadbanks to control erosion.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to his genius is that his work has stood the test of time—the research plan he conceived in 1931– 1932 and implemented in 1933 became an internationally renowned Coweeta hydrologic laboratory during his active career and, with little change in concept, continued as a world leader in hydrologic research for 50 years.

Reference Material[edit]

Source: Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences

Major Publications[edit]

Hursh, C.R. and Brater, E.F., 1941. Separating storm‐hydrographs from small drainage‐areas into surface‐and subsurface‐flow. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 22(3), pp.863-871.

Hursh, C. R. and Hoover, M.D., 1941. Soil profile characteristics pertinent to hydrologic studies in the southern Appalachians. In Soil Science Society of America Proceedings (Vol. 6, pp. 414-422).

Hursh, C.R. and Fletcher, P.W., 1942. The soil profile as a natural reservoir. In Proceedings of Soil Science Society of America (Vol. 6, pp. 414-422).

Hoover, M.D. and Hursh, C.R., 1943. Influence of topography and soil‐depth on runoff from forest land. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 24(2), pp.693-698.

Hursh, C. R. 1944, "Appendix B—Report of sub‐committee on subsurface‐flow." Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 25, no. 5 : 743-746.

Hursh, C.R., 1944. Water storage limitations in forest soil profiles. In Proc. Soil Science Society of America (Vol. 8, p. 412).

Hursh, C.R., 1951. Watershed aspects of the New York water supply problems. Journal of Forestry.