issues and experts

Research aims to predict rock slide dynamics—World Rivers Day

September 18, 2019

September 22 is World Rivers Day, held annually to raise awareness and encourage improved stewardship of the world’s rivers. Jeremy Venditti, director of SFU’s new School of Environmental Science, studies the physics of bedrock rivers, including a 375-km stretch of the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon. His team is using new oceanographic instruments to measure flow and morphology in the Fraser Canyon, gathering data that will inform lab experiments—including the re-creation of rock canyons, in his River Dynamics laboratory—and helping to develop theories and models to predict events like the recent Big Bar rockslide.

“We really don’t know much about bedrock rivers’ shape or morphology, how they change, or their rates of evolution,” says Venditti, whose research was delayed this summer by the canyon collapse, which endangered salmon migrating back to their spawning ground in the upper Fraser Basin. A similar event occurred about 100 years ago at Hell’s Gate on the Fraser, devastating the salmon population, he notes. “We need to better understand these rivers, so we can predict when major events, like Big Bar and Hell’s Gate rockslides will occur.” 

Venditti says there is enormous pressure on river systems worldwide, given new large dams being planned to address the world’s energy demand in South America and Asia and even in B.C. Flooding, potentially exacerbated by climate change, appears to be increasing with the development of floodplains—the most pressing issue facing the Fraser— putting infrastructure, communities and livelihoods in the path of rivers. “Yet we know little about the physics of flooding, what controls water levels or the most at-risk locations. This continues to be a critical area of research.”

Jeremy Venditti, School of Environmental Science, 604.767.2247;

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