Early Career Spotlight

Rachel Glade

Tell us about yourself

My name is Rachel Glade, and I’m originally from South Florida. I first got interested in geomorphology as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied windblown sand ripples with Doug Jerolmack. Now I’m a PhD candidate working with Bob Anderson at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

What is your research about?

Broadly, I’m interested in developing quantitative explanations for patterns observed in nature. My PhD work has focused on using numerical modeling to understand hillslope evolution in the presence of heterogeneous lithology, with a focus on the role of large blocks of rock. In particular, I’ve been thinking about landscapes developed in layered rock and trying to figure out what processes can explain the shapes of common landforms like scarps, hogbacks, and igneous dikes.

What excites you about your research?

I’m astounded by how many unanswered questions there are about stuff we see every day, like self-organized patterns and large-scale landscape features. I find hillslopes enticing because they’re very common (most people live on one), but enigmatic because they generally operate over such long timescales. Studying them is like trying to coax secrets out of old, silent giants whom you can walk on.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

Hillslope processes, especially when they involve big chunks of rock, can be hazardous to humans. In general, a better understanding of hillslope evolution helps us predict landscape change over time and decide where to build (or notably, to not build) infrastructure. Hillslopes developed in layered rock also often control drainage divides in otherwise flat landscapes. Understanding the movement of these divides is important for predicting changes in water resources over time, especially in arid regions.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

Definitely spending a lot of time outdoors and in the Everglades as a kid. I never had the chance to take Earth Science before college, but I was always interested. The summer after freshman year I had the awesome opportunity to spend a month doing ecology fieldwork on the Mongolian Steppe. Our campsite was next to a meandering stream, the first one I’d ever seen; I really wanted to understand how it worked. After returning to the US, I decided to become a geology major.

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

I’m planning to do a postdoc about sediment diffusion in rivers before hopefully becoming a research faculty member at a university.

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

With truly unlimited resources, I would hire a tech company to develop rugged, accurate, small sensors that could be placed as tracer particles in landscapes. This would give us immense insight into the erosion and deposition of sediment in fluvial, hillslope, costal, and aeolian environments. It would also allow us to rigorously test current geomorphic process formulations. Of course, we’d have to figure out how to get the data from the sensors…

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

I’m a musician, and I love to play jazz piano and old folk songs on the guitar. I recently started taking flamenco guitar lessons. I also have an interest in film, especially documentaries and experimental films.

Learn more about Rachel here: www.rachelglade.com

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).


Scooting across a slot canyon pool in the San Rafael Swell, Utah on a trip to compare blocky hillslopes developed in different types of limestone and sandstone.