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Sensitivity of precipitation isotope meteoric water lines and seasonal signals to sampling frequency and location

The Watershed Hydrology lab will be out in force for the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Vancouver in October. Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing the abstracts of the work we are presenting there.


REYNOLDS, Allison R., Department of Geology, Kent State University, 221 McGilvrey Hall, Kent, OH 44242, and JEFFERSON, Anne J., Department of Geology, Kent State University, 221 McGilvrey Hall, Kent, OH 44240
Every precipitation event has its own isotopic signature, making it useful for hydrology purposes, like estimating transit time or identifying seasonality of groundwater recharge. Our purpose is to compare the seasonal signal and local meteoric water line (LMWL) generated by one year of event-based sampling to those resulting from multi-year monthly sampling at the closest Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP) stations. The question we seek to answer is whether data from different sampling strategies, periods, and locations within the eastern Great Lakes region in North America converge on a regional-scale LMWL and seasonal signal.
From October 2012-present precipitation samples were collected in Kent, Ohio, filtered and analyzed by a Picarro L-2130i at Kent State University. The closest GNIP sites are Coshocton, Ohio, USA and Simcoe, Ontario, Canada; monthly data was downloaded from a database. For each site, we graphed the ?18O versus ?2H and added a linear trendline to represent the LMWL and fit sine waves to the data to assess seasonal isotopic signal.
Based on the event data, Kent has the most isotopically depleted precipitation, but when looking at monthly samples, it falls between Simcoe to the north and Coshocton to the south. This suggests that, in this region, isotopically light precipitation events are more important in terms of their frequency than their amount. LMWLs for each site were similar. Comparing the LMWLs generated from the event samples and monthly data, monthly data had a slightly lower slope and d-excess. For Coshocton, amplitude of the seasonal sine wave for ?18O is 6.2‰, for Simcoe the sine wave is 4.3 ‰. For the Kent dataset, event-based data produced a sine wave with amplitude of 6.1‰, while monthly data resulted in a 4.9‰ amplitude wave. While it is possible that the amplitude of a wave fit to monthly data would increase with data points that represent isotopically extreme months, it is likely that curves fit to monthly data will frequently under-represent the variability in precipitation isotopes as measured at event and sub-event timescales. Both the LMWL and seasonal signal analysis suggest a greater variability in precipitation isotope signatures during the winter relative to the summer in the eastern Great Lakes region.

Stormwater control measures modify event-based stream temperature dynamics in urbanized headwaters

Next week, the Watershed Hydrology Lab will be well represented at the CUAHSI 2014 Biennial Colloquium. We’ll be presenting four posters, so here come the abstracts…

Stormwater control measures modify event-based stream temperature dynamics in urbanized headwaters

Grace Garner1, Anne Jefferson2*, Sara McMillan3, Colin Bell4 and David M. Hannah1
1School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.
2Department of Geology, Kent State University, Kent, OH, 44240, USA
3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, 28223, USA
4Department of Infrastructure and Environmental System, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, 28223, USA

Urbanization is a widespread and growing cause of hydrological changes and ecological impairment in headwater streams. Stream temperature is an important control on physical, chemical and ecological processes, and is an often neglected water quality variable, such that the effects of urban land use and stormwater management on stream temperature are poorly constrained. Our work aims to identify the influence of stormwater control measures (SCMs) of differing design and location within the watershed on the event-based temperature response of urban streams to precipitation in the North Carolina Piedmont, in order to improve prediction and management of urban impacts. Stream temperature was measured within SCMs, and upstream and downstream of them in two streams between June and September 2012 and 2013. Approximately 60 precipitation events occurred during that period. To unambiguously identify temperature increases resulting from precipitation, surges were identified as a rise in water temperature of ?0.2°C between the hours of 15:30 and 5:30, when the diurnal temperature cycle is either decreasing or static on days without precipitation. Surges up to 5°C were identified in response to precipitation events, with surges occurring both upstream and downstream of the SCM under some conditions. Surges were also recorded within the SCMs, confirming that temperature surges are the result of heated urban runoff. Classification tree modeling was used to evaluate the influence of hydrometeorological drivers on the generation and magnitude of temperature surges. In both streams, event precipitation, antecedent precipitation, and air temperature range were identified as the drivers of whether or not a surge was observed and how large the surge was, though the order and thresholds of these variables differed between the two sites. In a stream with an off-line, pond SCM, the presence of the pond in the lower 10% of the watershed did not affect the magnitude of temperature surges within the stream, but the pond itself had a wider range of surge magnitudes than did the stream. In a watershed with a large in-line pond, and a downstream contributing wetland SCM receiving flow from 40% of the watershed, the wetland increased both the frequency and magnitude of temperature surges observed in the stream. Our results suggest dynamic hydrometeorological conditions, SCM design, and position within a watershed all influence whether stormwater management reduces or enhances temperature surges observed within urban headwater streams, and that these factors should be considered in the recommendations for urban stormwater management systems.

