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Anne’s top papers of 2016 + 3 she co-wrote

Yesterday, I posted an epic analysis of my scientific reading habits in 2016, but I didn’t tell you about the papers I read last year that made my heart sing. And I didn’t take much time to brag about my own contributions to the scientific literature. So I’m going to rectify that omission today.

My top 3 papers of 2016 are (in no particular order):

Of rocks and social justice. (unsigned editorial) Nature Geoscience 9, 797 (2016) doi:10.1038/ngeo2836

The whole thing is absolutely worth reading (and it’s not behind a paywall) but here’s where it really starts to hit home:

Two main challenges stand in the way of achieving a diverse geoscience workforce representative of society: we need to attract more people who have not been wearing checkered shirts, walking boots and rucksacks since secondary school, and we need to retain them.

Waters, C. N., Zalasiewicz, J., Summerhayes, C., Barnosky, A. D., Poirier, C., Ga?uszka, A., … & Jeandel, C. (2016). The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science, 351(6269), aad2622.

Want an up-to-date, data-rich, and condensed summary of why many scientists think it is time for a new geologic epoch? This is the paper to read.

Wu, Q., Zhao, Z., Liu, L., Granger, D. E., Wang, H., Cohen, D. J., … & Zhang, J. (2016). Outburst flood at 1920 BCE supports historicity of China’s Great Flood and the Xia dynasty. Science, 353(6299), 579-582.

I am a sucker for a good mega-paleo-flood story, and this one ticks all of the right boxes. An earthquake generates a landslide, which dams a river, and then fails, resulting in one of the largest floods of the last 10,000 years and alters the course of Chinese history. Geology, archaeology, and history combine in this compelling story.

Plus, a bonus paper, that was definitely one of the best papers I read in 2016.

Shields, C., and C. Tague (2015), Ecohydrology in semiarid urban ecosystems: Modeling the relationship between connected impervious area and ecosystem productivity, Water Resour. Res., 51, 302–319, doi:10.1002/2014WR016108.

I’m cheating a little bit here, because this paper came out in 2015. But I read this paper in 2015, and then I read it twice more in 2016. That’s how much I like it. Why? Because it’s a really nice illustration of how physically-based models can reveal the complex and unexpected ways that ecosystems and watersheds respond to urban environments. In a semi-arid environment, deep rooted vegetation can take advantage of the bonus water that gets delivered from rooftop downspouts that drain out onto the land. The additional water use boosts net primary productivity, potentially enough to offset the loss of productivity that occurred when parts of the landscape were paved and built upon. But while deep rooted vegetation, native to the semi-arid landscape, can take advantage of the bonus water, grass can’t. It’s a cool story, with implications for the way we develop and manage urban landscapes – and the way we model them. (This paper is open access as of January 1, 2017!)

I was thrilled to be able to contribute to 3 papers in 2016. 

Turner, V.K., Jarden, K.M., and Jefferson, A.J., 2016. Resident perspectives on green infrastructure in an experimental suburban stormwater management programCities and the Environment, 9(1): art. 4.

In 2015, my team published a paper showing how the installation of bioretention cells, rain gardens, and rain barrels on a residential street in the Cleveland area substantially decreased stormwater runoff. This paper represents the other side of the story – the side that is, just as important (if not more so) – how the people on the street responded to the addition of this green infrastructure. In short, getting residents on board with stormwater management is a big challenge that we’re going to face as we scale-up from demonstration projects to widespread deployment of these technologies. (This paper is open access and free to all.)

Bell, C.D., McMillan, S.K., Clinton, S.M., and Jefferson, A.J., 2016. Hydrologic response to stormwater control measures in urban watershedsJournal of Hydrology. Online ahead of print. doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.08.049.

Bell, C.D., McMillan, S.K., Clinton, S.M., and Jefferson, A.J., 2016. Characterizing the Effects of Stormwater Mitigation on Nutrient Export and Stream ConcentrationsEnvironmental Management. doi:10.1007/s00267-016-0801-4

I’m thrilled that first author Colin Bell completed his doctorate in 2016 and got two papers out to boot. These papers are the culmination of 5 years of research in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the Journal of Hydrology, we try to disentangle the effects of stormwater management from the overall signal of urbanization across 16 watersheds. It turns out that for the level of stormwater management we see in the real world, it’s not enough to counter-act the effects of impervious surfaces (pavement and rooftops) as a driver of the hydrologic behavior of urban streams. In Environmental Management, we aim to understand the influence of stormwater ponds and wetlands on water quality in the receiving streams. This turns out to be quite tricky, because the placement of stormwater management structures spatially correlates with changes in land use, but based on differences in concentration between stormwater structure outflow and the stream, we show that it should be possible. This echoes the findings from our 2015 paper using water isotopes to understand stormwater management influences at one of the same sites. Colin will have another paper or two coming out of his modeling work in the next year or so, and we’re still analyzing more data from this project, so keep your eyes out for more work along these lines.

