I’m Kieran, and I am a geomorphologist, meaning that I am interested in understanding why landscapes look and behave the way they do. I am currently an NSF Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow in the Lamb Surface Processes Group in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. My current research focuses on developing an understanding of how climate change in the Arctic is driving increase rates of fluvial morphodynamic activity. I will be combining laboratory and field approaches to investigate the thermomechanical controls on river migration through permafrost substrates, and will be working in conjunction with local organizations and members of the Native Alaskan community to address how the findings of this project can be used to inform climate change adaptation strategies at local and regional levels.
Prior to starting my current position, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Rice Sedimentology Lab in the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences at Rice University. My research focused on understanding the sedimentation of mud in rivers as they approach the ocean and build coastal environments. To accomplish this I conducted a field investigation in the Mississippi River delta to understand the hydrodynamic controls on the sedimentation of mud in deltaic and floodplain environments.
As we develop mechanistic theory for the formation and evolution of fluvial and, more broadly, sedimentary environments, we develop predictive power to forecast change to these environments under the changing global climate. Using geomorphic and hydrologic theory in combination with forecasts from global climate models, we can predict how these environments will change into the future under different climate change mitigation, or lack there of, scenarios. As a first crack at this, I am collaborating with climate scientists to understand how climate change under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios drives future changes to flood risk on the Mississippi River and other major rivers around the world. I plan to continue this line of research into better understand developing hydrologic and geomorphic risk to different environments and the populations and infrastructure that reside within them.
I received my PhD from the Department of Earth & Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation research was focused around what controls the shape and size of rivers, specifically their width and depth. I worked with Professor Douglas Jerolmack to determine the effects of river bank composition and rheology on the cross-sectional geometry and planform morphology of sand and mud-bedded river channels. These findings enabled us to put forward a unify thing theory for the first-order controls on the morphology of all alluvial rivers.
My favorite bit of wisdom regarding the study of landscapes is that the truest beauty of nature is not the innumerable differences between places, but rather the similarities between them. From that perspective, I like to study the physical processes that govern the shape of landforms across a variety of scales and environments in an effort to build as unifying theory as possible for landscape forming and shaping processes.
In addition to my research, I have a longstanding interest in scientific communication and outreach. I believe that there are many benefits to society that come from as many people as possible being interested in understanding the science behind the world around them.
Email: kdunne -at- caltech.edu
California Institute of Technology
1200 East California Boulevard
Pasadena, California, USA, 91106