Born in Cincinnati, 1965; lived in Dallas for 12 years; Enid, Oklahoma, for 6; Bellingham, Washington, for 6; Tucson for 7; Reno for 14; and Flagstaff for 7 so far. Time flies in case you haven't noticed yet.
Since the late summer of 1983, I have studied the science behind the scenery of the American West. My interest grew out of gawking at atlases and encyclopedias in my basement on Maine Street in Enid and taking the occasional trip to Colorado...where I thought the only real mountains in America were found (wow, was I wrong about that). My keen interest in maps paid off handsomely when I found Bellingham, Washington, on one. I left Enid in August of 1983 to attend college there. I could not have chosen a better place to completely transform my life and start my fascination with geology. The northwest corner of Washington State is a savagely rugged and dynamic place for anyone to absorb, especially anyone who came of age on the flat plains of Enid.
Higher Education...it worked for me
Since my first trip to Bellingham, I have been a geoscientist in some form. I am now the kind that specializes in geologic mapping, surficial geology, and geomorphology. To reach this point, I earned two degrees from Western Washington University in 1989: BA in Geography (cartography and sociology minors) and BS in Environmental Geology; and two degrees from the University of Arizona: MS in Geosciences (1991); and PhD in Geosciences (1996). Some would argue that 13 years in college is excessive (it is) but, hey, I learned some cool stuff.
I did graduate studies in geosciences at the University of Arizona under Victor Baker with additional guidance from Bill Bull and Katherine Hirschboeck. My research there focused on late Holocene flood stratigraphy of rivers and washes in central and western Arizona; the hydroclimatology of floods in Arizona; and documenting prehistorical and historical channel changes on major rivers in Arizona. I collected beer cans as a young kid and then worked on beer trucks in my teen years. In one of my first papers, I described using beer cans to reconstruct flood chronologies in seemingly desolate desert areas. Win!
During graduate school, I worked at the Arizona Geological Survey with Phil Pearthree. My work there was dominated by surficial geologic mapping projects and geological flood studies in southern, western, and central Arizona. The AZGS job was an great opportunity that set me on a fruitful path. I did a lot of field work while a student, and the hot, rugged deserts of western Arizona entranced me. However, I had no immediately obvious prospects upon graduation and took a job in Reno in 1996.
I did post-doctoral studies (1996-1998) at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, NV with Steve Wells. In an unexpected and, likely, rare twist I was all but hired during an impromptu interview. That turned out to be an important development. Various cool projects at DRI sent me to Italy, Israel, Argentina, and Brazil; but during my tenure in Reno my research was primarily focused on the stratigraphic records of late Holocene and historical flooding on rivers in deserts of Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon. It was a great couple of years, and I am indebted to those who made it possible. The lucky streak continues.
I got my first 'real' job when I was 33
I was hired as research geologist / associate professor at the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (NBMG) in 1998. NBMG is part of the University of Nevada, Reno, and I actually became a tenured professor while at UNR in 2002. A tenured geologic mapper? A rare opportunity indeed. Over 12 years at NMBG, I became a professional geologic mapper. I had the luxury to explore the American western deserts with geologic intent, and began to think about geology with a broader scope of space and time in mind. As a write this, it is hard not to notice that my prolonged undergraduate and graduate training in geography, cartography, and geology metamorphosed into what appears to be a pretty damn good plan that I didn't know I was making.
While at UNR / NBMG I made lots of maps of interesting areas and worked with a group of talented geologists and cartographers. I also worked to engage students through collaboration and instruction in geomorphology and geologic mapping. On 8 occasions Between 1998 and 2010, I taught a 7-10 day session on surficial geologic mapping for the UNR summer geology field camp.
Teaching field camp for UNR was probably the personal highlight of my career at NBMG. Really. During those times, I learned how to express my fascination with geology to a range of receptive students. I am proud to have explained to many burgeoning, talented geologists that it is scientifically treasonous to map all Quaternary surficial units as one unit or to refer to them as just various manifestations of 'dirt'. "Wow, so you are not interested in understanding the depositional environments of sedimentary rocks?" I would ask. And so on.
