Chris Paola

photo of Prof Chris Paola

Chris Paola

CSE Distinguished Professor, Gibson Chair of Geoscience, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences


John T. Tate Hall
Room 375-04
116 Church Street Se
Minneapolis, MN 55455

PhD, 1983, Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research Interests

   "The sediments are a sort of epic poem of the Earth." 
-Rachel Carson

   Unfortunately, this poem is written in a language we don't understand. Its author is, of course, the Earth herself, through a suite of processes both familiar and mysterious: river floods, coastal storms, earthquakes, land slides, and so on. The fundamental goal of my research program is to help decipher this greatest of all epics. Because the processes that create strata occur all around us, we can easily see and study them; because the recording is imperfect and develops over long time scales, we must learn to think about the familiar in new ways.

    The processes that act to create the sedimentary record are as diverse, fascinating, and complex as the Earth's surface itself. No one can study all of them; my own focus has been on fluvial processes. Apart from the sedimentary record as a motivating factor, a common theme of my group's research is a combination of quantitative theoretical, experimental, and field work. I am not a believer in "technique-driven" science.

    Most of my research is carried out in the congenial environment of St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (SAFL), a facility of the College of Science and Engineering, with frequent collaboration with one or more of the C.E. faculty at the lab. Our research group has worked extensively on stream braiding, creating the first models for the dynamics and time evolution of fully developed braided streams, a dominant contributor to the fluvial sedimentary record. We have also worked on sediment fractionation in depositional systems, a major factor that drives downstream changes in fluvial morphology and sedimentary character. Over the last fifteen years our focus has been on experimenal stratigraphy. With our brilliant SAFL design engineers Jim Mullin and Chris Ellis in the lead, we created the first system for creating experimental strata with fully 3D programmable subsidence. Other work has focused on the effect of statistical fluctuations on preserved stratigraphy, delta evolution and restoration, and dynamics of fluvial avulsion.

Currently Teaching Courses
Intro Earth Science
Stream restoration
Sediment transport
Morphodynamic modeling
Earth surface processes
Fluid Earth processes
Honors and Awards
  • 1992-93, 1995-96, Institute of Technology (CSE) Outstanding Instructor Award
  • 1994 Morse-Alumni Award for Contributions to Undergraduate Education
  • 1994 Tate Award for Outstanding Academic Advising
  • 1998, Fellow, Geological Society of America
  • 2007, Fellow, American Geophysical Union
  • 2008, College of Science & Engineering Distinguished Professor
  • 2009-10, Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Imperial College London
  • 2011, Lyell Medal, Geological Society of London
Selected Publications
  • Kim, W., D. Mohrig, R. Twilley, C. Paola, and G. Parker (2009), Is it feasible to build new land in the Mississippi River Delta?, EOS, 90, 373-374
  • Lorenzo Trueba, J., V. Voller, C. Paola, T. Muto, W. Kim, and J. B. Swenson (2009), A similarity solution for a dual moving boundary problem associated with a coastal-plain depositional system, Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 628, 427-443
  • Martin, J., C. Paola, V. Abreu, J. Neal, and B. Sheets (2009), Sequence stratigraphy of experimental strata under known conditions of differential subsidence and variable base level, AAPG Bulletin, 93, 503-533.
  • Paola, C., K. M. Straub, D. C. Mohrig, and L. Reinhardt (2009), The “unreasonable effectiveness” of stratigraphic and geomorphic experiments, Earth-Science Reviews, 97, 1-43
  • Straub, K. M., C. Paola, D. Mohrig, M. A. Wolinsky, and T. George (2009), Compensational stacking of channelized sedimentary deposits, Journal of Sedimentary Research, 79, 673-688
  • Kim, W., B. A. Sheets, and C. Paola (2010), Steering of experimental channels by lateral basin tilting, Basin Research, 22(3), 286-301.
  • Paola, C., R. R. Twilley, D. A. Edmonds, W. Kim, D. Mohrig, G. Parker, E. Viparelli, and V. R. Voller (2010), Natural processes in delta restoration: Application to the Mississippi Delta, Annual Review of Marine Science, 3(1), 67-91
  • Tal, M., and C. Paola (2010), Effects of vegetation on channel morphodynamics: results and insights from laboratory experiments, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 35(9), 1014-1028.