Project Info

Studying rivers through fluvial seismology

Danica Roth
Ge Jin

Project Goals and Description:

Many active Earth surface processes, such as landslides or sediment transport in flooding rivers can be challenging, costly and potentially dangerous to monitor. But rivers, landslides and even gophers moving soil on hills (“bioturbation”) all transfer energy to the ground in the form of elastic or seismic waves. Traditionally considered “noise” by earthquake seismologists, these seismic signals contain valuable information about the processes that generated them and the ground through which they travel. By decoding these signals, we can use this information to characterize and study these processes. This MURF project will take advantage of existing broadband seismic data recorded near rivers in Switzerland or Taiwan, or distributed acoustic sensor (DAS) data recently collected in Golden, CO, and allows for several research options depending on student interests. Possible options include but are not limited to: using ambient noise to i) characterize seismic wave attenuation properties in river beds and other geomorphically active field settings and over individual sediment transport or mass movement events to assess site evolution, or ii) to identify the specific sources of seismic signals (e.g., waterfalls, landslides, etc.), iii) characterizing the signals of water turbulence and sediment transport, and iv) connecting seismic spectral characteristics to channel geometry and turbulent flow characteristics.
The student(s) will be co-advised by Danica Roth (fluvial geomorphology and fluvial seismology expertise) and Jin Ge (seismology and ambient noise expertise).

More Information:

Grand Challenge: Engineer the tools of scientific discovery.
Roth, D. L., Finnegan, N. J., Brodsky, E. E., Cook, K. L., Stark, C. P., & Wang, H. W. (2014). Migration of a coarse fluvial sediment pulse detected by hysteresis in bedload generated seismic waves. Earth and Planetary Science Letters404, 144-153.   Roth, D. L., Brodsky, E. E., Finnegan, N. J., Rickenmann, D., Turowski, J. M., & Badoux, A. (2016). Bed load sediment transport inferred from seismic signals near a river. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface121(4), 725-747.   Roth, D. L., Finnegan, N. J., Brodsky, E. E., Rickenmann, D., Turowski, J. M., Badoux, A., & Gimbert, F. (2017). Bed load transport and boundary roughness changes as competing causes of hysteresis in the relationship between river discharge and seismic amplitude recorded near a steep mountain stream. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface122(5), 1182-1200.  

Primary Contacts:

Danica Roth, Ge Jin,

Student Preparation


Basic familiarity with seismology concepts, working with seismic data, and scripting in Matlab or Python. Preference will be given to students who have previous familiarity with OR strong interest in developing skills in any of the following: seismic data collection, processing and analysis, active source seismology, seismic inversion, ambient noise, spectral analysis, environmental processes and signals, fluid dynamics, sediment transport.




The techniques and skills used in this project are somewhat flexible and will depend on student interests and goals, but in addition to seismic data processing and analysis, problem solving, and technical reading, they could involve active source seismology, inverse modeling, remote sensing, digital topographic data collection and mapping, field work, and scripting in Matlab and/or Python.


Student will have weekly to biweekly meetings to discuss progress, challenges and questions, as well as email, Slack and drop-in availability. The student will also be included in weekly lab group meetings conducted jointly with research groups at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University, and will be invited to attend lab journal reading groups, which will provide exposure to a collegial research environment and provide networking and professional development opportunities. Depending on student interests, goals and performance, this project may also lead to student co-authorship on scientific publications and presentation at scientific conferences, and additional research, internship and teaching or field assistantship opportunities with the group going forward.

Preferred Student Status

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