Pat McDowell’s teaching inspires Eugene Weekly column

Regular contributor to Eugene Weekly, Robert Warren, starts off last week’s column by asking “What’s your favorite place?” a question inspired by Shaul Cohen’s introductory Geography course.  As he proceeds, Warren discusses how various courses he has audited in his retirement have inspired him.  In particular, he cites our own Pat McDowell’s “Watershed Science and Policy” course which I (Matthew Goslin) have been assisting the past 3 years.  It’s great to see such a dedicated, always creative and evolving teacher like Pat get some fun recognition.  I’ve been reading Warren’s columns in the EW regularly these past few years and didn’t realize he was the gentleman sitting in on the courses we’d been teaching, including our recent geomorphology course.  I hope he enjoyed it as much as Watershed Science and Policy!

My Favorite Place

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 Summer Field Work

On the Road: 5 weeks, 2 kids, 6806 miles, 9 states, 2 archives

Denielle Perry spent the summer conducting field work at the LBJ Presidential Library Archives in Austin, Texas and at the National Archives Denver Office. This research was funded by the LBJ Foundation Moody Research Grant and the University of Oregon Women in Graduate Sciences. Her field assistants were Bodhi (5 yrs) and Rio (1 yr).

lbjlibrary       lbj-reading-room     lbjpainting1      field-assistant  field-assistant-2

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.

Rivers to Ridges Tour with the LTWC

On Earth Day, Christina Appleby participated in the Long Tom Watershed Council’s Rivers to Ridges group tour along the lower Long Tom River. The tour was attended by many partners of the Rivers to Ridges group including representatives from the Nature Conservancy, the Army Corps of Engineers, USFW, Lane County Parks, and Friends of Buford Park. The tour included intact hardwood floodplain forest, oak woodland and savannah, vernal pools, and wet and upland prairie habitats just north of the Fern Ridge Reservoir. The group learned about LTWC’s interest in the reconnection historic channel segments and their ongoing efforts to recreate wet prairies and restore open white oak woodlands on private lands.

Christina shared some of her thesis research ideas with the group as a part of the investigation into reconnecting historic meander bends to the main stem of the lower Long Tom River for fish passage improvement and floodplain reconnection. She was impressed by the widespread and beautiful camas flowers in the wet prairies and was pleased to see a herd of more than forty elk utilizing the restored woodlands.

Camas Prairie
Camas Prairie


Camas flower
Camas flower




Oak woodland
Oak woodland


LTWC's Katie MacKendrick
LTWC’s Katie MacKendrick

UO river group well represented at AAG 2016


Past and present River Rats were well represented at the Annual American Association of Geographers Meeting in San Francisco a couple weeks ago (March 29th – April 2nd). Present members Mark Fonstad, Pat McDowell, Pollyanna Lind, Matthew Goslin, and Devin Lea were joined by past members Didi Martinez, James Dietrich, Suzanne Walther, Sarah Praskievicz, Helen Beeson, and Denise Tu. Many of these individuals presented papers or posters, a sampling of which are provided here:

Mark Fonstad – Remote Sensing of River Discharge, Depth, and Velocity from Standing Wave Trains

Pollyanna Lind – Bedload Transport and Connectivity in a Steep Montane Tropical River – Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica

Matthew Goslin – Modeling Species Distributions of Carex Nudata, a Riparian Sedge Associated with Hydrological Variables within River Basins

Devin Lea – Channel migration and hazard vulnerability management in the Anthropocene

Didi Martinez – Sensitivity of Modeled Channel Hydraulic Variables to Invasive and Native Riparian Vegetation

Sarah Praskievicz – Satellite-Derived Local Topographic Lapse Rates of Precipitation for Use in Downscaling Climate-Model Output in Remote Mountainous Regions

James Dietrich – Detecting Fluvial Wood in Forested Watersheds Using LiDAR Data

Suzanne Walther – Flash flooding in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: Quantifying Geomorphic Change on Pleasant Creek

San Francisco gave ample opportunity for past and present River Rats to (re)unite, and we look forward to another strong group attending AAG 2017 in Boston!

Picture: Pat Bartlein, Pat McDowell, Mark Fonstad, Didi Martinez, Suzanne Walther, Sarah Praskievicz, James Dietrich, Denise Hu, and Polly Lind (from left to right) at AAG 2016

Crazy things we do because curiousity demands it (and it was written into our dissertation proposal)

Last week, I (Matthew Goslin) ventured out to the Middle Fork John Day River where we are investigating effects on channel morphology of the native plant, Carex nudata (aka torrent sedge).  A key methodology are the arrays of erosion pins (steel rods) I’ve set out in river banks with and without C. nudata fringes.  We measure the length of the pins three times a year in transitions between summer/fall, winter/spring and spring/summer in order to capture different erosion processes.  The post-river ice/pre-spring peak flows measurement is one of the most important: it will allow us to distinguish between winter freeze/thaw processes which may cause erosion or, more problematically, push the pins outward and the fluvial erosion caused by spring snowmelt-driven peak flows.   It’s also the trickiest because there’s  a short window of time when the river is wadeable between the ice melt and rise in flows.

For reference, discharge at the nearest gage to our site is 20-60 cfs in summer and peak flows range from 600-900 cfs.  Last year, we measured pins while flow was around 120 cfs, a level we found barely wadeable.  This year, as soon as the ice melted, flows jumped to 600 cfs and then declined to 120 cfs.  I got my team ready as flows declined, but that window lasted only 4 days.  One night of rain and flows climbed and leveled at around 290 cfs, conditions in which we had never tried to work.  We forged ahead, finding dry suits to borrow from fish snorkel surveying friends.  We knew we would have to immerse ourselves in frigid water to get these measurements.

Arriving at Oxbow Conservation Area, we were surprised to still see a patchwork of snow, bare in some places and 1-2 feet deep in others.  The first couple hours led me to despair: almost all of the pins were under water with turbidity and sediment making them invisible.  We would have to do this almost entirely by feel. Mission impossible?  Flows were too strong to cross the river, but we could work in the less powerful velocities near the edges.  We pushed ourselve to try and find and measure pins. We soon discovered we had a rhythm, it wasn’t impossible. By the end of the trip, we had measured about 90% of the pins.  Working in the frigid snowmelt water left us feeling miserable and elated all at the same time as we pushed through the challenge.  Jame Major (Pat McDowell’s undergrad research assistant) and Emily Erickson (a recent grad and summer river crew alum) were fantastic assistants, as was volunteer, Emily Davis of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.

It was awe-inspiring to work in this snow melt landcape with water running (or just standing!) across surfaces everywhere, everything we learn about snowmelt-driven hydrology in action.


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