Ian Pamerleau: Floodplain Delineation

About Me

Hello! My name is Ian Pamerleau. I used to be a physics and astronomy major, but with the current climate crisis, I decided to change my focus from the stars to the Earth. Now, I am a mathematics and geology double major with a minor in physics and French. One unique thing about me is that I am or have been the president of three different clubs at Pitt: the Pitt Jazz Ensemble (art), the Pittsburgh Fencing Association (athletic), and the Pitt Society of Physics Students (academic). Interdisciplinary!

Mapping Arctic Floodplains to Assess Organic Carbon Content

My project involves Arctic river systems and floodplains. Meandering rivers snake through soil and rock cutting an ever-changing path as they erode and carry sediments across the landscape. Once every few years, a flooding event occurs, and the river escapes the bounds of its channel to spread across a large, flat area called a floodplain, where it deposits the sediments over vegetation that has grown in the area. As the flood ends, the river returns to its channel, leaving behind organic-rich sediments and trap dead vegetation in the floodplain.

Arctic floodplains are underlain by permafrost where organic material is preserved in below freezing temperatures. Therefore, Arctic floodplains have higher organic carbon content compared to warmer climates. When this permafrost thaws (due to rising global temperatures or being incorporated into the channel as it moves across the plain), the organic carbon decomposes into CO2 and methane. In order to predict the future of the Arctic and global climate, we must accurately quantify the amount of organic carbon in these floodplains. To quantify the organic carbon in the soil, we must be able to accurately delineate Arctic floodplains.

I will be working with Dr. Eitan Shelef and his lab in collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) on this project. LANL will provide me with actual maps of floodplains that I can test my models against. My models are created from an MATLAB algorithm written by members of the Shelef Lab. The algorithm uses a statistical analysis of the river system to determine what is and is not a floodplain. The analysis relies on “free parameters” (variables that can be set to any value we choose) to compute a model. Each value we choose for a “free parameters” will affect how accurate our models are compared to the LANL maps. I will be both implementing new “free parameters” in the algorithm and finding which values produce the most accurate models.

Professional Goals

After undergrad, I would like to go to grad school for planetary science. I think that my problem solving skills from my math and physics backgrounds combined with my knowledge for how geologic processes occur will give me a good foundation to study anything from surface processes on the earth to the dynamics of the upper atmosphere to astrobiology.

I believe the workshops offered by Brackenridge will help me in my goal to grad school. The workshops that teach us how to write grants, proposals, and abstracts will help my professional writing skills. This will help my applications stand out among the rest. Brackenridge also includes me in a network of alumni, students staff, and faculty, many of whom will be able to help me with my application process.

I look forward to being a member of the Brackenridge community!

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