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IU prof receives prestigious award to research deltas


An Indiana University professor whose research focuses on river deltas has been awarded a $50,000 Sloan Research Fellowship to further understand delta creation and stresses.

Geologist Douglas A. Edmonds, 33, holds the Robert R. Schrock Professorship in Sedimentary Geology and is an assistant professor of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at the Bloomington campus.

The fellowship will advance his research in “predicting the resilience of deltaic systems to environmental stressors, such as sea-level rise, coastal subsidence and declining sediment supply,” according to an IU news release.

Edmonds, a Sidney, Ohio, native, joined IU about 1 1/2 years ago. In an email response to The Journal Gazette, he said researching deltas in a landlocked city is not as odd as it seems, because a lot of his research involves creating computer models that simulate the delta environment.

“Of course, we need field data to verify that the models are working correctly, in which case we travel to different field sites ranging from the gulf coast of Louisiana to Saskatchewan, Canada, and even as far north as Labrador,” he said. “The advantage of working with computer models is that we can forecast the impact of devastating events like hurricanes or sea-level rise before the events play out naturally, potentially causing damage and risking lives.”

The two-year fellowships are awarded yearly to 126 researchers in recognition of distinguished performance and potential to make substantial contributions to their field, according to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation website.

River deltas are slowly disappearing as sea levels rise, resulting in a net loss of coastal land. They are ecologically rich and support about 15 percent of the world population.

Edmonds’ contributions have been to untangle the processes that create deltaic land by pioneering the use of computer models of self-formed delta growth, the release said. The findings, along with field data, could help develop restoration plans.

In Louisiana, deltaic land is disappearing at a rapid rate, about a football field’s worth an hour, Edmonds said. He will use his award money to address a basic question: How much sustainable deltaic land can be constructed for a given amount of sediment?

“This is an important question because sediment as a resource is not infinite and rivers only carry so much,” Edmonds wrote in the email. “This is where my computer models are valuable because we can simulate delta construction before engineers actually come in and try to make new delta land. You can imagine, that if we knew the answer to the above question we could predict how coastal Louisiana will evolve and if we can create enough land to offset what is lost to erosion processes.”