During the NBMG years, I authored or co-authored more than 20 geologic maps of parts of Nevada and surrounding states; served as lead editor of a book on Paleoflood Hydrology; authored or co-authored 20 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters; and authored or co-authored more than ~50 professional talks. I have received 'outstanding paper awards' for 2 peer-reviewed papers of which I am senior author on my short list of such papers. In other words, I have scored a high percentage of award-winners by taking so long to publish my research as first author. Hooray? Sure, Hooray, dammit!
Unlike most of its rivers...I departed Nevada
In the late Summer of 2010, I left NBMG for a permanent mapping position with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. At the time, It was an ideal and impeccably timed professional move for me, and an ideal change for my family. Although I took and have yet to recover a significant pay cut and sacrificed a coveted tenured position and all manner of annual leave opportunities, the move provided a massive increase in quality of life. Flagstaff is a wonderful place to live. I live at nearly 7000', 79 miles from the Grand Canyon, 20 from Sedona, etc. Check the map...good location.
I am currently leading a major mapping project along the lower Colorado River in Arizona, California, and Nevada. We have a small, but excellent team. The project began its fourth and final year in October 2017. I like to think of it as Phase 1, the detailed mapping effort. I am hoping to follow it with Phase 2 the less detailed mapping effort of the larger area.
Current scientific interests / Why I map
My job is to use mapping as a means to concisely summarize the geologic effects, timing, and signatures of surface processes that drive landscape evolution. An emphasis and reliance on mapping requires me to consider geologic processes over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales. That is the most informative part of geologic mapping. Sure, great exposures are nice and can spawn numerous niche publications and comfortably pad a CV, but maps tell a much larger story. Since 1990, I have accrued extensive field experience in diverse geologic settings in desert areas of Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and California through numerous mapping projects. Most of these have tended to emphasize the geologic records of landscape evolution as dictated by combinations of climatic and hydroloclimatologic variability; tectonic activity; mass movements; extreme floods; and volcanism.
My early career focused on using geologic information and reasoning to better understand flood hazards in desert areas. The work included stratigraphic studies, hydraulic modeling, and geologic mapping. I carried out research on the paleoflood stratigraphy in the canyons and floodplains of rivers and ephemeral streams in the West to better understand variations in flood magnitude and frequency over long, but socially relevant time frames (100s to 1000s of years). My research on the direct relation between the surficial geology of desert piedmonts and alluvial fan flood hazards has contributed to improved perspectives on floodplain management and regulation in desert areas. I wrote a paper on alluvial fan flood hazards in Laughlin, Nevada that indicated just how problematic regulatory methods for flood hazard assessments on fans can be. This paper was recognized by the American Water Resources Association as the outstanding paper of the year for 2005. My last major flood-related study was in Ivanpah Valley, Nevada.
Recent work in Geologic Mapping and Landscape Evolution
I have been working on unraveling geologic events in the history of the lower Colorado River [the part downstream from the Grand Canyon] for 15 years now. By far the most significant outcome of these efforts has been the discovery of evidence strongly suggesting that the evolution of much, if not all, of the river's course below the Grand Canyon was formed by a series spilling-lakes between 4.8 and 5.6 Million years ago. The key geologic deposits that support this idea lay in the desert on the outskirts of Laughlin, Nevada and Bullhead City, Arizona. The day I finally found/understood the flood deposit that 'clinched' the deal was a good one. In a completely unexpected turn of events in mid-2013, my 2008 paper (written with Phil Pearthree and Mike Perkins) describing the discovery received the Kirk Bryan Award for Research Excellence from the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division of the Geological Society of America. No fooling, this was the truly greatest honor in my professional life to date. Now it is a waiting game while my colleagues try in earnest to disassemble parts of the story. Meanwhile, I keep on mapping in the river corridor and sharing my findings with them. Science is a collaborative process drawn from much individual effort.
