John Kemper


Advisor: Dr. Sara Rathburn


Previous Education: University of Maryland Baltimore County, M.S. Environmental Engineering 2017

University of Maryland, B.S. Geology 2013

About me: I developed an interest in fluvial geomorphology over the course of my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, where I  worked on investigating the impact of sand content on sediment transport, deposition, and bar morphology in urban streams. Always drawn to cities, I have spent the last five years continuing to work in urban systems, where I have been interested in the use of stable water isotopes to calculate watershed transit times and temporally dense water quality data to calculate stream metabolism and examine sediment transport dynamics. Coming west is a new chapter for me, and I’m excited to be exploring far more natural systems!

Broadly, my research interests are catchment scale transport dynamics and the fate and transport of sediment in the landscape. I am interested in understanding the influence of disturbance on fluvial systems, especially as it relates to human activity, and how past and present disturbances can propagate through time and space.

When I’m not lumbering through rivers trying (and failing) to not fall in, I like to read, ski, hike and climb, and look at cute pictures of cats on the Internet.

Current Research: Floodplain Forest Establishment and Legacy Sediment within the Yampa River Basin, Northern Colorado

The Yampa River is the last largely unregulated major tributary in the Colorado River system. For its final 70 km, the Yampa flows through Dinosaur National Monument, an area of major conservation importance in northern Colorado. Today the floodplain forest in Dinosaur is composed largely of cottonwood trees, which create diverse ecosystems that provide essential ecological and human benefits disproportionate to their size.

Cottonwood floodplain forests are disturbance-driven ecosystems whose establishment is dependent on channel change induced by sediment-laden floods. Across the Colorado River Basin, these forests are declining as dam-induced regulation alters hydrologic regimes and impounds sediment. Additional disconnects between upstream and downstream land and water management, as well as a gap in understanding of the importance of sediment derived from headwater erosion for downstream ecosystem management, put downstream riparian forests at further risk.

My research will test the hypothesis that establishment of cottonwood floodplain forests along the Yampa and Green Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument and Canyonlands National Park is the result of extreme erosion in headwater tributaries that delivered a large volume of legacy sediment to the Yampa from the late 19th to mid-20th century.  Study results have important ramifications for land management and future development throughout the West. Overall, this research seeks to establish and highlight the importance of basin-wide sediment management for the maintenance and management of riparian forests and advance understanding of watersheds as connected systems.