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Summer 2017 Sandy River Fieldwork

This past August, three of us (Mark Fonstad, Aaron Zettler-Mann, and James Major) spent three days on the lower Sandy River between Mt. Hood and Portland. We were performing an experiment: how many river miles is it possible to float in a few days while at the same time flying a drone to collect very high resolution imagery from which channel sediment data and morphology can be extracted? We took the department’s cataraft, and while it is the ideal platform for this kind of work, the water levels in the Sandy River were low, and there was a fair amount of boat-dragging necessary. Nevertheless, we were able to cover about 40 km in those three days, and we collected 2-cm resolution imagery over almost every river bar along this section of the river. The Sandy River is geomorphically highly active, and is well known for the Marmot Dam removal higher in the watershed several years ago.

Aaron Zettler-Mann receives NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant

PhD Student Aaron Zettler-Mann has received a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation. Aaron’s dissertation is entitled “Lateral Channel Confinement and its Impact on Channel Morphology”, and this grant (for $15,912) will allow Aaron to conduct fieldwork and analysis of the Rogue River and the influence of lateral sediment supply on channel morphology. Aaron has extensive experience on extracting 3D data and orthophotographs from imagery, and these skills will allow him to produce sediment maps throughout the river system through automated feature extraction from imagery techniques. Aaron hopes to test the applicability of the sediment links theory concept to the Rogue River and extend the concept to sediment sources from hillslopes in addition to the traditional tributary sources. Aaron’s advisor is Mark Fonstad.

Dissertation Field Work, Aaron Zettler-Mann – Summer 2017

This summer Aaron Zettler-Mann conducted the first of two years of National Science Foundation funded dissertation work on the Rogue River in southern Oregon. Aaron is taking a riverscapes approach to examine how lateral channel constrictions such as roads, railroads, levees and bridge abutments impact channel morphology variables, including channel width, depth and the particle size distribution of river bars. This field work will also be used to further test the “Sediment Links” theory which suggests that patterns in channel width, depth and grain size are linked to the presence of tributaries. Field work for Aaron consisted of rafting over 60 kilometers, taking photographs from UAVs and a camera-on-a-pole of gravel bars, photographing the river banks and measuring channel depth. Below, pictures from the Rogue River. Clockwise from upper left: black bear sightings, UAV based image acquisition in the Recreation Section, battery charging and swimming at camp, camera-on-a-pole image acquisition in the Wild and Scenic section, on the water, and (center) gravel bar orthophoto ready for particle size distribution mapping.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Based Vegetation Mapping, Middle Fork John Day

In early June, doctoral candidate Aaron Zettler-Mann and recent baccalaureate graduate James Major spent three days flying a UAV on the Middle Fork of the John Day. The object of the project was to produce an orthophotograph of floodplain vegetation along a 2.5 kilometer by 0.5 kilometer section of the Middle Fork Valley Floor. The orthophoto will be used to map distinct vegetation species on the floodplain, with species identification occurring in the field. The resulting floodplain vegetation maps will be compared to previous field surveys of floodplain vegetation dating back as far as 1996. Additionally, this map will serve as baseline vegetation data going forward. Active channel restoration occurred beginning in July of 2017 and the vegetation map will allow future monitoring of floodplain vegetation communities which are a good indicator of changes to ground water flow. Below, the orthophoto compose for the study area and some pictures from the ground of vegetation and floodplain terrain.

2016 Binghamton Geomorphology Symposium – Connectivity in Geomorphology

Professor Mark Fonstad and graduate student Aaron Zettler-Mann attended the symposium in Fort Collins, Colorado. The symposium included a field trip on Friday just outside Rocky Mountain National Park looking at connectivity as related to beaver dams and upstream – downstream nutrient flow and the development of meadows. We also looked at hillslope – channel connectivity as related to a major flooding event in the Front Range of Colorado in September of 2013.

There were a variety of talks related to connectivity over the two days of the symposium. Of specific interest to the River Research Group were Stephen Rice who spoke about the Sediment Links concept, Leonard Sklar who spoke about sediment size and hillslope morphology, Karen Grant who spoke about sediment pulse evolution and Gordon Grant who spoke about equilibrium states and dynamic fluctuations. Or, as he put it “Fluvial (Dis)continuity”.

This symposium was of tremendous value to Aaron due to its size which allowed for a number of conversations with key members of the geomorphology community. Especially as he develops the theoretical context for his dissertation work.

UO River Group at 2015 AGU

agu-postersCurrent and Former UO River Group members will be active at this year’s AGU meeting in San Francisco. Below is the list of presentations and their times & locations.