Anne’s November Navigations

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

I’m not joining the exodus of geoscientists to AGU this week; I’m still recovering from November.

I’m not sure whether I spent more time in Ohio or outside of it last month. The month started with the rain and runoff from our brush with Superstorm Sandy, but by November 2nd I had a car packed full of conference and research gear and was heading south to North Carolina. The drive south was a great chance to watch all sorts of geology go by at interstate speeds. I started out in the glaciated Appalachian Plateau, drove south of the glacial limit, crossed the Ohio River, and was soon in the heart of the Appalachians and West Virginia‘s coal mining country. On Interstate 77, the border between West Virginia and Virginia seems to mark the dramatic transition the Valley and Ridge Province, then it is up on to the Blue Ridge and finally down the Blue Ridge Escarpment and into the Piedmont and North Carolina, finally arriving in Charlotte after eight hours of driving. Climatically, I left the cold and damp, drove through the snow left behind by Sandy, and ended up in the warm, sunny, and very dry south.

The Geological Society of America meeting was a busy time. I convened two sessions, helped lead a field trip and had more meetings for committees and with colleagues than I care to remember. But it was a great time to hear about exactly the sorts of science that I find most interesting and to get out in the field with 50 friends and colleagues to talk about new ideas in geomorphology.

  • Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: The Surficial Legacy of Past and Present Human Activities. We had an amazing slate of speakers that packed the room, fantastic poster presenters that drew a crowd, and we were able to announce that we will be editing a special issue of the new journal Anthropocene with papers from the session. Then the journal’s publisher threw us a special reception.
  • Hydrology of Urban Groundwater, Streams, and Watersheds. This session featured another roster of incredible speakers and a kick-ass set of posters featuring many of my students and colleagues from UNC Charlotte.
  • Kirk Bryan Field Trip: Piedmont Potpourris: New Perspectives on An Old Landscape (and Some of its Younger Parts. The annual syn-meeting field trip of the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology division always features good scenery and intense but friendly discussions. This year we looked at an old mill dam site in an urban stream and channel heads and terrace soils near the Catawba River, and then we climbed a monadnock to talk about Blue Ridge escarpment retreat and the long term evolution of landscapes. Plus, we had a delicious lunch of NC barbecue on our able and charismatic field trip leader’s front lawn.

Missy Eppes atop a red soil pit.

Field trip leader Missy Eppes atop a typically red soil profile, on a terrace above the Catawba River.


50 geomorphologists on the front steps

An enthusiastic and well fed group of geomorphologists and Quaternary geologists on a delightful November day.


Geomorphologists on a rock listening to Ryan McKeon

On top of Crowders Mountain, learning from Ryan McKeon.

After the meeting was over, I stuck around Charlotte for a few days, with plans to do a tracer injection in one of my local field sites. As I’ve already shown you, that didn’t work out so well. So I headed back north.

Back in Ohio, I did some exploring of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was timely given that I am just about to submit a proposal to do work in the headwater streams in and around the park. I also spent a wonderful day with someone from the Ohio EPA, looking at dam removal and stream restoration sites in the region.

Stream with sediment and trees

Headwater stream near Brandywine Creek, CVNP, November 2012.

My fun explorations of Ohio streams were tempered with sadness though. Just before Thanksgiving, my sweet, 14-year old canine companion, Cleo passed away. She was my longest running and most faithful field assistant, and I’ll miss her forever.

Dog meets spring

Cleo, in ~2005, at one of my PhD field sites.

But then it was off to Baltimore to visit with Claire Welty and the folks at the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, who do some of the coolest urban hydrology work around. They also host the Baltimore Ecosystem Study field site.

Sign on door reads "Baltimore Ecosystem Study"

That was just the warm-up for the real reason for my trip, giving a seminar in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. My talk was on “drainage network evolution is driven by coupled changes in landscape properties and hydrologic response,” in which I attempted to integrate the Oregon Cascades, North Carolina Piedmont, and urban landscapes. It was a thrill and an honor to give a Reds Wolman seminar at JHU, which is my undergraduate alma mater, and the experience was made even more memorable by a morning spent exploring stream restoration sites with Profs. Peter Wilcock and Ciaran Harman. We saw some sites that made some sense, and some that were a bit…non-sensical? I will come out and say it, I’m not a fan of what happened to the little granite pegmatite knickpoint where I went as an undergraduate to try to pretend I wasn’t really in the city. But a bit farther upstream, I could see the value in installing some nice structures that stabilized banks and increased accessibility to the stream in a park popular with joggers and dog-walkers.

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore's Stony Run

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore’s Stony Run

And that pretty much brought me to the end of November. I’m looking forward to no travel in December, at least until the end of the month. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stay busy.