Before it’s river sediment: hillslope geomorphology and processes

Members of the UO river research group have been busy thinking about the ways rocks and soil move across the landscape before ending up as river channel sediment this autumn by attending field trips as part of Hillslope Geomorphology being taught by Josh Roering in the UO Geological Sciences department. Aaron Zettler-Mann, Christina Appleby, and Devin Lea all traveled as part of the class in October to the Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to measure and analyze hillslope processes occurring on the area’s badland topography. This trio, headed by Aaron, also obtained photographs and created a high-resolution DEM of the study area using structure-from-motion. Aaron and Devin more recently traveled with the class in early November to the Oregon Coast Range to study a series of debris flows that occurred on the Wolf Creek watershed in 2012. Understanding the failure rate and mechanisms of these debris flows are important for hazard risk assessments, landscape development over time, and how and when sediment is delivered to rivers.


Students ponder badland processes at the Painted Hills



Photographs taken at the Painted Hills were used to generate a high-resolution DEM

photo (2)

A great example of valley fog on the way to examine debris flows in the Oregon Coast Range

photo (3)

Devin and Aaron helped measure the site of initial failure for a debris flow on a nearly 40 degree hillslope in the Coast Range

Field Trip to Mount Hood and Columbia River Gorge

A group of students from Mark Fonstad’s seminar, the Physical Geography of Oregon, took a field trip in late October to various sites around Mt. Hood and the Columbia River. We drove around the south and east side of Mt. Hood to learn about its lava domes and lahar and debris flows, such as the debris flows at White River. One of the students flew his recreational UAV to capture video and photography of this quickly changing river to later analyze using structure-from-motion. We observed forest composition changes as we made our way to the Parkdale Lava Flow on the northeast side of Mt. Hood. We hiked at Tamanawas Falls, drove along the Washington side of the Columbia River to view the Oregon side of the gorge, and ended our day at Multnomah Falls before returning to Eugene.

White River, Mt. Hood
near Parkdale lava flow, Mt. Hood
Multnomah Falls
hike at Tamanawas Falls


Tamanawas Falls



2015 Summer — River Group Research and Work

The 2015 Summer field work and research season was a busy time for University of Oregon’s River Group members.


Mark Fonstad finished work on a special issue of Geomorphology in honor of Will Graf with co-editor Bruce Rhoads. He also began work on a new Annals special issue on the topic of “Mountains”, and also continued his standard environmental science editor activities for the Annals. Mark took some time off during the summer and hiked in the magnificent Wallowa Mountains and their surrounding


DSCN0892 Christina and Christina at Mt Hood

Christina Shintani conducted field work on the Salmon River, Oregon, a tributary of the Sandy River located  west of Mt. Hood. She is studying a reach of the river where a log jam and an emulated landslide were placed in the channel in order to improve fish habitat. Christina took pictures and video with a UAV, and collected ground control points and cross-section data with a rtk-GPS. She will use this data to compare remote sensing techniques in deriving bathymetry in critical fish habitat for her Master’s thesis research.



Pollyanna Lind spent her summer working as a staff Geomorphologist for Inter-Fluve, Inc. (IFI), a river and wetland restoration company located in Hood River, OR.  Her favorite summer projects with IFI include a geomorphic and hydrologic assessment of Starvation Flats located on the eastern flanks of Mount Adams; and assisting with construction oversight of a section of new salmon-channel on the Middle Fork John Day River. In her spare time this summer Pollyanna continued analyzing and processing her dissertation data.


Snowys Devin1

Before beginning his trek to the Pacific Northwest, Devin Lea helped the fluvial remote sensing team at the University of Wyoming collect data on alpine lakes in the Snowy Range near Laramie, WY. Measurements such as depth, water surface elevation, spectral reflectance, bottom composition, and water column optical properties will be combined with image data from satellite images to understand volume change of lakes throughout the summer and better constrain the overall water budget of the Snowy Range. Devin also submitted a manuscript to Geomorphology with his Master’s advisor (Carl Legleiter) on a manuscript that calculates spatially variable error from image registration to assess significant lateral channel changes in an image time series. Devin’s move/roadtrip from Wyoming to Oregon landed him at UO this summer in time to work with Pat McDowell and other students on the Middle Fork John Day River in August, and he is excited to begin his own work here at UO this fall!


