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Diversity in the geosciences and the impact of social media

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

ResearchBlogging.orgOne year ago, Kim Hannula, Pat Campbell, Suzanne Franks, and I launched a survey about women geoscientists reading and writing in the blogosphere. We presented the results at the Geological Society of America meeting, and Kim wrote a great post summarizing and discussing our data. Then I took Kim’s post, polished it up with great wording and thinking suggestions from all of the co-authors and submitted it for publication. It went out to reviewers and a few months later, we were accepted for publication.

In the September issue of GSA Today, you can find our article on The Internet as a resource and support network for diverse geoscientists. We wrote the article with with the idea of reaching beyond the audience that already reads blogs (or attends education/diversity sessions at GSA), with the view that we might be able to open some eyes as to why time spent on-line reading and writing blogs and participating in Twitter might be a valuable thing for geoscientists to be doing. And, of course, we had some data to support our assertions.

GSA Today is an open-access journal, so everyone can and should go ahead and read the whole 2-page paper. But if you want a few highlights, here are some selections from the paper:

The online opportunities for mentoring, networking, and knowledge sharing may be particularly valuable for women and minority geoscientists. Virtual networks offer opportunities to provide support and reduce the professional isolation that can be felt in physical work environments where there are few colleagues of a similar gender, race, or ethnicity. …

Women reported professional and social benefits from reading blogs. We used a five-point scale (1: strongly agree; 3: neutral; 5: strongly disagree) to assess perceived benefits. Of the professional benefits, respondents were most positive about learning things outside their specialty (avg. 1.9), followed by learning within their specialty (avg. 2.3), learning about pedagogy (avg. 2.4), and learning about technology (avg. 2.5). Based on these responses, we conclude that these women blog readers perceive positive professional benefits from their online reading. This suggests that social and other online media could be strategically used to supplement the resources available to all geoscientists, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, geographic location, or employment status. …

Geoscience students perceived the strongest benefits from blog reading, while faculty most strongly agreed that blogs helped them find role models and normalize their experience by finding that many other faculty share their experiences and perspectives. Women in industry perceived less social benefit from blog reading than those in academia, but women in government were the most negative about their blog-reading experiences. In particular, their responses indicated that blog reading had not been helpful to them in finding role models. …

Blogs and other social media may provide a source of community and role models for women geoscientists and help in the recruitment and retention of women from undergraduate education to faculty or industry careers. Our survey results show that blogs are already providing valuable benefits to white, academic women geoscientists, but that existing social media networks could be doing a better job of supporting minority geoscientists and those outside academia. We believe that professional societies, employers, funding agencies, and individual geoscientists should recognize the potential value of social media for supporting a diverse geoscience community. To be effective, such recognition should be accompanied by policies that encourage geoscientists to actively participate in geoscience-related social media opportunities. …

As a white woman geoscientist in academia, I have definitely personally and professionally benefited from my blog reading and writing time. (I even have a publication to show for it!) But I would to love to hear more from minority and outside-of-academia geoscientists about what blogs, Twitter, and other internet-based forms of support could be doing to better support you. As you can see from the paragraph above, what we ended up advocating was that institutional support for blogging and blog-reading would help increase participation. We thought that, with increased participation, more minority and outside-of-academia geosciences voices would emerge, helping others find support, community, role models, and mentoring in voices similar to their own. Meanwhile those of us closer to the white/academic end of the spectrum could learn from all that a diverse geoscientist community has to offer.

One final note, I’m a newbie member of the Diversity in the Geosciences committee for the Geological Society of America. If you have ideas for how GSA could be doing a better job of promoting and supporting diversity off-line and/or on-line, please let me know.

Jefferson, A.J., Hannula, K.A., Campbell, P.B., & Franks, S.E. (2010). The Internet as a resource and support network for diverse geoscientists GSA Today, 20 (9), 59-61 : 10.1130/GSATG91GW.1

My fall 2010 schedule

I’ve got a light teaching schedule this semester, in compensation for a killer load last spring. I’m planning to do a fair amount of field and lab work on Thursdays and Fridays. Here’s where to find me the rest of the time…but you might want to click to embiggen to see all the details:
Dr Jefferson's fall 2010 schedule

Women geo-types on Twitter

This page is an archived version of the women geo-types list that I maintain on Twitter. Women geo-types lists the Twitter accounts of women who tweet about the geosciences or identify as geoscientists in their Twitter bios. The list was originally compiled using the AGU-maintained list of geo-space-ocean scientists on Twitter, which I supplemented with other women tweeting about the geosciences or identifying themselves as geoscientists. The list below was current as of 26 June 2010, but the list on Twitter itself is continually updated as I discover accounts for inclusion.