Sensitivity of precipitation isotope meteoric water lines and seasonal signals to sampling frequency and location

Allison ReynoldsThis work is being conducted by undergraduate lab member, Allison Reynolds. Allison presented her work as part of the CUAHSI/USGS Virtual Workshop on applications of laser specs to hydrology and biogeochemistry. From that workshop, she will have an extended abstract published in a USGS open file report, and her poster will continue to be viewable on-line. She will also be presenting results at the inaugural Kent State Undergraduate Research Symposium in April. And of course, she’s going to keep working on new data and analyses and aiming for publication. Go Aly!

Sensitivity of precipitation isotope meteoric water lines and seasonal signals to sampling frequency and location
Allison R. Reynolds ( and Anne J. Jefferson (advisor)
Department of Geology, Kent State University, Kent, OH 44242

Our purpose is to compare seasonal signal and local meteoric water line (LMWL) generated by analyzing hydrogen and oxygen isotopes in precipitation for one year of event-based sampling to those from multi-year monthly sampling at the closest Global Network of Isotopes in Precipitation (GNIP) stations. The question we seek to answer is whether data from different sampling strategies, periods, and locations within the eastern Great Lakes region on a regional-scale LMWL and seasonal signal. We collected precipitation samples after each event in Kent, OH. Samples were analyzed with a Picarro L-2130i. The closest GNIP sites are Coshocton, Ohio and Simcoe, Ontario. LMWLs and seasonal signals derived from monthly samples were broadly similar along a 300 km north-south transect in the US eastern Great Lakes Region. Monthly volume-weighted averages of event precipitation under-represent event scale isotopic variability, based on samples from Kent, Ohio.

Radar precipitation measurements

Radar is increasingly used to measure precipitation in hydrologic science applications. It’s handy because it can be both frequent and areally distributed.

This NWS newsletter does a great job of going over the basics of how weather radar can be used to derive rainfall rates and totalsThis page gives a seamless map of 1-day precipitation totals for the US, derived from radar measurements. Pretty sweet! The videos below give more information on ground-based and space-based radar rainfall applications.


Or in space:

The upcoming launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite will greatly expand space-based precipitation measurements. The launch is currently scheduled for the 27th of February, but there is a media event on NASA TV on Monday, January 27th.

Also, follow @NASA_Rain on twitter to learn about the upcoming Global Precipitation Mission launch and the science behind it.


After the storm

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

It’s been quite a week. My home in northeastern Ohio got off lightly from “Superstorm” Sandy, compared to places closer to the Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean. But still, over 250,000 people lost power due to high wind, especially in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties along the shores of Lake Erie, where huge waves also caused closure of an interstate and damage. Power crews are still working to restore power to tens of out thousands, and most schools and universities were closed for at least one day, if not longer.

NewsChannel5 photo of large waves crashing against shore in foreground, smokestacks in background

Waves from Sandy crashing against the Lake Erie shoreline in Cleveland. Photo from News Channel 5. Click image for link to source.

Large tree fallen in front of house.

A tree down in my neighborhood, which took the branch of another one as it went. This same picture was the one featured on the local paper’s website story about storm damage. Does this mean it was the most dramatic tree to fall in Kent? Whether or not it was, these people got lucky the trees fell away from their house.

There was also some rain. At my house, I got 4.25 inches (108 mm), which is almost exactly what the forecasts predicted. It came as both a drizzle and as heavy rains, but since last Friday afternoon we haven’t seen the sun. Now, northeastern Ohio is supposed to be quite cloudy, but given the local grumbling, this might be a bit of an extraordinary gray and damp cold run. It wasn’t warm rain either, with temperatures neither climbing out of the 40s F (8 C) or dipping below freezing. Isotopic results are pending, but my money is on our moisture source being almost entirely that northern airmass that got itself entangled with the tropical cyclone. Again, any whining about the damp is pretty well offset by everyone acknowledging that we are extremely lucky compared to states to our east.

