Early Career Spotlight

Dan Scott

Tell us about yourself

My name is Dan Scott. I study how rivers shape the landscape and how humans shape rivers. After growing up in the Central Cascade Mountains of Washington State, I did my undergraduate work at University of Washington, studying wood in steep mountain streams under the mentorship of Dave Montgomery and Brian Collins. I’ve spent the last five years earning my MS and PhD working with Ellen Wohl at Colorado State University.

What is your research about?

I’m currently working to develop a collaborative data gathering protocol paired with a publicly accessible database and machine learning based predictive models of wood jam dynamics in rivers. It is imperative to understand how wood behaves in rivers, especially during high flows, in order to maximize the ecological benefits wood provides and minimize the risks it can pose to humans and infrastructure. I am developing an openly accessible tool that will facilitate more informed prediction of wood jam dynamics and hopefully more informed and effective management of wood in rivers.

What excites you about your research?

When I’m not in the office, I spend much of my time in the mountains, and trying to predict how dynamic, high-relief landscapes change through time absolutely fascinates me. I also deeply respect and cherish the natural environment, so I am drawn to research that allows me to contribute to both our ability to predict surface processes as well as sustainably manage the landscape. In addition, I’m a part of what is by and large a supportive and kind community of folks on both the fundamental and applied sides of geomorphology, and that really makes me happy to go to work.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

Rivers, by integrating the effects of human activities across the landscape, keep us accountable to our downstream neighbors. Thus, whether focused on human safety, environmental health, or sustainably using natural resources, effective land management requires a robust understanding of fluvial processes. I work with other researchers, land owners, and restoration practitioners to make river management more sustainable and effective.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

As an undergraduate trying to develop a research project, Dave Montgomery told me to go outside and start asking questions about the things I observe. I really took that advice to heart, and that was the beginning of my efforts to start understanding how rivers shape the landscape. Being outside and staying engaged with natural processes keeps me happy, so my career as a field scientist is a very natural fit.

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

I’m starting a postdoc at the University of Washington next fall, working on applying my research on wood in rivers to engineered log jams as well as another project I’ve been working on that evaluates how fractures in bedrock influence the rate and style of bedrock river erosion at multiple spatial scales. My long-term goal is to find a way to continue my research, likely via an academic career path, but I’m open to alternatives.

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

I’d start an initiative to bring collaborative data gathering, open and evolving databases, and machine learning to bear in solving some of the tough questions currently facing the geomorphology community, such as how to quantify bedrock erodibility, or developing cheap and scalable methods to restore rivers. My work on wood jam dynamics seeks to do this on a small scale for a single problem, but I’d love to be able to meaningfully collaborate with a broader team (e.g., statisticians, software and hardware engineers, and restoration practitioners) and get broad swaths of the surface processes community working together to make progress on these problems.

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

I mainly spend my free time moving around in the mountains in one way or another: whitewater boating, canyoneering, climbing, skiing, or hiking. That said, I do many of those things to access my field sites, so I frequently walk a very blurry line between field work and playing in the mountains. Other than outdoor recreation, I’m an amateur blacksmith and I enjoy volunteering on outdoor work projects that focus on things like trail maintenance or ecological restoration and allow me to get my hands dirty.

Learn more about Dan here: https://sites.warnercnr.colostate.edu/fluvial-geomorphology/people/dan-scott-phd/

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).


A) Dan climbing up a massive wood jam on the Hoh River in Washington in an attempt to measure its structure and geometry.

B) Dan measuring the same wood jam and thinking about how likely it would be to mobilize in a flood.