  • mineralphys. Mineral briefs from a UCLA professor
  • GeologyStudent. I’m a grad student studying geosciences
  • MTHellfire. geophysicist. ranchgirl. antiwar. slave to dogs. music wonk. realist. tweets are mine.
  • perrykid. M.S. student in contaminant hydrogeology, native New Mexican, easily distracted by bright shiny things.
  • stardiver. the geo-scientist as hero
  • highlyanne. Hydrologist, geomorphologist, hydrophillic geologist, whathaveyou.
  • sarahkendrew. postdoc astronomer
  • lunarkatz. Earth-scientist-turned-educator: Sharing Earth and space science with the universe … one child (or inquisitive adult) at a time …
  • mactavish. Love: Astronomy, all aspects of physical geography, and finding ways to be happy.
  • BraveBluewords. Oceanographer, writer, educator, advocate. Focus: oceans, climate change. Writing science and sci-fi. Love books, veggie gardening, yoga, & eating gluten-free!
  • martian1113. I am a Space Station Training Lead at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
  • kaylai. PhD student at Cambridge University. Experimental petrologist/volcanologist studying Mt. Erebus, Antarctica. Science writer for @TrekMovie
  • robinbell. Geek, Scholar, Advocate, Mom, Sailor
  • absolutspacegrl. Space Shuttle Mission Control worker bee until Shuttle goes away. Mechanical Engineer. Geek. Star Wars fangirl. Skeptic. My views are my own.
  • khoney. Marine biologist & interdisciplinary environmentalist. Originally from Maine, now NorCal. Stanford PhD Candidate. Work hard-play hard: sail,surf,ski,trek,travel
  • DrLucyRogers. Author of It’s ONLY Rocket Science – An Introduction in Plain English. Also Engineer, Astronomer and Freelance Science Writer.
  • naoshin. Doing my PhD in plasma physics and intl scientific and humanitarian outreach projects on the side.
  • thevolcanolady. Volcano Hunter,National Geographic Photographer/Explorer, Devoted Wife, If I was a drink I’d be a peppermint hot chocolate.
  • Ele_Willoughby. Marine geophysics Research Associate at the University of Toronto
  • geosteph. science educator, geologist, NASA geek, softball player, aunt, mom to Logan (dog) and Kinsey (cat)
  • sandrift. Planetary geologist, photo hobbyist (Flickr: sandrift)
  • Charlotte_Hird. Graphic Designer Geologist Astronomer Chook fancier Cook Bottlewasher
  • geokaren. amateur foodie, longtime geospatial geek – ok, not so geeky anymore but still a fan!
  • Gabrielse11. UCLA Space Physics grad student always up for adventure!
  • simX. Geologist, Wannabe Bigwig Mac App Programmer, ClickToFlash Developer (one of many)
  • missyleone. This is ponderous, man, really ponderous.
  • bethannbell. I’m a geochemistry PhD student studying the early era of Earth’s history.
  • Monkeyskunk. Figuring out where to go in life….perhaps an active volcano?
  • betsymason. Science editor for, geologist, beer snob, calm assertive pack leader.
  • weimang.
  • pehGU.
  • lizzieday. Geophysics PhD student
  • marssciencegrad. I’m a recent PhD in transition between grad school and the real world! I study Mars using visible and near-IR spectroscopy and will soon be working on MSL.
  • kennicosmith. Currently, a NASA scientist…
  • IntrplnetSarah. Lunar geologist
  • CatherineQ. Astrophysicist, over-thinker, autoimmune illness girl, lover of beautiful things in all forms. Kiwi in US. NASA supporter. Dogs rule.
  • h0mes1ice.
  • littlejillyyy. Happy.
  • MeaganMcGrath.
  • iescience. Freelance science writer and editor, non-practicing oceanographer, one-time Alvin diver, hiker, kayaker, crossword puzzler, candy eater
  • hfe.
  • Felsic. Geology student, mountain biker, nature lover, music enthusiast and micro blogger.
  • Geol_G_Arguello. Geóloga de profesión, loca por vocación
  • veronicaholton. I study geology at the College of Charleston.
  • Cannibal_Panda. Geology
  • amandacolosimo. Assistant Professor of Geosciences, Monroe Community College
  • BenderRobot. Oceanography graduate student. Aspiring scientific communicator. Fun times enthusiast. Lover of most things NJ.
  • leanne_erica. I enjoy reading and writing about rocks. Well.. I do most of the time.
  • AnjiSeth. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
  • NerdyChristie. A marine scientist with an urge to write that turned into all kinds of things…
  • bgrassbluecrab.
  • lyndellmbade. Ecologist, Educator, Grad Student. Researching cownose ray migration, movement, & life history. Model. SCUBA diver. Traveler.
  • blueacoustic. Geology Ph.D. student. If you want to talk tv, I’m your girl (e.g., Buffy, Supernatural, True Blood, Office, Glee, 30 Rock, Greek, Dexter.. oh so many more)
  • MaureenMcCann8. Meteorologist at News 8 Austin; Weather Consultant; Grad Student at UT; Bar Crawl for Scoliosis Founder; Dedicated member of Red Sox Nation; Huey Lewis’ #1 Fan
  • geogjen.
  • sdbikegirl. I love Earth Sciences, Sun, Sand and Snow. Geospatial stuff, minerals and rocks. I am passionate about cycling.
  • SabeanPagan. All-round science nerd. Love to chat about anything and everything. Blog enquiries please contact me on
  • rockstarscience. Female graduate student in astrophysics, apprentice rocket scientist, rebel without a solution set.
  • lizzy_t. I love rocks and rock climbing, especially trad climbing. 1st yr geology grad student at stanford!
  • tigermouse88. Geologist, Germanist, Globetrotter, Musician, Translator.
  • tanyaofmars.
