31 May 2013

Tic toc. #Gradschool, I am coming for you.

30 May 2013

Things are falling into place.

The action plan is grad school, surface hydrology: looking broadly at water and sediment transfer from uplands down to meadows & estuaries, and more closely at the relationship between sediment flux and riparian ecosystems, and water storage as a function of vegetation and sedimentation rates. Perhaps also taking as inventory the presence of micro-invertebrates to use as bio-indicators for stream health.

My undergraduate dissertation focused on a restored floodplain of the Rhône River, assessing how two tree species with different rooting depths had been sourcing their water during the period of reduced flow.

Up till this point I had been a “hard rock” geologist, using rocks & outcrops as keys to the past; the lithified sediments we see in outcrop give us valuable insight into paleo-environments. But with this project I began to see geology through the lens of the present: the sediments we see being carried downstream, fining, reaching estuaries or becoming soils in floodplains, are geology in action, snapshots of what the future sedimentary record will be. We can correlate sedimentation rates & vegetation to environmental variables; this far more effectively & with greater precision than from sedimentary records. We can use observed correlations to study land-use impacts, for instance: we can observe, say, that high-runoff farming practices upstream are affecting quantity and chemical content of downstream sediments, affecting vegetation which further affects sedimentation which further affects vegetation… a cyclical process that we can link back directly to a cause.

In a word, hydrology. Here is the window into understanding geology in the present tense. Water, as the great mover of sediment, is the predominant force generating our sedimentary record.

With my eye to grad school, then, the next few months are a mess of GRE prep, finding potential advisors at schools with strong hydrology programs (As a guide for how to move forward with the process of selecting and applying to universities, I am reading Getting What You Came For by Robert L Peters, PhD, which is a clear, concise and infinitely respectful guide to how to go about this whole operation). Fulfilling pre-requisites will also be an important part of the next year, as I took neither physics nor chemistry during college. Going into hydrology without a background in fluid dynamics seems like it can only be a death wish.

And so, the plan is forming…. my GRE is scheduled, I’m looking ahead to a year of pre-reqs and have already begun talking to professors and departments so that they know my name come application season. Yesterday I bought my very first car with the anticipation of being able to drive to different campuses to talk with professors and students; also so that I’ll have less reliance on the strict car-sharing schedule of home, and can plan to move away to grad school in a year’s time.

Puzzle pieces, gradually assembling. In only a few months a remarkable number of things have fallen into place in terms of figuring out my next goals, setting out a plan for myself, and now finally beginning to effect the first steps of that plan.

In a year’s time, who knows!