Sheila Christopher Research Assistant Professor

Watershed Hydrology and Biogeochemistry
Sheila Christopher

Academic Interests:

My research interests are in Watershed Hydrology and Biogeochemistry. My research is driven by a need to understand the effect of land use change, global climate change, and other disturbance on biogeochemical cycling and water and solute transport through watersheds. I have worked in natural, agricultural, and mixed land use systems and have used both field measurements and models to answer research questions.

I'm currently working on the following projects:

Watershed-scale assessment of stacked drainage practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin to improve water quality
The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) is intensively farmed and the region is dependent upon managed drainage practices, e.g., tile drainage, channelization, to ensure productive agriculture. However, these drainage practices also facilitate the delivery of excess nutrients and sediments to Lake Erie, which have been linked to recurring algal blooms, subsequent hypoxia and associated ecological problems.

This project focuses on two relatively new best management practices (BMPs), the two‐stage ditch and tile drain management. When used in tandem, these two BMPs provide great promise for improving water quality, but their efficacy has been tested only using field‐ and reach‐scale implementation. This project is evaluating the effectiveness of the two‐stage ditch coupled with field‐scale tile drain management in improving water quality in the WLEB using the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model. The multi‐disciplinary project team is parameterizing the model, evaluating multiple management scenarios and incorporating the practice input parameters into the SWAT modeling guidebook.

This work builds on an ongoing USDA‐CEAP (Conservation Effects Assessment Program) project in the WLEB. The CEAP project already has built‐in infrastructure for communication between the project team and key stakeholders, which will facilitate incorporation of feedback throughout each step of the modeling process, ultimately ensuring the incorporation of scientifically‐based principles into their land‐management decision‐making.

The Indiana Watershed Initiative
Like much of the Mississippi River Watershed during the past 150 years, large sections of Indiana have undergone extensive land use change as vast wetlands and prairies have been converted to productive cropland. While these croplands have played a crucial role in feeding the country and the world, runoff from these fields has also significantly impaired adjacent stream water quality, threatened habitats of at risk aquatic species and jeopardized downstream habitats.

Our project will determine whether the widespread adoption of paired practices (winter cover crops and two-stage ditches) throughout Indiana leads to the following outcomes:

  • Improved water quality and quantity at the watershed scale
  • Improved soil health
  • Improved predictions of water quality and quantity benefits using a common hydrologic model
  • Measurable economic benefits for both producers and the environment.

Our overarching goal is to help producers and landowners implement watershed scale conservation practices that reduce nutrient runoff while maintaining productive and profitable agriculture operations.



  • Research Assistant Professor
  • Research Scientist, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 2009-2012
  • Research Scientist, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY 2006-2009
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 2005-2006
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Hokkaido University, Hokkaido, Japan 2004-2005
  • Ph.D., State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 2004
  • B.S. Allegheny College, Meadville, PA 1996