I used to spend a lot of time mapping along the rivers and lakes of Nevada...the modern ones and their ancient forebears. With respect to those efforts, I am forever in awe of how rapidly dramatic and high-impact environmental changes can occur and how rapidly fluvial, aeolian, and lacustrine systems respond to those changes. No matter how many times I see, describe, and map the evidence, I am always amazed by what has transpired...sometimes those changes have occurred over thousands to millions of years, other times over single years to decades. I am obsessed with finding and pondering the stratigraphic and geomorphic evidence attesting to these changes, their magnitudes, and their rates. That is part of the occasional bouts of sheer joy that field work can bring. Seriously, what beats finding and pondering the implications of a gigantic boulder that blasted out of a steep canyon only 500 years ago?
My work on pluvial lakes in the Great Basin was extremely important in shaping my understanding of the evolution of the lower Colorado River. I am extremely fortunate in that regard. The trajectory of my career has followed fortuitous paths more often than not. I am lucky.
My recent work on the Owyhee River in southeast Oregon added an entirely new dimension to my understanding of the way rivers work. In this case, it involved grappling with a river that is periodically involved with voluminous influxes of lava that fill the canyon with 10s of meters of solid basalt in just a few years. The lava flows construct immense dams that span 10s of kilometers along the river and last for as many as 10,000s of years. This circumstance is quite an affront to a river, and the mappable geologic consequences are nothing short of amazing. When the Owyhee isn't being repaved with solid rock, it is being pummeled with huge landslides. The landslide events have less of a lasting impact on the channel than the lava, but they constitute a notable, local sediment pulse and a temporary damming mechanism that is often resolved through catastrophic failure and flooding. In addition to lava dams and landslides, the Owyhee has also had to convey huge flood(s) from pluvial lake overflow. Spoiler alert: the river always wins and these obstacles, though seemingly gargantuan, are mere nuisances in the bigger scheme of time.
I worked on the Owyhee with a great research team between 2001 and 2012, with a major burst of research between 2007 and 2012. I learned much from my team during that time. We summarized key aspects of our Owyhee River work in a paper in 2012, but I am still struggling to complete one of the greatest maps of my career in my spare time. It will happen in 2016, right?
Other Professional Interests and Skills
I am nearly adequately self-sufficient in GIS for generating geologic maps, and am always interested in improving my skills in this arena...within reason and with much help from colleagues with more linear thinking skills. Admittedly, my skill-set levels off just above adequate for my needs. Over the last several years, I became interested in the use of new digital devices and methods for improving workflow in the field and the office. I also spent much time pursuing what was known long ago as 'web 2.0' and social media applications as platforms for disseminating information about these methods and devices to my colleagues and students. In this vein, I once maintained a series of geologically themed Blogs (archived on this site). I remain a decreasingly annoying advocate of adopting new technology and have given numerous invited and volunteered presentations to this effect over the last decade. Much of what I and a select few other geologists advocated so strongly between 2007 and 2010 has gained considerable (but as yet, inadequate) traction in the field of geology. This development was inevitable, but it was fun being closer to the crest of a wave than in its leading trough. I have given up on blogging since my job, family life, outside interests, and personal disasters have grown more complex and mostly interesting over time. Nonetheless, in another fortuitous turn, I and two capable colleagues recently published a chapter in a new book: Rethinking the Fabric of Geology. It was published in 2013 in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Geological Society of America. The paper is called: Overcoming the Momentum of Anachronism--American Geologic Mapping in a Twenty-First Century World. Total passive-aggressive snark. Writing it allowed me to produce a personally suitable coda to all of the snarky but often informative commentary that I tried to develop back then. Momentum of anachronism? That term grew out of numerous and persistent spikes of professional frustration that I have encountered over the years, particularly in relation to my career transition in 2010. So far the paper has received polarized reviews, but I will continue to stand behind the ideas that it presents, particularly as they begin to evolve into fairly prescient ones.