All that cold rain brought the local river levels way up. There was major flooding on the Cuyahoga River at the downstream end by Wednesday, and the river at its upstream-most gage in Hiram crested on Thursday night. Flow at Hiram peaked around 1900 cubic feet per second (53.8 cubic m/s), which as I eyeball it on the USGS annual peakflow graph appears to be about a 2-year flood. This is actually consistent with my eyeballed estimate of the flow frequency produced by Sandy on Passage Creek, near Callan Bentley’s house in Virginia. I wonder whether that will be consistent for other rivers affected by Sandy.

For me, this was the first chance to the Cuyahoga River in action as it flows through Kent. The river sits in a gorge than separates the two halves of town, and that seems to keep the river from endangering much property in the town. But it did make for a pretty impressive roaring site and sound as I crossed the bridges today. Here are two pictures of Heritage Park in Kent on Friday afternoon about 4 pm. Contrast that with the low water pictures from early June.

Cuyahoga River in Kent Ohio with impressive whitewater as it passes through an old lock.

Cuyahoga River in Kent Ohio with impressive whitewater as it passes through an old lock. Photo at 4:15 pm November 2nd, 2012 by A. Jefferson.

Flooding downstream of an old dam

Note the water level relative to the trees and those vicious rapids downstream of the lock. The dam in the foreground has been taken off-line and turned into a Heritage Park. Photo by A. Jefferson 4:15 pm 2 November 2012.

Lock at low water

The same lock structure as above, except at low water levels. June 2012, photo by A. Jefferson. Note complete absence of rapids downstream of the lock.

Similar view looking downstream past the dam as the picture above. Note how much vegetation is above water here.

Storm Comin’

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

If you live in the eastern 1/3 of the US and you haven’t started paying attention to Hurricane Sandy, today is THE day. This odd late-season storm is going to hit the northeastern and mid-Atlantic coast hard, having already stormed across the Caribbean, killing at least 48 people.

5-10 storm surge predicted by Accuweather

Accuweather map of predicted storm surges along the east coast. Click image for source. Note: I had a hard time finding both a detailed and quantitative map of predicted surges. If anyone knows of a better map, please let me know in the comments.

Much like we saw with Isaac earlier this year, the damage in slow-moving and relatively weak hurricanes (Sandy is a Category 1 currently) comes from all of the water in inland flooding and from the storm surge along the coast. When Sandy hits shore someplace between Delaware and New York City on Monday night, the storm surge is expected to be especially fearsome. As Ben Strauss at Climate Central explains:

  1. Sandy is projected to create tall storm surges, due to an enormous wind field influencing wide areas of ocean.
  2. The surge may be prolonged, due to the storm’s large size and slow movement. This means many areas will experience surge combined with at least one high tide.
  3. With a full moon near, tides are running high to begin with.
  4. Rivers swollen by significant rainfall may compound tides and surge locally.
  5. Sea level rise over the past century has raised the launch pad for storms and tides to begin with, by more than a foot across most of the Mid-Atlantic. Sinking land has driven part of this rise, but global warming, which melts glaciers and expands ocean water by heating it, appears to be the dominant factor across much of the region.

In Sandy’s path, as with Irene last year, lies the densely populated east coast. Which is why knowledgeable people are now talking about Sandy as likely to be a multi-billion dollar disaster. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground estimates that there could be as much as a billion dollars of wind damages and associated power losses, with flooding costing another billion in losses, and if the New York City transit system floods losses could run into the tens of billions.

Deeply dipping jet stream, high pressure off of NE Canada and Hurricane Sandy

Credit: Remik Ziemlinski, Climate Central. Click image for source.

And all of that is just the hurricane. Added on top of that is the potential convergence of the hurricane with a very deep upper-level trough over the central U.S. and unusually strong high-latitude blocking. Blocking occurs when a high pressure dome stays in the same place for several days or longer, blocking eastern flow of the polar jet stream, producing “seemingly endless stretches” of the same weather, and pushing storms far off their usual tracks. As explained by Will Komaromi of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami:

“Normally a hurricane weakens as it moves northward, as it encounters an increasingly unfavorable environment. This means greater wind shear, drier air, and lower sea surface temperatures. However, with phasing [convergence] events, the tropical system merges with the mid-latitude system in such a way that baroclinic instability (arising from sharp air temperature/density gradients) and extremely divergent air at the upper-levels more than compensates for a decreasingly favorable environment for tropical systems.”

