Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Dynamics (PhD)

Degree Level



Environmental Dynamics


Thad Scott

Committee Member

Justin Nolan

Second Committee Member

Stephen Boss

Third Committee Member

Brian Haggard

Fourth Committee Member

Steve Patterson


Health and environmental sciences, Earth sciences, Environmental anthropology, Environmental perceptions, Ethnohydrology, Pile sort, Water clarity, Water quality


Understanding water quality dynamics in recreational rivers is integral in shaping management strategies that maintain ecosystem health, perceived value and appeal, and regional economic significance in a changing environment. Optical water quality describes the behavior of light in water as governed by its physical and chemical composition, and is among the strongest influences on human perceptions of water quality. Ethnohydrology is the study of culturally constructed knowledge and understanding of water. This work is the culmination of an interdisciplinary approach to water resources research—integrating optical water quality and ethnohydrology methods to recognize the intersection between measured water quality and visible characteristics influencing human perceptions. Relationships among particulate concentrations as a function of the hydrograph during receding flow in five popular recreational rivers of the southwestern Ozarks of Arkansas, USA were dependent upon catchment characteristics, and optical water quality measures may be well-suited for describing these dynamics in the absence of more intensive monitoring programs. Measurement of horizontal black disk visibility was a particularly accessible and intuitive scientific tool for characterizing optical water quality and suspended sediment variability. Analyses of 167 surveys and pile-sorts deployed at regional events indicated that, despite some variability, individuals may use similar cognitive processes to discern differences among images of aquatic conditions in rivers, and these judgments can be directly linked to optical water quality measurements. This work suggests important physical and chemical parameters of water quality may be communicated meaningfully across stakeholders in terms of how they relate to visible attributes, thus expressing water quality in terms of its true meaning to society and the environment.