Early Career Spotlight

Charlie Shobe

Tell us about yourself

I’m Charlie, and I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado working with Greg Tucker. I did my undergrad at the College of William and Mary, where I worked with Greg Hancock to understand how rock weathering sets bedrock channel shape. I then worked a summer as an interpretive geologist at the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park as part of GSA’s GeoCorps program before starting grad school at Colorado.

What is your research about?

I use numerical modeling and field work to understand how rivers respond to the delivery of large “blocks” of rock from their adjacent hillslopes. Feedbacks between channel erosion and hillslope sediment delivery govern the shape and evolution of landscapes, and understanding how rivers deal with these enormous sediment grains is an important part of the problem. I try to scale up process-based river erosion models to make broader predictions for the evolution of drainage basins over geologic time.

What excites you about your research?

Rivers are so cool. They drive topographic change throughout the rest of the landscape, which means basically that they’re in charge. But at the same time, adjacent hillslopes, often thought of as just passively responding to river erosion, are doing crazy stuff like failing all at once and dumping huge quantities of rock into rivers. These two-way interactions must affect landscape change in a big way, but we’re only just scratching the surface of how that happens.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

My work has implications for understanding landslides triggered by river erosion, as well as how human infrastructure might be affected by sudden delivery of large boulders to river channels. One cool topic people have been working on is how large boulders in rivers threaten hydropower projects. If we have a good sense for the processes that drive boulder delivery and river response, we can better shield infrastructure from harm.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

I became interested in geology in high school when I spent a summer working in a geochemistry lab at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. I went to college intending to do some sort of science policy or environmental policy path, but realized that I enjoyed my geology classes a lot more than the policy work. So, I quit the policy side and went to work for Greg Hancock, who showed me that geology doesn’t just have to be about old things, but has a lot to say about the processes currently changing Earth’s surface.

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

I’ll be finishing up my PhD next summer sometime, at which point I’ll head to the GFZ in Potsdam for a postdoc. After that I’d like to continue on in a research career at a university.

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

Can I pick two? The first would be change detection in rapidly eroding landscapes through repeat LiDAR flights. LiDAR differencing can give us really great constraints on landscape change, but there are very few places with repeat LiDAR flights. The second would be to step up our game in terms of mapping ocean bathymetry at a high resolution. This is where mass from continents goes to become part of the sedimentary record, yet we just don’t have a good sense for what this “seascape” looks like globally.

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

I spend most of my free time racing bikes for the CU cycling team. And eating. I’m also trying my hand at writing popular science stories for the public, but that’s still a work in progress.

Learn more about Charlie here: http://www.charlieshobe.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).


Measuring boulder distributions in Boulder Creek, Colorado. Photo credit: Rachel Glade.