IMG_9330 - Copy IMG_9335 - Copy

After passing his comprehensive exams for doctoral candidacy, Matthew Goslin conducted field work in the Middle Fork John Day to measure erosion pins and to survey retreating river banktops.  He is nearing the endgame of his dissertation field research about the effects of torrent sedge on channel morphology.


Long Tom Side Channel ADCP on Long Tom

Christina Appleby spent her summer collecting data on the Long Tom River near Monroe, Oregon. She used an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler and RTK GPS to record bathymetry in the main stem and historic meander bends on the lower Long Tom. This bathymetry data will be combined with LiDAR data to create a continuous digital elevation model that can be used for 2D hydraulic modeling. The hydraulic model will be used to determine how changes in side channel connections will change area of flood inundation.

Christina is grateful for the help she received in the field from UO’s Christina Shintani, Aaron Zettler-Mann, and Pat McDowell, as well as OIT’s Tyler Dearman.


DP_Pac DP_Pac2

This summer brought great news for Denielle Perry and the citizens of Costa Rica and defenders of the Rio Pacuare. The documentary that Denielle produced & directed, Troubled Waters: Costa Rica’s Rio Pacuare, influenced a presidential policy decreeing 25 years of no large dams on the Pacuare and Savegre Rivers in Costa Rica. While she couldn’t be present at the event,  Denielle was interviewed by reporters.

Watch the documentary here:  Troubled Waters


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

Long Tom River Field Trip, Oct. 25, 2014

Historic meander of the Long Tom, now cut off
Historic meander of the Long Tom, now cut off

On Oct. 29, River Group members examined geomorphology and management problems in the lower Long Tom River (LLT).  The LLT, a tributary of the Willamette River, is below the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Fern Ridge Dam, about 15 miles west of Eugene.  The LLT below the dam was channelized in 1947 to reduce flooding of farmland.  The historic LLT channel (pre-channelization) was highly sinuous and many of the cutoff meanders are still evident in the landscape.  The constructed channel is trapezoidal, low sinuosity, and contains several concrete weirs that function as grade control structures.

Current management problem include bank erosion, reduced flood conveyance due to bar development and vegetation within the channel, and fish passage blockage at grade control structures. The Long Tom Watershed Council is working with the Corps to develop potential solutions that will enhance water quality and ecological conditions in the LLT.  One idea is to open up some of the old meander bends to increase conveyance and provide more complex habitat.  There are a variety of geomorphic, hydraulic, ecological, social and financial issues to consider in finding solutions.

Jed Kaul of the watershed council came along and provided a lot of information and insight into the council’s plans.  We had the pleasure of meeting with one of the farmers on the LLT, Tony Stroda, who showed us bank erosion and historic meanders on his property, and described events in the history of the river that he has witnessed.

River Group members examine bank erosion


“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



FALL 2014 – Oregon Geomorphology: Interpretation and Analysis (Geog 410/510)

Pages from Geog410Syllabus_Sept29-2014

This new course is now being offered at the University of Oregon. The instructor is Pollyanna Lind,  a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography and a River Research Group member.  The course utilizes Oregon’s diverse landscapes to interpret and analyze geomorphic features and processes of mountain, dessert, coastal, fluvial, and valley environments.  The students are building on their knowledge offered in the 300-level Geomorphology course and put their new skills to work both in the computer lab and out in the field.

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.

The University of Oregon River Research Group page is now under construction

Greetings everyone, Mark Fonstad here. Over the next days and weeks I will be building up the functionality of the group’s web site and adding content to it. Please let me know if you have ideas for improving the design and content of this site. My initial plans are to building in menus for different pages, such as one for all the various people that have passed through the group’s doors. I’d also like to add general information about the group and its activities so that we can use it for promotion. Finally, I’ll be looking for some very short (like one paragraph + one picture) blurbs from group member’s research travels so that we can get some recent activities up and visible. My ultimate goal for this site is that it will become something that I alone am not directly in charge of, but rather it is a place where group members can themselves come to add or modify information as time passes.

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