Research Projects


The Role of Beaver Damming in Maintaining Riparian Vegetation Health During Droughts (2015 – present)

There are several important hydrologic functions of beaver damming on a landscape, one of which is the ability to buffer nearby riparian vegetation against the effects of drought. Put simply, water stored in the beaver ponds can seep into the nearby soil where it is accessible to the roots of the riparian wetland vegetation when there is otherwise low water availability due to decreased precipitation and reduced/no streamflow. To understand and quantify the ability for beaver damming to buffer droughts, I use primarily remote sensing (Landsat satellite images) and modeling to estimate the health of vegetation around beaver ponds.

In August 2017, I submitted a case study for publication on the role beaver ponds along Susie and Maggie Creek, NV played in maintaining riparian vegetation health during seasonal and multiyear droughts. The paper has been accepted and will be published in the journal Ecohydrology in 2018. Check out a read-only version from the journal here.

The next step in this project is to expand my study to more field sites, compare observed and modeled ET to water volumes stored in beaver ponds, and untangle the relationships between pond characteristics, damming intensity, total riparian biomass, and timescales of drought buffering.

The Role Beaver Dams Play in Groundwater-Surface Water Interactions in Arid and Semi-Arid Climates (2017 – present)

A key tool in moving from case studies to generalizable results is a physically based model for the hydrologic processes occurring in the shallow subsurface around and underneath beaver ponds in arid and semi-arid climates. I have developed a simple, generalizable model using the vadose zone modeling software HYDRUS 2D/3D. My model can help determine when, where, and under what conditions beaver damming leads to significant groundwater-surface water interaction – with special attention to the understanding how the variability in dam construction and repair impacts hydrologic processes at the dam-pond interface. This model will be a key step in understanding and predicting how beaver damming will influence water residence times, nutrient fluxes, water temperature, and other ecologically relevant characteristics of a given watershed.

The Water Balance of Beaver Ponds (2017 – present)

The amount of uncertainty in the water balance of a beaver pond makes  understanding their impacts on a watershed challenging.  How much water is routed through the subsurface? How much flows through the dam? How much flows under the dam? How much evaporates off the water surface? How much goes to groundwater recharge? What about transient water storage in the hyporheic zone? What parameters determine the various components of the hydrologic mass balance, and how do those vary across real landscapes impacted by beaver damming? To answer some of these questions, I am using a combination of HYDRUS 2D/3D, MATLAB, and field work to model the hydrologic mass balance of beaver ponds.

Geoscience Education

Characterizing the Accessibility Climate in the Department of Geological Sciences (2016 – present)

Geology and earth science are fields that by their very nature often require students and researchers to go out “in the field,” which simply means they go collect data outside. Unfortunately, particularly at the undergraduate level, the enrollment of students with physical disabilities in introductory geology courses is below what would be expected based on school-wide demographics. We think this is in part because field work is such a large component of geology and earth sciences, and students with physical disabilities are often excluded from participating in field work. Megan R.M. Brown and I are co-PIs formally characterizing the “Accessibility Climate” in our own department through both qualitative and quantitative data. Using that data, we are developing strategies and programs to increase inclusion of students with physical disabilities and provide a more equitable educational experience.

Increasing Inclusion and Retention in Undergraduate Geology Labs Through Targeted TA Training (2017 – present)

We (Megan R.M. Brown and myself) have preliminary data from “Characterizing the Accessibility Climate in the Department of Geological Sciences” which shows that teaching assistants (TAs) in our department felt that there was a problem with low enrollment of students with disabilities, agreed in general that some of our labs are not accessible, but reported having little knowledge of how to tackle these issues on their own. As a response, we are piloting a program in Fall 2017 to provide additional training and resources to all new TAs. We are assessed the effectiveness of our training in AY 17-18, and will be writing up our results for publication soon.

Teaching the Hydrologic Cycle Through Digital Game-Based Learning (2018 – present)

The freshwater hydrologic cycle is an incredibly important concept for majors and non-majors alike to understand. However, the freshwater hydrologic cycle spans wide spatial and temporal scales and previous studies have shown that issues of scale are particularly challenging for undergraduates to grasp. I am testing whether using digital games will help improve attitude toward earth science, knowledge about the hydrologic cycle and scale, and the retention of that knowledge.