New Faculty Spotlight

June 26, 2020
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Drive around in the mountains most anywhere in western North America and you’re certain to encounter road cuts: dynamited faces where the highway department has sliced open a hillslope, exposing soil, bedrock, and—if you slow down and look closely (with someone else at the wheel of course)—networks of roots that wind their way along fractures in the rock. The trees up above are going deep to find nutrients and water. It turns out that how the bedrock inside hillslopes breaks apart over millions of years determines just how much water can be stored for the overlying trees during dry periods. And this is important: differences in water storage in bedrock can have dramatic consequences for why different kinds of forests are where they are, and how they are responding to environmental change. Yet, unlike the soil, shallow bedrock properties remain unmapped across most of Earth’s terrestrial surface: an exciting research frontier that is well suited for a new group in the Department of Geography.

Most of my life as a researcher has been spent tromping around California, exploring diverse plant ecosystems, ranging from crisp-dry oak savannas to dripping-wet rainforests, and drilling to monitor how water moves in the bedrock beneath. I try to track the fate of water from when it falls from the sky as rain, soaks into the ground, and eventually returns to the atmosphere through a tree or drains down to a stream. Here at SFU, where I will be teaching upper and lower division hydrology courses, I am excited to involve undergraduate and graduate students in efforts to understand and predict the health of forests and streams in British Columbia. Improved understanding is pressing: in the coming century as the southern part of the province warms, the winters get wetter, and the summers get drier, how the subsurface stores and releases water will help determine which trees die in droughts and which streams will have water at the end of the summer dry season. This research program is bringing together colleagues across SFU, UBC and in the provincial government, as well as collaborators from my postdoc (at the University of Texas, Austin), PhD (at the University of California, Berkeley), and MSc (at the University of Wyoming, Laramie).

- Jesse Hahm 

Started as an assistant professor in the Department of Geography in January, 2020.