Early Career Spotlight

Hima Hassenruck-Gudipati

Tell us about yourself

My name is Hima and I am a geomorphologist and sedimentologist. I am currently pursuing my PhD in geology at UT Austin with David Mohrig. I received my bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Geology from Caltech. After undergrad, I spent a year traveling as a Watson Fellow and had the opportunity to study geology all over the world. I was born in Germany and moved to the US with my parents and sisters when I was 14.

What is your research about?

I am fascinated with how sediment transport shapes landscapes. For my PhD, I am using a combination of field observations, time-lapse lidar, and modeling to understand how natural levees are formed along rivers. I am hoping this work will help quantify the sediment flux from a river to its floodplain and improve our understanding of the importance of floodplains during landscape evolution.

What excites you about your research?

I enjoy working on interconnected research projects because I can discover the complexities of the world around me. It is a little bit like systems engineering; how do different pieces of Earth science fit together and interact with each other to build a landscape? For example, sediment, water, and topography respond to each other’s changes, creating feedback loops that operate on different time and spatial scales. Right now, floodplains are an especially exciting area to study these feedbacks because lidar has allowed for a better quantification of the subtle floodplain topography.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

It’s still surprising to me how many people live and build infrastructure on floodplains. Flooding and the associated sediment transport affects humanity living in these low relief areas and determines if a river floods during a particular discharge. On a longer timescale, a better understanding of river to floodplain sediment fluxes can inform our estimates of the amount of sediment and carbon stored in this landscape.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

As a second-year undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering at Caltech, I had an amazing summer research project in robotics to design a Mars sampling system. However, I ended up spending about as much time learning about planetary science as I did designing the sampling system. I began to realize that I wanted to turn my hobbies of learning about Mars and going on geology field trips into my career. At the end of my third year at Caltech, I joined Mike Lamb’s lab to run delta flume experiments with Vamsi Ganti, and the rest is history. After experiencing the research project develop from a proposal to a presentation at AGU, I was convinced that the Earth Sciences were for me.

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

My favorite parts of my PhD have been going in the field and co-advising undergraduate students. It would be amazing if I could find a position either in academia or in a non-traditional job where I could continue research and mentorship. I will be graduating in 2020 and am planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail before starting a postdoc. I am currently looking for postdoc opportunities and would love to connect with scientists who share my interests!

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

Rivers are powerful integrators of landscapes. They can collect sediments, organic carbon, and solutes in high relief terrains and distribute them in low relief terrains. With unlimited resources – especially time – I would like to quantify how similar or different sediments, organic carbon, and solutes are routed in time and space through these different terrains. A process-based understanding of how rivers collect, transfer, and deposit sediment and carbon will help us better quantify how landscapes change over time.

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

There are a million things I like to do! When I am not at work, you can find me outside. Here in Austin, I like to trail run, paddle board, and climb. I sometimes even find the time to read a book and study new languages. My newest hobbies are improv and playing the guitar.

Learn more about Hima here: https://sites.google.com/utexas.edu/hima-hg/


Hima investigating a recent sediment deposit on the floodplain of the Trinity River, Texas. To understand sediment transport on natural levees along the river, Hima documents sediment structures and collect grain size samples in trenches.