Komaromi goes on to explain that the Atlantic Gulf Stream is unusually warm for this time of year, allowing Sandy to remain stronger than it might have while out to see. Also, the extra strong blocking over the North Atlantic will mean that the hurricane moves very slowly and the storm will track farther west over the US rather than curving out to the mid-ocean. Komaromi shows that this is extremely similar to the 1991 “Perfect Storm”, subject of the book and movie of the same name.

The fallout of all this meteorological fury is likely to be felt both at the coast and far inland. The quantitative precipitation forecast for NOAA for the next five days shows eight states with areas expected to receive more than 4 inches (101 mm) of precipitation. Far more unusual than lots of rain is the possibility that Sandy will be a “snow-i-cane” dumping up to 12 inches (304 mm) of snow in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, and possibly into Tennessee and North Carolina. With leaves still on the trees in southern and coastal regions, the wind, rain, and snow will play havoc with above ground power lines. Widespread power outages are considered likely all the way into western Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Even in Ohio, my area is considered in the “possible” zone for power failures.

highest precip in the Delmarva Peninsula and whole map covered with ~2 inches or more

NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Service quantitative precipitation forecast for the next 5 days. Click image for more information.

In addition to watching the weather and taking the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for whatever blows our way, a small group of scientists will be collecting precipitation samples for isotopic analyses by Gabe Bowen’s group at the University of Utah. If you live in the area affected by Sandy and want to help collect precipitation, look for more information here. I’ve already gotten 1.2 inches (30 mm) of rain since yesterday afternoon, and we’re not even seeing the storm effects yet. I’m likely to get another 4 inches (100 mm) by Thursday.

A somewhat larger group of geoscientists will be working on their posters and talks while hoping to avoid power outages and travel delays that could scuttle plans to attend the Geological Society of America meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is not at all in the storm’s path, so if we can get there, everything should be fine.* I’m hopeful that the freeways will be open through West Virginia by Friday night, when I’ll drive south to convene two sessions, lead a field trip, and present a poster. But I worry for colleagues in the full brunt of the storm and hope that they have both adequate time to prepare for and attend the meeting. I’m also crossing my fingers that virtually all infrastructure is functioning again by Tuesday, November 6th, and that everyone affected by the storm will be able to cast their votes in a very important election.

As I contemplate coming events, I find the song “Storm Comin'” by The Wailing Jennys has been playing in my head almost constantly. I love how it captures the tension and anticipation of a storm rolling towards you across the plains or ocean.** Unfortunately, I wouldn’t recommend following this advice for emergency preparedness, instead you should take a make an emergency kit along the lines of this one and pay attention to watches, warnings, and evacuations in your area. Be safe everyone.

The Wailing Jennys perform their song "Storm Comin'"

*Disclaimer here about being neither a meteorologist nor a disaster recovery expert, so don’t take my word as a guarantee. Also I’m glad I’m not in Italy.

**For me, music is poetry, so consider this my entry from the upcoming Accretionary Wedge carnvial on geo-poetry.

Bacteria in the sky, making it rain, snow, and hail

ResearchBlogging.orgCross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

Even though we all think of the freezing point of water as 0 °C, very pure water remains a liquid until about -40 °C. Water crystallizes to ice in the presence of tiny nucleation particles in the atmosphere. These particles can be sea spray, soot, dust … and bacteria.

Bacteria are particularly good at ice nucleation (IN), causing it to occur at temperatures as high as -2 °C. As Ed Yong described 3 years ago:

Ice-forming bacteria like Pseudomonas syringae rely on a unique protein that studs their surfaces. Appropriately known as ice-nucleating protein, its structure mimics the surface of an ice crystal. This structure acts as a template that forces neighbouring water molecules into a pattern which matches that of an ice lattice. By shepherding the molecules into place, the protein greatly lowers the amount of energy needed for ice crystals to start growing.

USDA photo of ice on flowers

Ice on fruit tree flowers. There because of bacteria? (USDA photo)

The fact that bacteria like P. syringae nucleate ice crystals has been known for decades. They can be used for gee-whiz science demonstrations, and, at a much larger scale, as one method for creating artificial snow. On the flip side, the presence of P. syringae is also also makes plants more likely to be frost damaged at temperatures just below freezing. Only in the last several years, though, has the role of bacteria in producing precipitation from the atmosphere begun to be appreciated.