  • Epsigon. Geophysicist/Geodynamicist, Welsh-Londoner, sleepy, loves Vinyl Toys, graphic novels and diet coke
  • sharonkae. Hi! I write specfic, I sniff out earthquakes in the Rhineland. I garden. That’s it.
  • DelphineAby. Oceanographer and modeler in environment. Manager in Natural Risks
  • Julierific. Wife, Mom, Scientist, PhD Candidate, Avid Reader, NPR Junky, Runner, Gardener, GF Cook, Meteorologist, Environmentalist, Baseball Addict
  • kejames. Natural History Museum scientist—Beagle Project directrix (@beagleproject)—Darwin groupie—space geek—telemark skier—teapot agnostic. Tweets are mine all mine.
  • mtkr. Photographer, geophysicist, and NYC girl
  • christierowe.
  • ugrandite. hard rock geology prof currently at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown
  • Chanitacr. Geology student
  • altmenn. Mix of Physics & Music, space based instruments, Earth’s atmosphere observations
  • delenn77. New mom, field geologist, failing optimist
  • snowflyzone. designer, strategist, awkwardness enthusiast, geologist, sneaker aficionado, map maker
  • GeoEntelechy. Geospatial research and development • GIS • I’m passionate about analysis, visualization, and interdisciplinary synergies. Opinions are my own. 
  • maitri. Spoken here: geoscience, tech geekery, new orleans, packer football, wisconsin, project gutenberg, 3.14 and pie
  • inadraw. Urban community environmental planner
  • hanhanbanans. I love animals, geology, GIS, mapping, my Mini Cooper, and geocaching.
  • HeidiHutner. Writer, Professor, Environmentalist
  • GemKeeper. Environmental geologist and mother of two young children.
  • KHayhoe. climate scientist living in a heathen land where no one puts any milk in their tea
  • mcmoots. Geo-interdisciplinary freak, environmental consultant, scavenger, pie fiend.
  • stressrelated. Structural geology professor, mountain enthusiast
  • DNAPL. Scientist, Associate Professor, working on tracking contaminants in the environment, forensic geoscience and general earth science
  • geogirldi. Mother, Geologist, and Music Fanatic. I am a rock, I work with and study rock, I listen to rock. But you can just say I rock.
  • cynthiabarnett. Senior writer, Florida Trend magazine. Water-beat geek. Author, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.
  • aggieastronaut. PhD student in atmospheric science at Texas A&M, Aggie sports fan, Martian by trade, dating @JeffAMcGee, Pastafarian priestess
  • squawky. Planetary scientist at a small univ., teaching geology & astronomy, trying to do research, and keeping sane.
  • morphosaurus. Lecturer, palaeontologist, gardener, wife of the best man in the world, owned by a furious leopard gecko, and mother of none – EVER.
  • coconinoite. Woman geoscientist in the wetland arena living and working in the southwest, with 5-year-old child and SO.
  • Tuff_Cookie. I’m currently a grad student in a volcanology research group at SUNY Buffalo, studying lava dome collapses and pyroclastic flow formation.
  • Colo_kea. Comm. Editor, Geol. Soc. of America. Engaged to Bear. Goals: skydive, photog, blog ( kea icon ©
  • sfoxx. Geologist, meanderer, explorationist
  • geologyclare. Metamorphic geologist, geochronologist, postdoctoral researcher
  • spacegiraffe. UC Davis geology 4th year, rafting guide, interested in hydrogeology, fluvial geomorphology, remote sensing, arm waving at outcrops.
  • oystersgarter. Marine biologist and science blogger
  • NotanEster. Deaf nerd of many trades, but mainly Anthropology and Geology. Also moonlight as certified instructor of Cued Speech.
  • meagenpollock. Geologist, geochemist, basalt-lover, professor
  • Astro_chick.
  • mjvinas. Once veterinarian, now science writer. Expat. Work & tweet @theAGU but thoughts in here are my own. Interested in (surprise!) science and science communication.
  • geographile. I mostly retweet geography-related news and chat about geography.
  • mareserinitatis. Working on PhD in geophysics, also an electrical engineer, sci-fi nut, now with kids and cats!
  • WomenPlanetSci. Women make up half the bodies in the solar system — why not half the scientists?
  • DoodleMommy. Mother. Wife. Geologist. Doodler.
  • geobacka. Geology and astronomy nerd. B)
  • mihaela4021. I am passionate about three things: my family, science and the humanity. I twitter, therefore I am.
  • KatherineBaylor.
  • deepseadawn. Oregon State University GIS prof, cyclist, ocean mapper, geek, Lego maniac
  • mousereusch. Seismologist with interests in earth structure, climate and glaciology. Cyclist & huge tree-hugger.
  • loverivers. Focus on restoring the health of the Penobscot River … also writer, poet, photographer, and all-around nature lover.
  • BoreholeGroup. The Borehole Research Group conducts scientific research by lowering tools into oceanic boreholes.
  • JacquelynGill. PhD candidate studying paleoecology, climate change, and biogeography at UW Madison. Feminist, geek, bibliophile, foodie.
  • rivrchik. Biogeog and fluvial geomorph researcher, science blogger and retweeter of all things eco, bio, geo or fluvio
  • volcanojw. rocks, film, and fine tequila.
  • River_Restore. A NEW online hub for the river restoration community
  • Mary_H. I’m a geographer at Miami University.
  • RockDocWSU. I write the RockDoc syndicated newspaper column and am Director of Major Grant Development for the Agricultural Research Center at Washington State University.

