Challenge

Surface processes both drive and are driven by how water, sediment, and nutrients cycle through natural and managed systems. Earth Lab seeks to untangle these nonlinear dynamics through technological innovations in observation (e.g., increasing access to high resolution topography, long archives of multi-spectral remote sensing data) and advances in numerical modeling of Earth surface dynamics. While recent work from the group focuses on processes and rates characteristic of the hillslopes, river valleys, and glaciated valleys of the western U.S., the scope and reach of our research is global.

One key challenge to interrogating the Earth’s surface is that processes are episodic and steady, rapid and slow, solid and fluid, discrete and continuous, and which collectively set the pace and style of landscape evolution. For example, one current focus of the group is to better constrain feedbacks among climate, hydrology, and river incision along the Colorado Front Range and High Plains. While intense rainstorms cause the largest floods and erosional events in the region, our work suggests that orographic controls on runoff generation is not principally a climatic phenomenon. Instead, we find that such patterns may be driven by the coevolution of Critical Zone architecture with long-term base level history. To this end, we are also examining feedbacks among forest ecology, soil production, and land surface properties using drone and lidar mapping, field measurements of fracture densities and apertures, and numerical models that link forest dynamical timescales to geologic ones.

Given the focus on bridging field methods, data analytics, and process-based numerical modeling of Earth surface dynamics, this project entails close collaboration with the modeling expertise of CSDMS (Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System) and aligns strongly with research being done within the CZO (Critical Zone Observatory) network.

 

Publications

Rossi, M.W., R.S. Anderson, S.P. Anderson, and G.E. Tucker (2020). Orographic controls on subdaily rainfall statistics and flood frequency in the Colorado Front Range, USA. Geophysical Research Letters, 47(4), e2019GL085086, doi:10.1029/2019GL085086.

Anderson, R.S., H. Rajaram, and S.P. Anderson (2019). Climate driven co-evolution of weathering profiles and hillslope topography generates dramatic differences in critical zone architecture. Hydrological Processes, 33(1), 4-19, doi:10.1002/hyp.13307.

 

Grants

NSF EAR GLD: Topographic response to the transition from snowmelt- to rainfall- triggered extremes. (PI Rossi; Co-PIs Anderson, Anderson, Tucker)