_Scanning Streams, Remotely

How do Academy scientists know where to observe water quality or test sediment conditions throughout the Delaware River Basin? By “hiking” the streams using any laptop.

_Alex Waldman

Waldman is the GIS manager and watershed modeler for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

How do Academy scientists know exactly where to observe water quality or test sediment conditions near riverbanks throughout the entirety of the Delaware River Basin? By “hiking” the streams from the comfort of their offices, using any laptop.


The Academy developed a computer model called StreamHiker for evaluating environmental conditions along a stream from a laptop.

StreamHiker, an Academy-developed watershed analysis tool, evaluates environmental conditions along and near a stream or river at the “reach” scale, or where monitoring efforts are conducted. So far, DRWI researchers have used StreamHiker to choose sites for sampling and examine environmental conditions at project sites and potential sampling sites. In the future, StreamHiker will offer statistical models to predict stream temperature at unmonitored reaches and simulate changes due to land development and climate change scenarios.

“Our goals are for watershed scientists, modelers and managers to incorporate the accessibility of data and analytical processes that StreamHiker facilitates into their work, while also leveraging StreamHiker’s flexibility of data scaling to make innovative watershed models and tools,” says Alex Waldman, StreamHiker’s lead programmer, GIS manager and watershed modeler.

StreamHiker isn’t limited to one geographic location or institution. The project is open-sourced, meaning it is accessible to anyone, anywhere, no matter what body of water or environment they want to investigate.

StreamHiker is managed by Waldman and Jerry Mead, section leader of watershed and systems ecology and assistant research professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, with contributions from Scott Haag, database administrator. Mead developed the algorithim as a post-doc in 2006, but StreamHiker has since evolved into a complete software package after Waldman became involved with the project in 2013. The team has applied for NSF funding to grow StreamHiker’s reach and capacity even further.