Thanks to Chris Rowan for exporting and formatting this archival list.

When it rains a lot and the mountains fall down

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

2006 debris flow deposit in the Eliot Glacier drainage, north flank of Mount Hood (Photo by Anne Jefferson)

The geo-image bonanza of this month’s Accretionary Wedge gives me a good reason to make good on a promise I made a few months ago. I promised to write about what can happen on the flanks of Pacific Northwest volcanoes when a warm, heavy rainfall hits glacial ice at the end of a long melt season. The image above shows the result…warm heavy rainfall + glaciers + steep mountain flanks + exposed unconsolidated sediments are a recipe for debris flows in the Cascades. Let me tell you the story of this one.

It was the first week of November 2006, and a “pineapple express” (warm, wet air from the tropic Pacific) had moved into the Pacific Northwest. This warm front increased temperatures and brought rain to the Cascades…a lot of rain. In the vicinity of Mt. Hood, there was more than 34 cm in 6 days, and that’s at elevations where we have rain gages. Higher on the mountain, there may even have been more rain…and because it was warm, it was *all* rain. Normally, at this time of year, the high mountain areas would only get snow.

While it was raining, my collaborators and I were sitting in our cozy, dry offices in Corvallis, planning a really cool project to look at the impact of climate change on glacial meltwater contributions to the agriculturally-important Hood River valley. Outside, nature was opting to make our on-next field season a bit more tricky. We planned to install stream gages at the toe of the Eliot and Coe glaciers on the north flank of Mt. Hood, as well as farther downstream where water is diverted for irrigation. But instead of nice, neat, stable stream channels, when we went out to scout field sites the following spring, we were greeted by scenes like the one above.

Because sometime on 6 or 7 November, the mountain flank below Eliot Glacier gave way…triggering a massive debris flow that roared down Eliot Creek, bulking up with sediment along the way and completely obliterating any signs of the pre-existing stream channel. By the time the flow reached the area where the irrigation diversion occur, it had traveled 7 km in length and 1000 m in elevation, and it had finally reached the point where the valley opens up and the slope decreases. So the sediment began to drop out. And debris flows can carry some big stuff (like the picture below) and like the bridge that was washed out, carried downstream 100 m and turned sideways.

