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by bowenm last modified Feb 12, 2018 02:04 PM


  • Soils and Stratigraphy
  • Water Resources
  • Paleoclimatology and Environmental Change
  • Geomorphology
  • GIS and Spatial Analysis


I am always looking for highly-motivated students to join my research team. If you are interested in getting experience conducting field, laboratory, or GIS-based research, contact Dr. Bowen at, call 920-424-7114, or stop by my office in Sage 4455.


I am interested in understanding the role of changing environments, both natural and human-induced, on geomorphic forms and processes. I am particularly interested in examining how natural and anthropogenic drivers of environmental change impact soil and water resources. In my research I utilize data preserved in soils and sedimentary units to interpret environmental change, with records typically spanning the last ~100,000 years. I also analyze the size, shape, and distribution of various landforms to better understand the links between landforms and the processes that create and modify them.


I currently have three primary research projects:


1) Examining land use and climate change impacts on soil erosion and sediment delivery to wetlands, with a focus on High Plains playa wetlands


2) Characterizing the geomorphic response of rivers to land use and climate change, with a focus on the impacts of increased hurricane frequency and intensity on tropical rivers.


3) Investigating the impacts of small dams and reservoirs on the upstream and downstream morphology of rivers, with a focus on dams and rivers of northeast Wisconsin.


Additionally, I have participated in several fluvial geomorphology and water quality related research projects. I utilize GIS/remote sensing techniques to map and conduct geospatial analysis of geomorphic systems. In my research, I strive to explore new ways to integrate soils and geomorphic data with geospatial technologies to link environmental conditions and hydrologic processes at various timescales in a diversity of settings.



Evaluating the impacts of land use and climate change on soil erosion and sediment delivery to playa wetlands




Playa wetlands are small, ephemeral, internally-drained wetlands found throughout the High Plains of the central United States. Playas provide a host of critical functions including wetland habitat, groundwater recharge, surface water storage, and water quality improvements.






  Although playa wetlands are vital systems of the High Plains, little research has been done examining the impacts of changing climate and land use on playa form and function. Additionally, research on the effectiveness of grassed buffers to mitigate these impacts is lacking. Sedimentation is the greatest threat to playa health, and sediment erosion and deposition patterns are directly linked to watershed land use and regional climate.



 Bill-Mark giddings

To evaluate these issues, I land-survey and collect soil cores from playas throughout the High Plains, with an emphasis on western Kansas. Cores are analyzed for a variety of properties including color, particle size, organic matter content, bulk density, magnetic susceptibility, and stable carbon isotopes. Age control is provided by collecting radiocarbon samples from soils and buried soils identified in soil cores. This research takes a landscape-scale approach by utilizing computer-based remote sensing/Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques to assess playa wetland and watershed properties. These properties have major implications for playas’ abilities to provide wetland habitat, surface water storage, and groundwater recharge.

soil cores



Characterizing the geomorphic response of Jamaican rivers to deforestation and increased hurricane frequency and intensity

Jamaica streamTropical storms and hurricanes are intense low-pressure systems capable of producing high winds, heavy rains, storm surges, and catastrophic flooding. Impacts can be severe and may include tree loss, intensive erosion, landslides, and altered stream channel geometry and sediment transport patterns. The island of Jamaica has a prolonged hurricane history and has experienced a dramatic increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes over the last several decades. Jamaican watersheds are especially susceptible to tropical storm and hurricane impacts due to a history of deforestation beginning in the late 1600s. However, little is known about the effects of deforestation and high-magnitude storm events on Jamaican river systems. Even less is known about how geomorphic response has changed over time due to changes in land use and climate.


Jamaica cutbankThe goals of this project are to identify and characterize the geomorphic response of coastal montane streams to deforestation and increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes in southwest Jamaica and model potential future response based on predicted land use and climate change scenarios. This project will incorporate computer-based GIS techniques, field-based surveys, and stream channel and floodplain soil/sediment profile descriptions to: 1) document baseline conditions in Jamaican streams, 2) develop river regime equations based on relationships among channel and watershed properties and rainfall-controlled discharge patterns, 3) examine the role of past colonial deforestation and subsequent land use change on present-day stream networks; and 4) create scale-independent models of geomorphic response of streams to land use and climate change.


Jamaica surveyingJamaica beach survey





Investigating the impacts of small dams and reservoirs on the upstream and downstream morphology of Wisconsin rivers


dam survey

Wisconsin has over 5,200 dams. Most are small, low-head dams built 100+ years ago, and little is known about them. Dams cause physical changes to upstream and downstream reaches, fragment rivers, and act as barriers to water, sediment, and aquatic organisms. Reservoirs created by dams slow water upstream, which typically causes increased sediment deposition, while the downstream reach typically experiences erosion from sediment-starved water.


With such a large number of dams in Wisconsin, it is important to better understand their effects on our local rivers and lakes. The purpose of this project is to evaluate how low-head dams affect stream morphology upstream and downstream of dams. Objectives of this project are to: 1) measure stream width and channel position changes upstream and downstream of dams over time; 2) compare timings and magnitudes of channel changes upstream and downstream of dams; and 3) assess how these impacts are manifested at the site/local scale and the watershed/landscape scale.


This project incorporates field-based and GIS-based research techniques. Using historical and current aerial imagery and "heads-up" digitizing in GIS, river channel positions are mapped and channel width is measured at several positions upstream and downstream of dams and reservoirs on multiple years of aerial imagery to map channel change over time. Field-based research involves completing longitudinal and cross-sectional profile surveys and analyzing channel bed and bank composition at several locations upstream and downstream of dams and reservoirs.

channel surveypebble counts

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by bowenm last modified Feb 12, 2018 02:04 PM