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Adam Lee Atchley

Adam Atchley

Phone (505) 665-6803


My research interest centers on how physical hydrology connects wide-ranging earth systems.   The interest in understanding how water affects the natural systems was born from a varied career as a summer field technician, graduate student, postdoc, and even kayak instructor.  Here at Los Alamos National Laboratory I am afforded the opportunity to employ hydrological principles to understand numerous processes.

My work as a postdoc at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been to develop a fine scale physically based atmosphere-land-surface energy budget and water balance model of permafrost tundra.  It is in part, built on my past research that utilized a land-surface-energy model to demonstrate the influence of a heterogeneous permeability distribution on hillslope scale land-surface energy fluxes.  The purpose now is to understand plant and soil carbon responses to permafrost degradation due to climate change as governed by thermal hydrology.  Specifically, I have been involved with incorporating an atmosphere-land-surface energy budget and water balance model to the LANL developed multi-physics Arctic Terrestrial Simulator (ATS).  This modeling tool in coordination with observational studies can form and test conceptual thermo-ecohydrological relationships that shape our understanding of system responses during transitional climate regimes.  Refining and testing physically based models at the scale of observations achieves improved model performance.  New system understanding is then applied to landscape and regional-scale of large-scale ecosystem responses to changing climate conditions.    

I am currently developing modeling strategies to account for surface and subsurface water balance changes in at the hillslope to basin scale due to climate change.  Large-scale disturbances and drought have induced dramatic vegetation change in the southwest, which has implications for water resources.  Furthermore, basin wide shifts from snow to rain dominated regimes will also contribute to evolving hydrological systems.  Predicting changes in an evolving system necessitates mechanistic modeling strategies that couple hydrology with dynamic vegetation.  I am particularly interested in employing these dynamically coupled models to tease out complex biological and hydrological cause and effect relationships at the hillslope and catchment scale.

My past research focused on the complex coupling of hydrological flow and geochemical reactive processes.  For this work I developed a computationally parallel method to model finely resolved kinetic hydro-geochemical reactive transport on desktop to high performance computers.  Here I used a streamline technique to efficiently account for uncertainties inherent in subsurface reactive transport in order to account for probabilistic reactive transport outcomes of carbon capture and storage leakage scenarios into groundwater resources.  The efficacy in this approach allowed for a probabilistic human health risk analysis that considers both subsurface uncertainty and population variability.  The streamline application allowed for the representation of complex physical hydro-geochemical transport with broad applications.  This research is currently being developed for large continental-scale applications.


Ph.D.    Colorado School of Mines, Hydrological Science and Engineering.  May, 2013

Dissertation:  Using a streamline approach to model geochemical reactive transport in            heterogeneous hydrological flow conditions.

Advisor(s): Reed M. Maxwell |  Alexis K Navarre-Sitchler   


M.S.     Colorado School of Mines, Hydrological Science and Engineering, Dec, 2009.


1) E. coli Response to Precipitation in Storm Drainage Systems Within the City and County of Denver, Colorado.

2) ParFlow Modeling and Heterogeneous Land Vegetation Systems

Advisor(s): Ron Cohen | Reed M. Maxwell

B.S.      Oregon State University, College of Forestry, March, 2003.

Natural Resources: Plant Ecology.


Professional Societies

  • American Geophysical Union
  • Geological Society of America
  • National Ground Water Association


[1]    Atchley, A.L., Coon E.T., Painter, S.L., Harp, D.R., Wilson C.J.  Influences of Peat, Surface and Subsurface Water, and Snow on Active Layer Thickness.  (In Review for Geophysical Research Letters).


[2]  Harp, D. R., Atchley, A. L., Painter, S. L., Coon, E. T., Wilson, C. J., Romanovsky, V. E., and Rowland, J. C.: Effect of soil property uncertainties on permafrost thaw projections: a calibration-constrained analysis, The Cryosphere Discuss., 9, 3351-3404, doi:10.5194/tcd-9-3351-2015, 2015


[3]  Atchley, A.L., Painter, S.L., Harp, D.R., Coon E.T., Wilson C.J., Liljedahl A.K., and Romanovsky V.E.  “Using field observations to inform thermal hydrology models of permafrost dynamics with ATS (v0.83).”  Geoscientific Model Development, 8, 2701-2722, doi:10.5194/gmd-8-2701-2015, 2015.  


[4]  Atchley, A.L., Navarre-Sitchler, A., and  Maxwell, R.M.  “The Effects of Physical and Geochemical Heterogeneity on Hydro-geochemical Transport and Effective Reaction Rates.Contaminant Hydrology.  2014: 165, 53-64 doi:10.1016/j.jconhyd.2014.07.008 


[5]  Atchley, A.L., Maxwell, R.M., and Navarre-Sitchler, A.  “Human health risk assessment of CO2 leakage into overlying aquifers using a stochastic, geochemical reactive transport approach.”  Environmental Science & Technology 2013: 47(11), 5954-5962, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es400316c


[6]  Atchley, A.L., Maxwell, R.M., and Navarre-Sitchler, A. “Using streamlines to simulate stochastic reactive transport in heterogeneous aquifers: Kinetic metal release and transport in CO2 impacted drinking water aquifers.”  Advances in Water Resource 2013: 52, 93-106. doi:10.1016/j.advwatres.2012.09.005


[7]  Benson, D.A., Atchley, A.L., Maxwell, R.M., Poeter, E., Ibrahim, H. , Dean, A., Revielle, J., Dogan, M., Major, E. Reply to Comment on "Comparison of Fickian and temporally nonlocal transport theories over many scales in an exhaustively sampled sandstone slab." Water Resources Research, 48, W07802, 5pp, doi: 10.1029/2012WR012004, 2012.


[8]  Atchley, A.L., and Maxwell, R.M.  2011.  “Influences of subsurface heterogeneity and vegetation cover on soil moisture, surface temperature, and evapotranspiration at hillslope scales.”  Hydrogeology Journal 2011: 19(2), 289-305, doi:10.1007/s10040-010-0690-1.