2006 Eliot Glacier debris flow deposit (photo by Anne Jefferson)

2006 Eliot Glacier debris flow deposit (photo by Anne Jefferson)

In this area, the deposit is at least 300 m wide and at least a few meters deep.

Eliot Creek, April 2007 (photo by Anne Jefferson)

Eliot Creek, April 2007 (photo by Anne Jefferson)

With all the big debris settling out, farther downstream the river was content to just flood…

Youtube video from dankleinsmith of the Hood River flooding at the Farmers Irrigation Headgates

and flood…

West Fork Hood River flood, November 2006 from

West Fork Hood River flood, November 2006 from For the same view during normal flows, take a look at my picture from April 2007:

and create a new delta where Hood River enters the Columbia.

Hood River delta created in November 2006 (photo found at

Hood River delta created in November 2006 (photo found at

And it wasn’t just Mt. Hood’s Eliot Glacier drainage that took a beating in this event. Of the 11 drainages on Mt. Hood, seven experienced debris flows, including a rather spectacular one at White River that closed the main access to a popular ski resort. And every major volcano from Mt. Jefferson to Mt. Rainier experienced debris flows, with repercussions ranging from downstream turbidity affecting the water supply for the city of Salem to the destruction of popular trails, roads, and campgrounds in Mt. Rainier National Park (pdf, but very cool photos).

In the end, our project on climate change and glacial meltwater was funded, we managed to collect some neat data in the Eliot and Coe watersheds in the summer of 2007, and the resulting paper is wending its way through review. The November 2006 debris flows triggered at least two MS thesis projects and some serious public attention to debris flow hazards in the Pacific Northwest. They also gave me some really cool pictures.

Exciting times in the Watershed lab

The last few months have been busy, busy, busy for the members of this research group, and now, with the semester over, our hard work is starting to pay off.

Brock Freyer has accepted a job with Three Parameters Plus, an environmental consulting firm based out of Anchorage, Alaska. He’ll be back in Charlotte in the fall to defend his MS thesis.

Ralph McGee and Cameron Moore successfully defended their MS thesis proposals and are getting started on a busy summer of data collection at their field site in Gaston County.

I got a nice little write-up in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences newsletter about the wonderful opportunities enabled my ADVANCE Bonnie Cone grant.

Boobquake: a slightly silly test of a ridiculous scientific hypothesis

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

It seems that whenever a natural disaster (or other tragedy) strikes, there is but a short delay before someone with a megaphone and an axe to grind points his finger at an entirely innocent group of people and blames them as the cause of the tectonic activity, meteorological phenomenon, or terrorist act.

What am I talking about? Pat Robertson has said that the Port-au-Prince earthquake was caused by a pact the Haitians had made with the devil. Rush Limbaugh recently suggested that the Eyjafjallajökull eruption was a response to the passage of the US healthcare bill (displaying a somewhat tenuous grasp of geography as well as geology). Or remember when Jerry Falwell blamed feminists, lesbians, and the ACLU for the 9-11 terrorist attacks? It’s a strange and loathsome pathology that pushes aside science in favor of demonizing those with little power.

The latest incarnation of such wackaloonery is the statement by an Iranian cleric that the immodest dress of women is the cause of earthquakes:

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. (Chicago Tribune, 19 April 2010)

A few days later, the sentiment was supported by Iran’s top spiritual leader:

“We can avoid earthquakes if the faithful and devoted people pray to God,” Jannati said during the Friday sermon. (LA Times, 23 April 2010)

Jen McCreight, a Purdue University grad student, has had enough of this nonsense and has dreamed up and organized a grassroots effort to test the correlation between immodestly dressed women and seismic activity. Today, 26 April 2010, is the day of the “boobquake,” in which thousands of women around the world will wear the least modest shirt in their closet in attempt to set the seismograph needles trembling. After the day is over, McCreight and others will show statistically that seismically…nothing happened. Because women’s bodies do not cause earthquakes.

If you want to follow the silly science, you can read McCreight’s blog, check the hashtag #boobquake on Twitter, or check in on the Facebook event page (177,829 confirmed attendees at this moment). The mainstream media has also picked up on this event, so you may hear something about it on radio or TV.