First, Brent Christner and colleagues discovered that every freshly fallen snow sample they collected, even in Antarctica, contained these ice nucleating bacteria. In the resulting 2008 Science paper, they noted:

The samples analyzed were collected during seasons and in locations (e.g., Antarctica) devoid of deciduous plants, making it likely that the biological IN we observed were transported from long distances and maintained their ice-nucleating activity in the atmosphere…our results indicate that these particles are widely dispersed in the atmosphere, and, if present in clouds, they may have an important role in the initiation of ice formation, especially when minimum cloud temperatures are relatively warm.

Then researchers in the Amazon rainforest discovered that primary biological aerosol (PBA) particles, including plant fragments, fungal spores…and yes, bacteria, were a dominant contributor to ice nucleation in clouds above the rainforest. (Even the though the Earth surface is hot in the Amazon, high enough in the troposphere, it’s still below freezing.) As Pöschl and colleagues reported in Science in 2010:

Measurements and modeling of IN concentrations during AMAZE-08 suggest that ice formation in Amazon clouds at temperatures warmer than –25°C is dominated by PBA particles… Moreover, the supermicrometer particles can also act as “giant” [cloud condensation nuclei] CCN, generating large droplets and inducing warm rain without ice formation.

The latest contribution to the growing understanding of bacteria’s role in precipitation was recently presented at the American Society of Microbiology meeting. Alexander Michaud studied hailstones that fell on his Montana State University campus, and as reported by the BBC:

He analysed the hailstones’ multi-layer structure, finding that while their outer layers had relatively few bacteria, the cores contained high concentrations. “You have a high concentration of ‘culturable’ bacteria in the centres, on the order of thousands per millilitre of meltwater,” he told the meeting.

What all of this adds up to is that we now know that bacteria and other biological particles are prevalent in the atmosphere around the world and are stimulating multiple forms of precipitation. As a hydrologist, I think I can wrap my head around this. But what’s really wild is the feedback between biological productivity and precipitation and the possibility that the ice nucleating bacteria moving in the atmosphere may be an evolutionary trait.

Precipitation stimulated by ice nucleation above an ecosystem where the bacteria or other biological particles were emitted sustains the ecosystem that created those particles. As Pöschl et al write:

Accordingly, the Amazon Basin can be pictured as a biogeochemical reactor using the feedstock of plant and microbial emissions in combination with high water vapor, solar radiation, and photo-oxidant levels to produce [secondary organic aerosols] SOA and PBA particles (31, 32). The biogenic aerosol particles serve as nuclei for clouds and precipitation, sustaining the hydrological cycle and biological reproduction in the ecosystem.

Or, in discussion of the recent hailstone findings [from the BBC]:

Dr Christner, also present at the meeting, said the result was another in favour of the bio-precipitation idea – that the bacteria’s rise into clouds, stimulation of precipitation, and return to ground level may have evolved as a dispersal mechanism. … “We know that biology influences climate in some way, but directly in such a way as this is not only fascinating but also very important.”

Tara Smith lolbacteria

and ur rainz and ur hailz (image created by Tara Smith on the Aetiology blog)

Christner, B., Morris, C., Foreman, C., Cai, R., & Sands, D. (2008). Ubiquity of Biological Ice Nucleators in Snowfall Science, 319 (5867), 1214-1214 DOI: 10.1126/science.1149757

Pöschl U, Martin ST, Sinha B, Chen Q, Gunthe SS, Huffman JA, Borrmann S, Farmer DK, Garland RM, Helas G, Jimenez JL, King SM, Manzi A, Mikhailov E, Pauliquevis T, Petters MD, Prenni AJ, Roldin P, Rose D, Schneider J, Su H, Zorn SR, Artaxo P, & Andreae MO (2010). Rainforest aerosols as biogenic nuclei of clouds and precipitation in the Amazon. Science (New York, N.Y.), 329 (5998), 1513-6 PMID: 20847268

Flooding around the world

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

Based on information from The Flood Observatory and other news sources, here are some tidbits about on-going and recent flood events around the world. Every one of these floods is having significant local and regional impacts, even if they don’t make the international news circuit. Common threads amongst these floods are the impact of the La Nina climate pattern and the unequal distribution of flood risks across the economic spectrum.