Current River Group People Presenting at AGU

River Discharge Estimation Using Imaged Critical Flow Phenomena (Poster) – H41E-1375
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 08:00 – 12:20, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Mark Fonstad, University of Oregon, Gordon Grant, Oregon State University

Refining measurements of lateral channel movement from image time series by quantifying spatial variations in registration error (Poster) – H41E-1368
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 08:00 – 12:20, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Devin Lea, University of Oregon, Carl Legleiter, University of Wyoming

Comparing Remote Sensing Techniques in Detecting Salmonid Habitat, Salmon River, Oregon (Poster) – EP43B-0976
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 13:40 – 18:00, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Christina Shintani, University of Oregon

Modeling the Effects of Connecting Side Channels to the Long Tom River, Oregon (Poster) – EP43B-0984
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 13:40 – 18:00, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Christina Appleby, University of Oregon
Patricia McDowell, University of Oregon

Comparing effects of active and passive restoration on the Middle Fork John Day River, NE Oregon (Talk) – EP41E-05
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 09:00 – 09:15, Moscone West – 2005
Patricia McDowell, University of Oregon

A Native Sedge, Carex nudata, as Facilitator of Restoration Goals: Effects on Channel Morphology and Planform in the Middle Fork John Day River (Talk) – EP41E-06
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 09:15 – 09:30, Moscone West – 2005
Matthew Goslin, University of Oregon

Former River Group Members Presenting at AGU

Effects of Engineered Log Jams on Channel Morphology, Middle Fork of the John Day River, Oregon (Poster) – EP43B-0973
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 13:40 – 18:00, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Jenna Duffin, University of Oregon, Pat McDowell, University of Oregon

High-Resolution 3D Bathymetric Mapping for Small Streams Using Low-Altitude Aerial Photography (Talk) – EP54B-01
Friday, 18 December 2015, 16:00 – 16:15, Moscone West – 2003
James Dietrich, Dartmouth College, Jenna Duffin, University of Oregon

Persistent River Basin Disequilibrium in a Cratonic Landscape: Ozark Dome, USA (Poster) – EP41A-0911
Thursday, 17 December 2015, 08:00 – 12:20, Moscone South – Poster Hall
Helen Beeson, University of Nevada – Reno, Scott McCoy, University of Nevada – Reno, Amanda Keen-Zebert, Desert Research Institute – Reno

Who is in the Driver’s Seat? Millennial-Scale Records of Wildfire in the Western USA Reveal a Complex Interplay of Climate, Fire, and Vegetation (Talk) – B11N-05
Monday, 14 December 2015, 09:00 – 09:15, Moscone West – 2010
Jennifer Pierce, Boise State University, Grant Meyer, University of New Mexico, Erica Bigio, University of Arizona, Nathan Nelson, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Michael Poulos, Boise State University, Sara Jenkins, University of British Columbia, Kerry Riley, Utah State University, Kerrie Weppner, Boise State University, Lar Svenson, USGS Idaho Water Science Center, Erin Fitch, Hawai’i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, Jed Frechette, University of New Mexico

A NEW PERSPECTIVE OF THE WILLAMETTE RIVER: How Science Helps with Clean Water and Flood Protection

In March 2015 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Oregon (UO) to test new remote sensing technology that can measure streamflow conditions from space. However, before the technology can be deployed, it must first be checked with real-time water surface measurements. This “calibration” check is done by attaching the sensor to an airplane and flying it over the Willamette River during different times of the year. While the plane was airborne, scientists boated the Willamette River measuring the corresponding water level. Additional instruments were also deployed to further compare the plane measurements to the actual water surface. This technology is called SWOT (Surface Water Ocean Topography) and the satellite will be ready for launch in 2020.


NASA’s SWOT and AirSWOT Missions
The SWOT mission will help hydrologists gain a better understanding of the Earth’s water resources by using radar technology to take repeated, high-resolution elevation and discharge measurements of oceans and waterbodies from a satellite ( But before the satellite can launch, NASA must calibrate and validate the SWOT instrument using a plane-mounted version known as AirSWOT ( With SWOT technology, hydrologists, working in fresh water systems, will be able to calculate changes over time in the world’s lakes, oceans and rivers. This information will inform a wide range of socially relevant issues, like better understanding of water availability for farms and communities and improved ability to map flood hazards.

During the spring of 2015, three AirSWOT flights traveled along the Willamette River. The USGS and UO simultaneously collected measurements of water surface elevations that will enable the NASA to fine-tune their instruments.

Along with collecting concurrent data, USGS also installed 25 pressure transducers to continuously record water levels through May 2015. In addition, both USGS and UO deployed technical teams to survey water surface elevations and channel bathymetry (depth) throughout the Willamette Valley. These data can be used to develop and calibrate hydraulic models for evaluating inundation, water depths, and sediment transport for various flow and restoration scenarios. The models can also be useful for generating inundation maps for different low-flow or high-flow scenarios, which can ultimately provide critical information to river users, residents, and floodplain managers. The bathymetric datasets from 2015 can also be compared with earlier datasets to evaluate changes in bed elevation, which could signify potential for increased flood hazard or impacts to floodplain habitat and connectivity.