If you are concerned that this event is somehow anti-feminist or demeaning to women, here’s what McCreight has to say about it:

I’m asking women to wear their most “immodest” outfit that they already would wear, but to coordinate it all on the same day for the sake of the experiment. Heck, just showing an ankle would be considered immodest by some people. I don’t want to force people out of their comfort zones, because I believe women have the right to choose how they want to dress. Please don’t pressure women to participate if they don’t want to. If men ogle, that’s the fault of the men, not me for dressing how I like. If I want to a show a little cleavage or joke about my boobs, that’s my prerogative.

So today I’m wearing a shirt that I wouldn’t normally wear to work and I’ll probably start my 90% male hydrogeology class with a brief mention of earthquake hazards. Because even though I know that the actions of tens of thousands of women for one day aren’t going to change the minds of Iranian clerics or make a measurable difference in women’s rights or sexist attitudes, I also know that my shirt is not going to cause an earthquake. And, in the words of boobquake organizer McCreight: “I’m a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn’t going to accomplish anything – sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.”

Is Anne a hydrologist? geomorphologist? hydrophillic geologist? or whathaveyou?

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

The theme for the next edition of the geoblogosphere’s Accretionary Wedge carnival is along the lines of “what are you doing now?” Recently as I was whining to my Highly Allochthonous co-blogger about how busy my teaching was keeping me, and how I wouldn’t have time to write anything for the Wedge, Chris suggested that I exhume some navel-gazing writing I’d done a while ago and simply post that. And in slightly modified form, now I have.

So, what do I do? The major theme of my research is analyzing how geologic, topographic, and land use variability controls hydrologic response, climate sensitivity, and geomorphic evolution of watersheds, by partitioning water between surface and ground water. The goal of my research is to improve reach- to landscape-scale prediction of hydrologic and geomorphic response to human activities and climate change. My work includes contributions from field studies, stable isotope analyses, time series analyses, geographic information systems, and hydrological modeling. My process-based research projects allow me to investigate complex interactions between hydrology, geomorphology, geology, and biology that occur on real landscapes, to test conceptual models about catchment functioning, and to show whether predictive models are getting the right answers for the right reasons. My current and past research has allowed me to investigate landscapes as diverse as the Cascades Range volcanic arc, the Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont of the southeastern United States, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and the Upper Mississippi River watershed.

My on-going and developing research program focuses on three areas:

  1. Watershed influences on hydrologic response to climate variability and change;
  2. Controls on and effects of partitioning flowpaths between surface water and groundwater; and
  3. Influence of hydrologic regimes on landscape evolution and fluvial geomorphology

If you really want the long version of my research interests, venture onward. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Watershed influences on hydrologic response to climate variability and change

On-going climate change is predicted to have dramatic effects on the spatial distribution and timing of water resource availability. I use historical datasets, hydrologic modeling, and GIS analysis to examine how watershed characteristics can mediate hydrologic sensitivity to climate variability and change. Currently, I focus on climate sensitivity in watersheds with seasonal and transient snow and on down-scaling hydrologic impacts of climate change to smaller watersheds.

Watersheds with seasonal and transient snow: A long-held mantra is that watersheds with extensive groundwater are buffered from climate change effects, but in a pair of papers set in the Oregon Cascades, my collaborators and I showed the opposite to be true. Minimum streamflows in watersheds with abundant groundwater are more sensitive to loss of winter snowpack than in watersheds with little groundwater (Jefferson et al., 2008, Tague et al., 2008). Glaciers are another water reservoir often thought to buffer climate change impacts, and in a paper in review, we show that projected glacier loss from Mt. Hood will have significant impacts on water resources in the agricultural region downstream.

I have also been examining hydroclimate trends relative to hypsometry (elevation distribution) of watersheds in the maritime Pacific Northwest. Almost all work investigating hydrologic effects of climate change in the mountainous western United States focuses on areas with seasonal snowpacks, but in the maritime Northwest, most watersheds receive a mixture of winter rain and snow. My research investigates how much high-elevation watershed area is necessary for historical climate warming to be statistically detectable in streamflow records. Preliminary results were presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in 2008, and I’m working on a paper with more complete results. Extending this work into the modeling domain, I am currently advising a graduate student using SnowModel to investigate the sensitivity of snowmelt production to projected warming in the Oregon Cascades, Colorado’s Fraser Experimental Forest, and Alaska’s North Slope, in collaboration with Glen Liston (Colorado State University).

