Will Struble is a doctoral student in earth sciences, researching the origins of regionally significant landforms and how earthquakes and landslides influence surface deformation and erosion over million-year timescales. Struble began his studies at the University of Nevada in Reno, where he received a bachelor’s degree in geology and minors in mathematics, hydrogeology, and geophysics. After graduating, he moved to Oregon and began studying the Willamette Valley.

“One of the main reasons why I moved to Oregon was the environmental opportunities,” said Struble. “Coming from an academic department that valued research to another one that similarly values research, and is supportive of their students, made the transition from Nevada to Oregon easy for me.”

Struble’s focus on natural hazards has been a running theme within his work. His first project in the Pacific Northwest involved determining whether deep-seated landslides are related to shaking from Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes. Through his research, he discovered that impound streams—typically lakes—often drown and kill Douglas fir trees, creating “ghost forests” of standing snags or stumps. With this discovery, it was identified that dendrochronology—tree ring analysis—is the only available tool for connecting landslides containing potential earthquake sources with high accuracy. 

This approach was not in his original research plan but rather emerged when he discovered that many of the landslide dam sites contained a substantial number of drowned trees. Since 2016, Struble has generated tree ring records for more than 20 landslide-dammed lakes in western Oregon. In 2017 and 2018, he was invited to present preliminary results at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union annual meeting.

“Will’s research portfolio is highly diverse owing to his wide-ranging interests and his tremendous capacity to produce compelling discoveries,” said Joshua Roering, professor of earth sciences and Struble’s advisor. “The impact of his work will inform hazards as well as fundamental landscape form, process, and history.”

Struble hopes to continue developing his research as a postdoctoral scholar and ultimately find a faculty position at a research university or a government agency.

Utilizing Lidar to Determine Landscape Degradation

Struble’s research revolves around the dynamism of landscapes, specifically their degradation, due to the influence of tectonic processes. He uses lidar—airborne laser mapping—to identify unknown faults as well as decipher the history of drainage divide migration and stream capture. He has identified what might be previously unknown faults in the southern Willamette Valley near Eugene, that may contribute to seismic hazards in our region.

As a result of his research, attention of geoscientists from several government agencies—specifically the Oregon Department of Transportation—have expressed interest in his interpretation of geomorphic evolution of the Willamette Valley to contextualize their preliminary highway realignment work. Recently, he was selected as a spotlight graduate student researcher by the Earth and Planetary Surface Processes section of the American Geophysical Union. In addition, both the United States Geological Survey and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries have expressed interest in and vocally supported his analysis of drainage basin reorganization in western Oregon, as it has revealed the presence of what may be previously unknown faults.

“My research is very relevant for trying to understand what hazards people are facing in cities like Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and even in rural communities,” said Struble. “These smaller, previously unknown inland faults could potentially be really important to consider when we’re trying to understand what the seismic hazards are in Eugene.”

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