Rose Wallick, Geomorphologist
U.S. Geological Survey
2130 SW 5th Ave.
Portland, OR 97201
(503) 251-3219

Mark Fonstad, Associate Professor
University of Oregon, Dept. of Geography
Eugene, OR 97403-1251
(541) 346-4208

“Life After A PhD Program”: UO Graduate School interview with river group alum Sarah Praskievicz

The University of Oregon’s Graduate School recently published an article about recent river group alumni Sarah Praskievicz entitled “Life After a PhD Program”. The article is online here: Sarah graduated in the spring of 2014 and is now an assistant professor of Geography at the University of Alabama. Well done Sarah!
SP - photo real final.

Field Trip — FIRE and ICE

South Sister reflecting in Moraine Lake
South Sister reflecting in Moraine Lake

October 18th – 2014

The Geomorphology of Oregon course held a day-long class in the field with a trip to Oregon’s Central Cascade Mountains.  The trip was led by River Researcher Group Member Pollyanna Lind and attended by 12 students including River Researchers Jenna Duffin, Christina Appleby, and Eli Tome.  The Cascades Mountains make up the active volcanic arc that stretches the spine of the state North to South from Mount Hood to Mount McLaughlin.  During the Last Glacial Maximum glaciers topped the main peaks and partially extended down many of the Cascade river valleys.  As a result, this volcanic landscape has distinguishing marks of ice-carved peaks, U-shaped valleys and moraines and other glacier deposits. The primary stops along the way were Salt Creek Falls, Moraine Lake and Devils Chain on the southern Flanks of the South Sister, the headwater spring of Cultus River – loaded with spawning fish, and the lava-dammed Davis Lake.

Crossing Devils Chain, South Sister



UO River Group Member Updates, 2013 – 2014

The University of Oregon River Group has grown substantially and has been very active over the past year. The River Group is an informal research group that meets weekly to discuss river-related research and coordinate river-related classes and research projects. Most of the students in the group are graduate students in the Department of Geography, but the group also interacts with people in such other departments such Geological Sciences, Planning, Public Policy and Management, and Environmental Studies. The group hosted river-related seminars with scholars such as Gary Brierley, Frank Magilligan, and Joe Wheaton.

Pat McDowell led a large group of undergraduate and graduate students to the Middle Fork John Day River in northeastern Oregon for several weeks to conduct inventory and monitoring work in support of restoration activities by a multiagency group. Pat also published “Geomorphology in the Late Twentieth Century” in the Treatise on Geomorphology. She also presented a poster on the Middle Fork work at the IAG meeting in Paris in August.

Mark Fonstad had a busy year. Along with his regular editor duties at the Annals of the AAG, he also edited this year’s published special issue on “Geographies of Water”. This past summer, Mark and several graduate students conducted river process observations in the Cascades near McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. He gave several invited presentations including one at the AGU, the University of Illinois, and also to an international online audience as part of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI). He published a paper on cellular automata modeling in geomorphology in the new 14-volume Treatise on Geomorphology. Mark and Bruce Rhoads organized this year’s special session in honor of Will Graf at the AAG meeting in Tampa: “The Natural and Human Structuring of Rivers and Other Geomorphic Systems”, which will become a special issue in Geomorphology next year.

Andrew Marcus has moved up the ranks from Associate Dean to Acting Dean to Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences during the past year. As such, Andrew hasn’t been able to participate fully in the UO River Group activities this year, though he is active on committees, and has managed to get to the Oregon Coast Range with Helen Beeson to look at stream habitats and has been active giving lectures on the production of the Atlas of Yellowstone.

Adriana (Didi) Martinez received her Ph.D. in the summer of 2013 and is now an assistant professor of Geography at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her doctoral research centered on the mutual relationships between riparian vegetation and stream channel dynamics in the Sprague River, Oregon. Since starting her new position, Didi has been building up her research lab and field equipment as well as planning a project with Suzanne Walther (PhD., U. of Oregon 2011, now an assistant professor at Utah Valley University) on the effects of two impoundments along the Provo River, Utah.

Jane Atha finished her Ph.D. in the summer of 2013 and is now the Watershed/Lead Entity Coordinator of the Chehalis Basin in Washington. Her dissertation revisited Dick Marston’s 1980 study of large wood and stream morphology dynamics in the Oregon Coast Range over a thirty-year period. In addition to her watershed coordinator duties, she has given lectures on her dissertation research to the Washington Department of Ecology as well as the USGS.

