Wednesday, 31 July 2013

GEES flock to Leeds...

10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology

By Lucy Clarke (@DrLucyClarke)

One of the most important elements of academic work is actually telling others what you are doing and what you have found out, which is why we created this blog.  In addition we need to get our research out to the wider academic community in more conventional ways, either through the publication of articles or attendance at conferences. The latter are particularly useful as you can present complete pieces of work or work in progress that you want to discuss. Conferences are not a one way process in which you just tell others what you are doing, they allow you to sound board ideas, receive input from others in the same field and thus refine your ideas, as well have having the opportunity to find out what other researchers are up to.

I recently attended the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology (ICFS10), held at the University of Leeds in the UK from the 14-19th July 2013. The conference attracts a wide range of delegates from across geography, geomorphology, geology and the petroleum industry and is interested in the processes and response of modern river systems as well as relict rivers that are preserved in the rock record. Session themes ranged from ancient fluvial systems, alluvial architecture and stratigraphy (how are river deposits preserved in the rock record), processes and challenges for resource extraction, to rivers in different environments (glacio-fluvial, fluvial-tidal and tropical and monsoonal systems), how we model river systems and flash flooding, sediment transport, and vegetation and eco-engineering on modern rivers - the last one being the session that I presented in. About 350 people attended over the 5 days, there were 140 oral presentations run over 2 parallel sessions and 127 posters summarising people’s research.  In addition, there were 5 keynote speakers; these are world leaders in their field that are invited by the conference organisers to come and present extended talks on what they see as key issues in their areas. 

Conference hall at the University of Leeds with delegates and poster displays over coffee break.    

My presentation at ICFS10 (photo courtesy of Leiping Ye)

The first keynote was Bill Deitrich from the University of California, Berkeley in the USA, an eminent geomorphologist and a personal academic hero of mine! Bill discussed the unknowns as he sees it in modern fluvial systems and the questions he feels that remain unanswered. I was thrilled to see that he highlighted alluvial fans as an important landform to be working on, as this is my specialism. These landforms are found on Mars! Therefore having a better understanding of the mechanisms that form these and knowing the amount of water needed to build fans on Earth can be used to approximate what’s happening on Mars.

Dave Moreton from Imperial Oil Resources in Canada launched the 2nd day of the conference with his keynote. The petroleum industry rely on geologists to understand the way that rivers and other landforms are preserved in the rocks; cycles of erosion and deposition mean that landscapes from thousands to millions of years ago are buried in the land beneath us and it’s within these that oil deposits can be located. Focusing on the McMurray Formation in Canada he explained about how geologists have been using new technology to map these features to try and ensure that the oil deposits can be extracted with maximum efficiency and minimal costs.


River features preserved in the rock record at the McMurray Sands Formation in Canada. The left hand image shows preserved scrollbars – the migration of the river around a bend (taken from Fustic et al, 2008).

Martin Gibling from Dalhousie University in Canada took us back in time to the Paleozoic rivers formed 540 to 240 million years ago, before vegetation existed. The Paleozoic ‘greening’ of the Earth had a profound impact on the Earth’s environment and the way that rivers evolve. Vegetation and their root systems impact the stability of rivers and influence the channel form. Martin showed how the rise of vascular plants then shrubs and finally tall trees irreversibly changed the shape and form of the rivers from braided (multiple channels with lots of islands) to the development of meandering (a single sinuous river channel) systems.


Plants and fluvial systems in ancient and modern systems (taken from Gibling and Davies, 2012).

James Syvitski from the University of Colorado, Boulder in the USA creates numerical models that simulate climate, oceanic and hydrological responses both for present day situations and into the future. He discussed the new WBMsed model, which provides the flow and suspended sediment concentrations for rivers across the Earth. The take home message for me was the impact that human modification and especially dam building since the start of the twentieth century has had on the World’s rivers. The model includes the ability to remove ‘anthropogenic’ structures and see how rivers would behave in their natural state, and it showed have dramatically we have altered these systems.

The final keynote was delivered by Doug Jerolmack from the University of Pennsylvania in the USA. Doug reduced the scale of interest right down from landscapes to individual grains. He discussed the importance of understanding how single grains interact in river systems and how this in turn influences the way that sediment is transported and therefore the bedforms and character of the river itself.

Just from this taster you can see what a varied set of subjects were discussed. I think that the success of a conference can be measured on what you take away from it, so reflecting on my attendance at the ICFS10 conference what did I get from it?  I listened to lots of interesting talks in different areas of my discipline that have made me think about the wider context of what I am doing. I had the opportunity to present my current research and subsequently discuss it with the key people in my field  - which was invaluable! I have a potential new collaborator, as well as receiving a dataset to work on from a previous colleague after chatting to them over coffee break. I discovered a new link for my research and will be writing a joint paper on this next year, and on top of all that I really enjoyed my week at ICFS10 – so I would definitely say that my attendance at the conference was worthwhile!


Presentation references:
LE Clarke, SJ McLelland and T Coulthard. 2013. The impact of vegetation seeding on fan dynamics. Presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.

WE Dietrich. 2013. Fans, meanders and floodplains: familiar features, still surprising unknowns. Keynote presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.

MR Gibling and NS Davies. 2013. Evolving Paleozoic rivers: the co-evolution of landforms, plants and animals. Keynote presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.

D Jerolmack. 2013. Granularity and noise in geomorphology. Keynote presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.

D Moreton. 2013. Characterising alluvial architecture of the McMurray Formation, Alberta, Canada: challenges for bitumen recovery. Keynote presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.

JPM Syvitski and S Cohen. 2013. Simulating the modern discharge of water and sediment: a global approach. Keynote presentation at the 10th International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology: University of Leeds, 14-19 July 2013.


Blog references:
M Fustic, L Skulski, W Hanson, D Vanhooren, P Bessette, D Hinks, L Bellman and D Leckie. 2008. Geological mapping and reservoir characterization of oil sands reservoir by integrating 3D seismic, dipmeter, core descriptions and analogs in the McMurray formation, NE Alberta. AAPG Hedberg Conference, Heavy Oil and Bitumen in Forland Basins – From Processes to Products: Search and Dicovery Article 40281.


MR Gibling and NS Davies. 2012. Palaeozoic landscapes shaped by plant evolution. Nature Geoscience, 5, p 99-105.

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