Dr. Cockburn's research program is aimed at understanding past and contemporary geomorphological processes in dynamic environments. In particular, how climate and environmental disturbances have modified surface process dynamics, and how knowledge of past processes are informed through the use of...
Dr. Cockburn's research program is aimed at understanding past and contemporary geomorphological processes in dynamic environments. In particular, how climate and environmental disturbances have modified surface process dynamics, and how knowledge of past processes are informed through the use of paleoenvironmental proxies. Changes to sediment transfer and deposition can pose threats to aquatic ecosystems, transportation corridors and infrastructure, as well as other activities within a watershed (Goudie 2006; Quinton et al, 2011; Smol et al, 2005). In Canada, many regions are concerned with changes to sedimentary processes as they relate to soil erosion in agricultural regions, landscape instability in cold regions, and water quality throughout.
Cockburn's research group addresses these multifaceted issues through a unique approach that combines contemporary process monitoring, and analyses of sedimentary records, to elucidate sedimentary yield trends beyond instrumentation time periods. Both approaches contribute to informing and assisting in policy-making decisions, planning, and management aimed at addressing these issues of sedimentary processes that threaten productivity on a given landscape. This research involves both field and laboratory based work and requires equipment to monitor processes in-situ at specific field sites, and specialized instruments to perform analyses in the laboratory. Field work includes sampling and measuring runoff from various landscapes to quantify water quantity and quality (ex., volume, temperature, turbidity, grain size of suspended fraction, nutrients) in real-time as it relates to hydrometeorological inputs and landscape characteristics.
In addition, longer records of sedimentary processes are analyzed using sediment collected from storage points within watersheds (ex., by coring lakes, ponds, channels). Samples from the real-time monitoring and the sedimentary cores require processing and characterization in a laboratory setting. Grain size characterization is one of the primary analyses, as particle size relates to energy in the system, sediment source and the potential for nutrient and/or pollutant transfers. Understanding the character and composition of sediment transfer from changing landscapes allows us to better manage landscapes and protect our waterways from potentially harmful pollutants (ex., potential treatments for soil erosion reduction programs); and predict the scale and rate of landscape processes in changing environmental scenarios (ex., impact of climate variability and/or landuse changes).