My Teen Science Cafe on rivers featured on the TSC Network as a “Cool Cafe”!

Last night I finished my third Teen Science Cafe in Taos, NM through the first and original northern New Mexico chapter, Cafe Scientifique. Check out this great summary of my science cafe by one of the Los Alamos Teen Leaders, Elijah Pelofske. I am so greatful to be a part of this effort to share science with and get high school students excited about water resources, rivers, and sediment! I think some of the students were inspired by the fact that they can become a scientist although they didn’t seriously consider it before, much like I did after starting community college as an art student!

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Engaging teens of northern New Mexico in science through Cafe Scientifique

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I just finished my second Cafe Scientifique at the Northern New Mexico College in Espanola, New Mexico. Along with research assistant, Meghan King, I have been talking to and working with high school students in northern New Mexico about Balancing Rivers for Society and the Environment. The natural balance of water and sediment is altered by human activity, especially dams, which can impact ecosystems and fish. The students conducted lab experiments with small flumes, in which they created small rivers to examine the balance of water and sediment in rivers!

IMG_7487 After comparing the amount and size of particle movement with low water flow compared to high flow conditions, the students constructed a dam across the river to see how it influenced the water and sediment balance. Above, Meghan asks the students about their observations when they increased water flow and constructed a dam. Below, students smile at the joy they find in Earth science, rivers, water, sediment, and flume experiments!


Thank you Twila and the Espanola Cafe Scientifique for a great evening of science! Cafe Scientifique is an amazing outreach program lead by Michelle Hall from Science Education Solutions that brings scientists to engage with teens from local highschools! Michelle started the program in Los Alamos in 2007 and now there are Cafe Scientifique programs in several states around the country involving over 100 high schools! If you are a scientist, see if you can get involved in a local program, and if you are or know any teens, see if you can attend these great cafes!!

Recent publication on mountainous floodplain carbon

Our recent publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface finds that mountainous floodplains in the Colorado Rocky Mountains may be a significant carbon reservoir compared to floodplains in lower regions and examines the spatial relationship of organic carbon content relative to the river channel. Floodplain soil closer to the surface, higher in elevation, and laterally closer to the channel have higher soil organic carbon content. This has implications for land use and climate change as we develop mountainous valleys and streams by altering the floodplain or through flow regulation. Grading floodplains to be flat for development decreases floodplain topographic heterogeneity and potential for elevated soils to store carbon. Additionally, more frequent floods could provide an increase in the wetting and drying to high floodplain areas, facilitating the decomposition of organic carbon that would otherwise be stored. Alternatively, alteration of river flows and channelization of rivers may reduce or completely eradicate overbank flows and no longer provide the mechanism for the accumulation of carbon along the floodplain.


Meandering across the floodplain: East River Fieldwork

As I gear up for another season of fieldwork and try to make it through all the data I have amassed last year, it’s great to look back at the numerous trips we made and all the folks who have helped.


With the help of research assistants, Sophie Stauffer and Mulugetta Fratkin, we have been looking at river migration, erosion, and deposition of the East River near Crested Butte, CO. We also collaborate and get assistance from scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

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While creating habitat for many other species, beavers largely impact river form and migration by digging canals, creating wetlands. and building dams (see beaver dam in the photo below) to divert flow along the East River.


Sophie has been working on extracting data to develop a model that determines when river meanders will cut off such that the river takes a new route, but this is largely complicated by beaver dams that appear to force meander cutoffs like the one below from 2012.


Using repeat aerial imagery, Sophie helped us determine where the East River was in the past and how far the river has moved between images, and Mulu’s historical analysis of the river flow helped me link erosion to hydrology.

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With help from Dr. Carli Arendt (using a DGPS below) to install marker horizon pads in the field, we are able to measure the amount of sediment that accumulates on the floodplain during high flows.


I measure the amount of sediment above the top layer of this white feldspar, which Carli helped me and Joel Rowland place on the floodplain.


While we were in the field last fall, we also borrowed a Google Street View dome camera and walked the East River along a portion of the study area. You can walk the river with me, Carli, and Joel and view the images on Google Maps Street View!! See Joel below with the Google dome camera on the other side of a beaver dam.


In addition to measuring erosion and deposition, I am looking at how much carbon is stored in floodplain sediment and what factors influence how that carbon changes with time as microbes and aquatic invertebrates eat and transform the carbon! This analysis is done in collaboration with scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Malak Tfaily and Nancy Washton, and funding through the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory @EMSLscience


All of this will help determine how hydrology and geomorphology influence carbon dynamics in the East River watershed. We will then be able to extend our findings to other mountain rivers and focus on the most important aspects of carbon dynamics when we start to look at much larger rivers.



A return to Chile


Short, steep, braided rivers incise through the Chilean Andes and appear choked with gravel, cobbles, and boulders. Because this mountain range is very tectonically active, and is still rising, hillslopes and rivers are very steep, making well-developed floodplains relatively rare to come accross.  Above is the Rio Maipo looking down valley and toward the west as we made our way up higher into the Andes. In March, I returned to Chile with my colleague and friend Bridget Livers to attend the Biodiversidad y procesoss ecositemicos en cuencas pareadas workshop and to collaborate with our colleagues Fernando Ugalde and Luca Mao!


Fernando accompanied us to the colorfully artistic city of Valperaso before nearing the mouth of the Maipo River. Over the course of a few days, we examined floodplains while we traveled upstream along the river through Santiago and toward the mountains. I sought to collect floodplain soil samples to measure the quantity of organic carbon stored in the limited floodplains of this great Chilean river. However, much like in the US, the floodplains were highly impacted by grazing and industry. Because the frequency of significantly large floodplains appear spatially limited in the region, those that were present were very highly impacted. It wasn’t until we neared the continental divide much higher up in the mountains near the boarder with Argentina until we found relatively unimpacted floodplains, a topographic trend similar in the US. However, the floodplains we sampled contained little-to-no fine sediment and organic matter. Presumably this is because of the highly active mountain range and the steep, incising rivers. High stream power washes fine sediment downstream without much accumulation because valleys are so confined.



Postdoctoral research at Los Alamos National Laboratory

After an exciting journey to finish and defend my dissertation and graduate with my PhD last fall/winter, I have begun a new chapter as a postdoctoral research associate at Los Alamos National Laboratory. As a member of a team with Joel Rowland in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, I continue to examine carbon dynamics in river systems and floodplains while developing new skill sets in remote sensing and geochronology. I have the amazing opportunity to examine carbon storage in different types of floodplain features as well as quantify river bank erosion and the accumulation of  sediment on floodplains in order to create carbon budgets for river systems larger than the small mountain stream on which I conducted my dissertation research. This work will help integrate rivers into the terrestrial and global carbon budgets and provide additional insight into carbon dynamics and ecosystem processing along river corridors.