New Zealand

Cyclone Wilma hit the northern end of New Zealand’s North Island on Friday and Saturday 28-29 January, bringing with it intense rains, flooding, and landslides. Wilma unleashed about 28 cm of precipitation in just 12-14 hours, resulting in damage to homes, roads, and water and sewer treatment infrastructure. This was the fourth tropical low to impact New Zealand in just three weeks. The New Zealand Herald has a nice collection of reader-submitted images showing flooding and damage in various areas. My particular favorites are this flooded river valley and this road closed by a landslide. The New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) provides near real-time hydrologic, sea level, and climatic data through their Environmental Data Explorer, so I can show you quantitatively what this cyclone meant for a couple of rivers.

Mangakahi River at Gorge stream discharge data from NIWA

Mangakahi River at Gorge stream discharge data from NIWA

Waitangi River at Wakelins stream discharge data from NIWA

Waitangi River at Wakelins stream discharge data from NIWA

While the graphs above show discharge (flow volume per time), which is the unit of currency for hydrologists who want to compare multiple rivers to each other, local flooding impacts depend also on the depth(or stage) of the water. For reference, the Waitangi River goes from ~0.4 m before the storm to 6.2 m at the end of the record shown above. If you click through to this image on the New Zealand Herald website, you’ll see why the record for the Waitangi River ends when it does. That gaging station wasn’t meant for those flow conditions.


While Queensland begins to tally its losses and recover from massive flooding earlier this month, tropical cyclones aren’t about to make the job any easier. Cyclone Anthony brought mostly heavy winds to the Queensland coast south of Townsville Sunday night, and damage is reported to be minimal. But much bigger and much stronger Cyclone Yasi is expected to make landfall in the same area as a Category 4 storm later this week. This cyclone is expected to produce widespread, heavy rain, a strong storm surge along the coast, and winds up to 260 km per hour.

Meanwhile, in the southeastern state of Victoria, tributaries to the Murray River are also flooding. These floodwaters are still rising and are expected to take weeks to months to recede. Increasing my sympathy for the Australians, Victoria and South Australia are also experiencing a ridiculous heat wave, with temperatures reaching or exceeding 40 C for several days in a row.

Saudia Arabia

Flooding occurred around the city of Jeddah over the weekend, killing at least 10 people. Three hours of rain produced 11 cm of precipitation, cars were washed away, and the video below shows the failure of a dam, which the videographer says contained a lake used for dumping untreated sewage.


South Africa

Flooding in South Africa has gotten almost no international attention, despite the fact that floods have killed 120 people there and have caused disaster declarations in 8 of 9 provinces. Flooding has also affected Mozambique, where 13 people have died, and forecasts for continued heavy rains over the next several months have much of the southern part of the continent on alert. In some areas, up to 10 times as much rain as normal has fallen in the month of January. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. Many of the lost homes are shacks belonging to poor Africans, because informal settlements are often located in low lying areas.


The clouds have cleared over the area around Rio that was hard-hit by floods and landsliding earlier this month. The death toll now exceeds 840 people, and the Brazilian federal and state governments have promised to provide up to 8000 homes for people that lost theirs in the disaster. The government also plans to immediately begin increasing its disaster preparedness, including mapping of high risk areas and better weather data collection. Dave Petley did a great analysis using before and after aerial imagery in one of the slide-affected area.

New publication: Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA

How does a landscape go from looking like this…

<2000 year old landscape on basaltic lava with no surface drainage

~1500 year old basaltic lava landscape with no surface drainage

to looking like this?

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava

2 Million year old landscape on basaltic lava. Note steep slopes and incised valleys

Find out in my new paper in Earth Surface Processes and Landforms.

Hint: Using a chronosequence of watersheds in the Oregon Cascades, we argue that the rates and processes of landscape evolution are driven by whether the water sinks into the lava flows and moves slowly toward springs with steady hydrographs or whether the water moves quickly through the shallow subsurface and creates streams with flashy hydrographs. Further, we suggest that this water routing is controlled by an elusive landscape-scale permeability which decreases over time as processes like chemical weathering create soil and clog up pores in the rock. And as a bonus, because of the high initial permeability of basaltic landscapes, the formation of stream networks and the dissection of the landscape appears to take far longer than in places with less permeable lithologies.

Jefferson, A., Grant, G., Lewis, S., & Lancaster, S. (2010). Coevolution of hydrology and topography on a basalt landscape in the Oregon Cascade Range, USA Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 35 (7), 803-816 DOI: 10.1002/esp.1976

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.