CAREER: Ancient river and floodplain dynamics: a research and education plan for improving paleoenvironmental reconstructions and stratigraphic prediction

Project: Research project

Project Details


CAREER: Ancient river and floodplain dynamics: a research and education plan for improving paleoenvironmental reconstructions and stratigraphic prediction

Rivers and floodplains are important resources - they nourish agricultural land, provide water for irrigation, and facilitate transportation between coastlines and continental interiors. Fluvial landscapes are sensitive to climate and land-use changes; however, it is currently difficult to predict which river systems are most sensitive and how they will respond to environmental perturbations. Sedimentary deposits provide an underexploited record of how Earth's landscapes have evolved in response to climate, tectonic, and land-cover change throughout Earth's history. Methods for reconstructing ancient landscape dynamics from fossilized river deposits hold promise for understanding how rivers and floodplains responded to past environmental changes - information that can help predict how today's rivers and floodplains may adjust to present and future climate and land-use changes. Despite recent advances in reconstructing ancient river and floodplain behavior, the toolkit for extracting quantitative information from sedimentary deposits is limited. Using detailed field observations from well-exposed Cretaceous-Eocene rock outcrops in the western United States, this project focuses on developing new methods of extracting practicable information about ancient river systems from sedimentary deposits. A complementary education and outreach program aims to 1) strengthen sedimentary geologists' reconstructions of ancient river landscapes through a series of hands-on, training courses, 2) raise awareness about dynamic fluvial environments among middle- and high-school students through stream-table activities, and 3) support outcrop- and stream-table-based research opportunities for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

This work will expand our ability to measure and compare how rivers and floodplains changed in response to environmental forcing throughout Earth's history. This historical perspective will expand our toolkit for predicting how modern rivers and floodplains will respond to ongoing anthropogenic climate and land-use changes. Additionally, this work will provide new ways of predicting the distribution and quality of subsurface hydrocarbon, groundwater, and CO2 reservoirs. This CAREER project presents an integrated research and education plan that will help build a foundation for the PI's long-term professional efforts to 1) advance reconstructions of ancient sedimentary environments in order to enhance decision-making and management practices for modern sedimentary landscapes and improve process-based predictions of subsurface stratigraphy, 2) build a diverse and adaptable workforce capable of tackling the 21st century's energy and environmental challenges, and 3) broaden citizen awareness of how understanding variability in sedimentary systems can improve our ability to sustainably live in dynamic landscapes.

Effective start/end date7/1/156/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $452,540.00


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