Down-scaling climate impacts to watersheds and headwater streams: Most studies of hydrologic impacts of climate change have focused on regional scale projections or large watersheds. Relatively little work has been done to understand how hydrologic and geomorphic impacts will be felt in mesoscale catchments or headwater stream systems, yet most of the channel network (and aquatic habitat) exists in these small streams. In August 2009, I submitted a proposal to a Department of Energy early career program to investigate the effect of climate change on hydrology of the eastern seaboard of the US. This work proposed to contrast North Carolina’s South Fork Catawba River and New Hampshire’s Pemigewassett River and their headwater tributaries through a combination of modeling and field observations of the sensitivity of headwater stream networks to hydroclimatic variability. While the project was not funded, I am using the reviews to strengthen the proposal, and I plan to submit a revised proposal to NSF’s CAREER program in July. I have a graduate student already working on calibrating the RHESSys hydroecological model for the South Fork of the Catawba River.

Controls on flowpath partitioning between surface water and groundwater and the effects on stream hydrology, geomorphology and water quality

Many watershed models used in research and management applications make simplifying assumptions that partition water based on soil type and homogeneous porous bedrock. These assumptions are not reflective of reality in many parts of the world, including the fractured rocks of North Carolina’s Piedmont and Blue Ridge provinces. I am interested in understanding how water is partitioned between groundwater and surface water in heterogeneous environments, and what effect this partitioning has on stream hydrology, geomorphology, and water quality. My interest in the controls on flowpath partitioning began during my work in the Oregon Cascades Range, where I showed that lava flow geometry controlled groundwater flowpaths and the expression of springs (Jefferson et al., 2006). Currently, I am using fractured rock environments and urbanizing areas as places to explore the effects of heterogeneous permeability.

Fractured rock: The Piedmont and Blue Ridge provinces of the eastern United States are underlain by crystalline rocks, where groundwater is largely limited to discrete fractures. Groundwater-surface water interactions on fractured bedrock are largely unexplored, particularly at the scale of small headwater streams. I am interested in how groundwater upwelling from bedrock fractures and hyporheic flow influence the hydrology and water quality of headwater streams. A small grant facilitated data collection in three headwater streams which is forming the thesis for one of my graduate students, has precipitated a collaborative project with hydrogeologists from the North Carolina Division of Water Quality, and will serve as preliminary data for a proposal to NSF Hydrologic Sciences in June 2010.

Urban watersheds: Urbanization alters the partitioning of flowpaths between surface water and groundwater, by creating impervious surfaces that block recharge and installing leaky water and sewer lines that import water from beyond watershed boundaries. Also, the nature of the drainage network is transformed by the addition of stormwater sewers and detention basins. In September 2009, my collaborators and I submitted a proposal to NSF Environmental Engineering to look at how stormwater best management practices (BMPs) mitigate the effects of urbanization on headwater stream ecosystem services. While we weren’t funded, we were strongly encouraged to resubmit and did so in March 2010. We are also submitting a proposal to the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics (NCED) visitor program to use the Outdoor Stream Lab at the University of Minnesota to investigate the interplay between stormwater releases and in-stream structures.

Influence of hydrologic regimes on landscape evolution and fluvial geomorphology

The movement of water on and through the landscape results in weathering, erosion, transport, and deposition of sediment. In turn, that sediment constrains the future routing of water. I am interested in how the hydrologic regime of a watershed affects the evolution of topography and fluvial geomorphology. My work in this area has examined million-year scales of landscape evolution in high permeability terrains, century-scale evolution of regulated rivers, and the form and function of headwater channels.

Evolution of high permeability terrains: The youngest portions of Oregon’s High Cascades have almost no surface water, because all water infiltrates into high permeability lava flows. Yet on older parts of the landscape, streams are abundant and have effectively eroded through the volcanic topography. In a paper in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms (Jefferson et al., 2010), I showed that this landscape evolution was accompanied and facilitated by a hydrologic evolution from geomorphically-ineffective stable, groundwater-fed hydrographs to flashy, runoff-dominated hydrographs. This coevolutionary sequence suggests that permeability may be an important control on the geomorphic character of a watershed.

Human and hydrologic influences on large river channels: Almost all large rivers in the developed world are profoundly affected by dams, which can alter the hydrologic regime by suppressing floods, supplementing low flows, and raising water levels in reservoirs. On the Upper Mississippi River, in the 70 years since dam construction, some parts of the river have lost islands, and with them habitat diversity, while in other areas new islands are emerging. In 2008-2009, I had a small grant that facilitated the examination of some islands with a unique, unpublished long-term topography dataset and its correlation with hydrologic patterns and human activities. This project became the thesis research of one of my graduate students, who will be defending his M.S. in May 2010.