Sarah Praskievicz has finished her dissertation on impacts of climate change on the hydrology and fluvial geomorphology of snowmelt-dominated rivers in the interior Pacific Northwest and will graduate with her Ph.D. in June. She has accepted a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Alabama.

James Dietrich is in the final leg of his doctoral research work centering on developing advanced topographic monitoring techniques for riverscape science. Last year, James was Outstanding Paper Award winner at the AGU for his work on mapping land and water surface topography with instantaneous structure from motion. Starting this fall, James will be a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth where he intends to work on river restoration and monitoring research in collaboration with other researchers including Frank Magilligan.

Polly Lind (Doctoral student) spent several weeks split into multiple trips conducting research on the Rio Pacuare, a high-energy tropical mountain watershed in Costa Rica. The research has been both exhilarating and logistically challenging; with the scale of fluvial forms considerably larger than what students focus on for fieldwork, and with the added complications of poisonous snakes and frogs hiding in the tall riparian vegetation. Polly’s work centers on sediment transport of (very) large boulders to and from huge channel bars, and on how the river geomorphology may be affected by upstream land use changes. Her work has been helped by an NSF DDRI grant and a GSA Doctoral Student Research Award. Polly also presented her research results at the IAG meeting in Paris.

Matthew Goslin (Doctoral student) has become fascinated by a native riparian plant, the torrent sedge (Carex nudata), that has exploded in abundance throughout the Middle Fork John Day River, Oregon following the removal of cattle grazing and appears to be altering channel morphology, facilitating the complexity that is a goal of restoration work in this river.  His work attempts to integrate fluvial geomorphology and ecology toward understanding how river dynamics drive the sedge’s distribution and how, in turn, the sedge may influence the evolution of the river. His proposed research garnered the AAG Reds Wolman Student Research Award (at the PhD level), and he also presented research findings to the Ecological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis.  In addition to focused work in the Middle Fork John Day River – repeated topographic surveys, bank erosion monitoring – Matthew has explored rivers throughout Oregon sampling for the sedge, and he will expand his sampling into northern California this coming summer.

Doctoral student Swagata Goswami has been using Landsat imagery to understand the watershed scale morphometric controls on the lateral mobility of the Gangetic tributaries along North-Central Himalayas. A major part of her research focuses to track and comprehend the dynamics of the Kosi megafan between the Himalayan front and the Ganges. In addition to trips to India and teaching large online Natural Environment classes this past year, Swagata has also recently passed her comprehensive exam.

Helen Beeson (Masters student) spent a great amount of time in the field this past year, first with geomorphic change mapping in Oregon’s Painted Hills, then doing her own field research in the Oregon Coast Range, and then doing high-resolution river habitat mapping in the Cascades. This past year, Helen won the AAG Reds Wolman Student Research Award (at the Masters level) as well as a GSA Research Grant for her proposed research: “The Influence of Deep-seated Landslides on Valley Width and In-channel Geomorphic Features in the Oregon Coast Range, USA”. This month she has successfully completed her thesis, and she will be beginning doctoral work in the Department of Geology and the Desert Research Institute at the University of Nevada – Reno this coming fall.

Jenna Duffin, a first-year Masters student, helped Pat McDowell conduct stream surveys in the Middle Fork John Day basin in the summer of 2013. She plans on using change detection techniques and geomorphic theory to understand the efficacy of restoration activities in the John Day watershed.

Trevor Langston, also a first-year Masters student, spent the summer working with the USGS’s hydroecology of flowing waters project. Trevor is in the research design phase of his planned research in the dynamics of erosion and sedimentation in the Upper Willamette River, Oregon.

Sarah Proctor (Masters student) also helped Pat McDowell conduct stream surveys in the Middle Fork John Day basin in the summer of 2013 and is gearing up for her own summer field work using remote sensing to understand the mutual evolution of river channels and riparian vegetation communities in the South Fork Toutle River after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

Eli Tome (Masters student, Environmental Planning and Policy) has just started his work at the university of Oregon, and in his own words he wishes to “help rural communities blend policies that help develop their economy, while simultaneously working to preserve the natural environment. I’m particularly interested in developing policies that recognize the connection of terrestrial and aquatic environments within watersheds, and how people interact and rely upon these natural systems.”

Andrew Dutterer (Concurrent Masters student, Environmental Studies and Community & Regional Planning) guided a group of 11 undergraduate students in the Environmental Leadership Program through field research on the McKenzie River, Oregon. Pollyanna Lind assisted in this research that was done in partnership with the McKenzie Watershed Council. Andrew’s own research has focused on collaborative management processes directing a basin-wide salmon restoration monitoring project on the Middle Fork of the John Day River, where he assisted Professor Pat McDowell in field research in the summer of 2013.