Early Career Spotlight

Will Struble

Tell us about yourself

My name is Will Struble, and I am a Ph.D. candidate in Earth Sciences at the University of Oregon with Josh Roering. I grew up in Carson City, Nevada, close to Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada, where my passion for Earth Sciences was kindled. I received my B.S. in geology at the University of Nevada, Reno, where I completed an honor’s thesis with Scott McCoy on predicting slip rate of normal faults when only fault dip, erosion rate, and facet angle are known.

What is your research about?

I study the interplay of tectonics and surface processes in western Oregon, spanning both human and geologic timescales. I am using dendrochronology to date landslide-dammed lakes in the Oregon Coast Range to determine if they are a result of ground motion from the last subduction zone earthquake in Cascadia in 1700. I am also working on understanding drainage reorganization in the Cascadia forearc through analysis of hillslope evolution in the actively growing Willamette Valley.

What excites you about your research?

I grew up with a strong passion for being outdoors hiking, especially in mountains. Being able to study the processes responsible for the formation of the places I love to spend time in is awesome and sometimes unbelievable! The combination of field work and topographic analysis in steep landscapes that are actively undergoing adjustment to drainage basin reorganization or tectonic forces is exciting because it allows us to observe how dynamic the landscape is, even if we cannot always directly observe it over human timescales.

What broader importance does your research have for society?

My research dating landslide-dammed lakes in the Oregon Coast Range may prove crucial for predicting where landslides will be most common during the next major subduction zone earthquake. Through collaboration with other researchers and with community stakeholders, I appreciate being able to work on a project that has a direct impact on informing the public of potential hazards. The somber reminder of landslides is balanced by the excitement for scientific breakthroughs that could help us to understand such disasters.

What inspired you to pursue a career in Earth science?

Growing up, I hoped to become an aerospace engineer, with an emphasis on spacecraft. In high school, however, I realized that my interest in space stemmed more from a curiosity to study and observe, rather than design. Given my proclivity for the outdoors and curiosity about the processes responsible for landscape formation, a transition to geology and Earth Science seemed like a natural fit as a new career path. I’m definitely still excited about space and planetary science, though!

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

After I finish my Ph.D., I plan to seek out a post-doc, before hopefully continuing a career in academia. I am excited by the opportunity to continue pursuing engaging research questions with additional emphasis on teaching and mentoring of students. I’d also love to hike the Pacific Crest Trail at some point!

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

Tough question! Given how much I rely on LiDAR and how access to high quality elevation data opens a lot of doors for pursuing exciting geomorphic questions, I would definitely collect LiDAR anywhere and everywhere. I would use this lidar to further my understanding of how landscapes respond to tectonic forcing through the quantification of different metrics common to landscape evolution studies. Plus, who doesn’t want to just zoom around and look at the Earth in high-resolution with the trees removed! Such a big data approach could reveal some exciting patterns in the landscape that are not often observed with smaller focused studies. Acquisition of LiDAR in sites with outstanding tectonics questions will, of course, be crucial. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the tectonics and geomorphology of interesting regions such as Crete and the Rhine Rift!

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

I love to spend my time outside of work hiking and running the trails around Eugene. I also love exploring the Oregon Coast, the Cascades, and the high desert further east. Closer to home, I always look forward to checking out new breweries and coffee places that the Pacific Northwest is known so well for!

Learn more about the UO geomorphology group here: https://blogs.uoregon.edu/jroering/

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).


Will prepares to sample a drowned Douglas-fir tree. Douglas-fir trees such as this one died when landslides clogged valley bottoms, causing lakes to form. Using the growth rings of such trees, Will hopes to reconstruct the landslide ages.