Headwater channel form and function: Although headwater streams constitute 50-70% of stream length, the geomorphic processes that control their form and function are poorly understood. Most recent research on geomorphology of headwater streams has focused on streams in very steep landscapes, where debris flows and other mass wasting processes can have significant effects on channel geometry. In the Carolina Piedmont, gentle relief allows me to investigate the formation and function headwater channel networks, isolated from mass wasting processes. One of my graduate students has collected an extensive sediment size distribution dataset which shows that, at watershed areas <3 km2, downstream coarsening of sediment is more prevalent than the downstream fining widely observed in larger channels. Another graduate student is collecting data on channel head locations and flow recurrence and sediment transport in ephemeral channels in order to sort out the relative influences of topography, geology, and legacy land use effects on the uppermost reaches of headwater streams. Both of these projects have already resulted in presentations at GSA meetings.

Whew. So that’s what I do, between teaching some field-intensive courses and raising a preschooler. But, what am I? Hydrologist? Geomorphologist? Hydrophillic geologist? Or something else entirely?

Research assistantship available on stream restoration, nitrogen dynamics, urban streams

An opportunity to do graduate work at UNC Charlotte with excellent and enthusiastic aquatic biogeochemist Sara McMillan:

We are seeking qualified applicants for a graduate assistantship at the MS or Ph.D. level, starting in the summer or fall of 2010 (summer preferred) in Dr. Sara McMillan’s laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Our work broadly addresses the interactions between ecology and biogeochemistry in aquatic ecosystems. This position is funded through a collaborative project with Dr. McMillan and Dr. Greg Jennings at North Carolina State University investigating the impacts of stream restoration on nitrogen dynamics in urban streams. Field and laboratory experiments will focus on reach-scale nutrient retention, microbial biogeochemistry (i.e. denitrification and nitrification) and microbial diversity. Opportunities exist to develop research aims that align with the project for the individual research. Preferred qualifications include a strong background in biology and hydrology, experience with field and laboratory research, and good teamwork and communication skills. The position is funded for 1 year at $18,000 with possibilities for future funding.

If interested contact: Dr. Sara McMillan ( for more information.

CUAHSI's Spring 2010 Hydrology Cyberseminars

The excellent series of hydrological cyber-seminars continues this spring, as listed below. UNC Charlotte folks: please note that the March 12th seminar focuses on the isotope analyzer that we have in my lab. If after a few days of spring break, you find yourself yearning for some science, tune in to the seminar.

We are pleased to announce a great line-up of six cyberseminar presentations for the Spring seminar. Instructions on how to attend these online webinars will be distributed via the listservs approximately one week prior to each event. As usual, if you are unable to attend a live seminar, a recording will be made available for later viewing. Included here is a link to a downloadable 8”x11” PDF poster that we encourage you to display prominently on your campuses.

Spring 2010 Schedule
February 26, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Jared Abraham, USGS (Denver) & James Cannia, USGS (Lincoln)
Title: Using airborne geophysical surveys to improve groundwater resource management models

March 12, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Manish Gupta, Oregon State University
Title: High-frequency field-deployable isotope analyzer for hydrological applications

March 19, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Brian Waldron & Beatrice Magnani, University of Memphis
Title: Applications of geophysical prospecting in hydrology

April 2, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Jeanne VanBriesen, Carnegie Mellon University
Title: The River Alert Information Network (RAIN): A wet-weather sensor network for water quality in Pittsburgh

April 16, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Bridget Scanlon, Laurent Longuevergne & Clark Wilson, University of Texas at Austin
Title: Advances in Ground-based Gravity for Hydrologic Studies

April 30, 2010; 3:00pm ET
• Jim Heffernan, Florida International University & Matt Cohen, University of Florida
Title: Inferring biogeochemical processes from high-frequency nitrate measurements in flowing waters

Cyberseminars web page:

Women geoscientists and blogs: what we found

Just in time for my ScienceOnline 2010 session, Kim Hannula has done a wonderful job writing up the results of our study on how women geoscientists use blogs. She’s got lots of pretty histograms for those interested in the details, but here are the take home messages from our study:

  • Women geoscientists participate in larger blogging communities
  • Blogs can be useful for sharing experiences and finding role models
  • Women-in-science blogging helps academics
  • But what about people whose experiences aren’t reflected? (Minorities, people with disabilities, non-trad paths?)

We’re hoping to convert our work into something in dead-tree format to reach an audience beyond those already engaged in online communities, so you may hear some more about this topic in the future.