Early Career Spotlight

Gerard Salter

Tell us about yourself

My name is Gerard Salter. I’m a PhD candidate in Earth Sciences at University of Minnesota working with Chris Paola and Vaughan Voller. I grew up in many different places, including Iceland, but spent the longest time in Crawfordsville, IN. My undergrad was at University of Pennsylvania where I worked with Doug Jerolmack on the channel geometry of laboratory rivers.

What is your research about?

My thesis is about the controls on flux partitioning in delta networks, focusing on the feedbacks and drivers acting on bifurcations. For example, I developed theory showing how the interplay between channel deepening and downstream deposition leads to a range of avulsion behaviors in delta bifurcations. More broadly, I’m interested in landscape patterns and dynamics.

What excites you about your research?

I get most excited about cool spatial and/or temporal patterns with (relatively) simple explanations. I also always look forward running my bifurcation experiments. Watching as patterns formed by water and sediment evolve can be hypnotizing. One fun thing about working at St. Anthony Falls Lab is that we get a lot of tour groups, and showing off experiments is a great bridge for talking about science.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

Deltas are naturally low-lying, making them susceptible to drowning from relative sea-level (RSL) rise. However, they carry sediment that can build new land and therefore at least partially compensate for RSL rise. Better understanding of the controls on how sediment fluxes are distributed in delta networks could help us predict which parts of a delta will build new land, versus which parts of a delta risk inundation.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

As a kid I loved playing with water and sediment, whether it was with a hose in the back yard or playing coastal engineer on the beach. So it’s kind of funny that at Penn I stumbled upon Doug Jerolmack’s Earth Surface Processes course and learned that people study this stuff in a serious, quantitative way, and that it actually matters. I got started in Doug’s lab doing research that consisted in large part of running water on sediment, and I liked it enough to jump to getting my PhD!

What are you looking to do after you complete your PhD?

I’m currently looking for postdoc positions. My goal is for a career in scientific research, and academia is the route that provides the most freedom to pursue the topics I think are interesting and important.

Given unlimited funding and access to resources, what is your dream project that you would pursue?

I’m going to take this question literally and deploy teams to a whole host of deltas and rivers networks and have them collect ADCP transects 24/7. Over the relatively short-term, we would be able to see how discharge is partitioned in the network at different flood stages, and I suspect that floodplain water storage could cause hysteresis effects. In the longer term (say 5-10 years for smaller systems), we would start to see morphodynamic changes producing some very interesting behavior, such as soft avulsion.

What else do you do? Any hobbies or interests outside of work?

My main hobby is playing the piano and composing music, which for me is a very different way of thinking and therefore a nice way for my brain to recover from research. I also love playing pickup ultimate frisbee.

If you know of an early career EPSP researcher (PhD student or Postdoc) who deserves to have a spotlight on them, please contact Hima Hassenruck Gudipati (himahg@utexas.edu).


Adjusting a weir on the bifurcation flume before an experiment.