Geomorphology, the study of landforms and the processes that shape them, is a passion of Professor Craig Kochel's. The geologist has collected and analyzed data from a range of locations, including the stream running through the Bucknell campus and remote glaciers of Alaska and New Zealand and even the north pole of Mars.
Kochel and fellow professors Jeffrey Trop and Rob Jacob are finishing a project funded by the National Science Foundation to study the increased frequency of avalanches due to global warming. Kochel has numerous cameras set up in Alaska and New Zealand to collect years of data on melting ice caps, which are causing avalanches, feeding glaciers and helping to create a new class of landforms called icy debris fans (IDFs). Their results show that IDFs contribute large volumes of ice and sediment to glaciers that have decoupled from icecaps, and that these contributions need to be included in calculating the mass balance of such glaciers and projecting how they will respond to future changes in climate.
Since geology is a field-based discipline, faculty and students alike have had the opportunity to visit both Alaska and New Zealand. "This scholarship is an opportunity not only for faculty collaboration, but for student collaboration as well," says Kochel. His students also work with the latest technologies including Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Geographic Information Systems(GIS), and they have access to a lab right on campus equipped with one of the largest sediment flumes in Pennsylvania.
The flume is a huge piece of equipment, able to hold 15 tons of sand and gravel and recirculate 4,000 gallons of water per minute. It can simulate floods, rainfall and even tectonic shifts, thanks to a 0 to 4 degree adjustable slope. "It can be used to create landforms, apply changes and study the effects," says Kochel. Students have used the flume to recreate many environments including Miller Run, a stream that runs through the Bucknell campus. The stream receives most of Bucknell's runoff and floods often.
In 2009, Kochel and professor Matt McTammany, biology, co-taught a class on stream restoration. Their students' findings were presented to the Department of Environmental Protection, and a grant based on that report was issued in 2011. "This is a great example of applied environmental geomorphology," says Kochel. "Solving real world problems right in our own backyard."
Updated January 2018