Chris Paola

Chris Paola’s major research focus has been the development of techniques for experimental stratigraphy, the centerpiece of which is the Experimental EarthScape system (XES or “Jurassic Tank”), a large experimental basin equipped with a subsiding floor. The basin can be programmed to reproduce almost any form of natural subsidence pattern. It allows experimental study of the interplay between surface transport systems and basement subsidence that ultimately produces the sedimentary record: a kind of Rosetta Stone for the language of stratigraphy.

There are three major current efforts growing out of these experiments: an investigation of how sediment mass extraction can be quantified and used to predict downstream facies changes; quantitative comparison of shoreline dynamics and sequence stratigraphy in passive-margin versus foreland basins; and study of channel steering by subsidence and how this influences subsurface channel architecture. A new project in Bangladesh, with colleagues from several universities, will help Paola’s group extend these ideas to a very dynamic field area. They are also working on the filtering processes that convert topography into preserved stratigraphy; experiments and modeling of deltas and how they are influenced by waves and tides; and vegetation-sediment interaction, emphasizing fine sediments.

In addition, his group has worked extensively on stream braiding and how braided channels can be “corralled” into a single-channel state by vegetation. With the sedimentary record as a motivating factor, a common theme of all their research is an emphasis on quantification and prediction. For this and many other projects, Paola’s group collaborates extensively with SAFL colleagues from the Department of Civil Engineering.