Tools of the Trade
Observing, collecting samples and making measurements of the landscapes that surround us is crucial to understanding the processes that shape them. This can take the form of local nature walks to the concrete basins that protect Los Angeles from debris flows to remote field sites in the Arctic. I particularly enjoy developing an intuition for the types and rates of sediment erosion, transport, and deposition across landscapes, as well as understanding how nature breaks my mental models of how these processes “should” work. Doing research in the field also provides an incredible opportunity to meet, interact with, and learn from people living near each field site and learn about the diversity of knowledge and human experience across the country.
When we return from the field with water and soil samples, we analyze them in the lab to determine their sediment grain size and composition. These analyses are done in chemistry labs using instruments from laser grain size analyzers to isotope mass spectrometers.
Using datasets collected by satellites and airplanes help to extrapolate detailed measurements made at a specific field site to larger areas. My research includes producing maps using drone flights, satellite imagery and high-resolution (1m LIDAR) topography to understand the evolution of river floodplains through time.
Running physical experiments allows us to test our understanding of how landscapes evolve under controlled conditions. For example, I ran a set of experiments to test how rising river water temperatures could affect rates of permafrost riverbank erosion. We re-purposed an ice skating rink chiller to make a permafrost riverbank in the lab and then eroded it using different temperature water to understand how climate change can affect Arctic rivers.
Constructing computer models allows us to test our understanding of landscape evolution at across large areas and for long times. During my thesis, I used my observations from fieldwork and experiments to determine a set of equations hypothesized to govern permafrost riverbank erosion. I am currently testing this theory and using it to evaluate how climate change may influence Arctic river systems.