Dr. Piotr Cienciala

2015 - 2022

Department of Geography & Geographic Information Science (Assistant Professor) 

Program in Ecology Evolution & Conservation Biology (Affiliate)

Institute for Sustainability, Energy & Environment (Affiliate)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


My research explores interactions between geomorphic, hydrological, and biological processes which shape landscapes, habitats, and ecosystems. I am interested in natural dynamics of such bio-physical landscape systems, their response to environmental change (e.g. land use and climate), as well as scientific basis for their management, conservation, and restoration. My main focus is on rivers and their connections with terrestrial, lacustrine, and marine environment. As a primary approach to study these topics, I combine fieldwork, remote sensing (especially aerial and terrestrial LiDAR, drone-based multi-view photogrammetry), and geospatial analysis. However, I ocassionally complement such work with simple modeling as well as experimental (laboratory) work.


My research aims to advance current understanding of how landscape systems operate but also guide conservation and restoration efforts. Thus far, most of my work has been carried out in mountain streams and rivers on the West coast US and Canada, especially Pacific Northwest.


Mishel Melendez Bernardo
(co-advisor: Jim Best)

Mishel is a PhD student in the Program in Rivers, Watesheds & Landscapes Dynamics at the Department of Geography & GIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-advised by Dr. Cienciala and Dr. Best. She is interested in sediment transport, geomorphology and hydrodynamics of rivers.

She received her undergraduate degree from National University of Engineering in Peru as civil engineer, where she developed enthusiasm for hydraulics and hydrology. After some years working for a mining consultancy, she wanted to understand rivers from a more comprehensive perspective. This interest led her to mountain and Amazonian rivers in Peru where, as a research assistant at University of Engineering and Technology, she carried out field measurements. Inspired and motivated by this experience, Mishel decided to pursue MS in River Environments and their Management at the University of Birmingham, UK. 

Mishel's research in Peru was focused in the characterization of sediment transport as well as velocity distributions on Madre de Dios river in the context of bank erosion. Her experience also includes flume experiments and remote sensing studying the macroturbulence phenomena in large rivers, as well as exploring the velocity recirculation fields between dunes and their boils emerged on the surface. In her PhD research, she intends to explore the dynamics of Squamish and Lillooet Rivers in British Columbia (Canada), and study the forces that mold them.

Hobbies: dancing, traveling, running, reading, exploring nature and in the looking for new outdoor activities.


Emily Mamer

Emily is a Master’s student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign interested in the interface between rivers and coastlines. Her Master’s thesis will look how river processes upstream affect the deltas of two rivers in British Columbia.

She has a varied background, with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from St. John’s University in New York, where she focused on marine and coastal areas. She has spent time at sea studying the biodiversity of epibionts on Sargassum in the North Atlantic and assisted with an array of coastal research in the New York City area. Emily will eventually move back to a coast and hopes to tie her various research experiences together to do work with coastal erosion and response to sea level rise.

Her hobbies include traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with her husband and her three pet bunnies.

Emily Mamer photo.jpeg

Katherine Strailey

(co-advisor: Dr. Cory Suski)

Katey is a PhD student in the Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-advised by Dr. Cienciala and Dr. Cory Suski from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. She is broadly interested in applied science with potential uses in fisheries restoration and management; her current research focuses on quantifying the physiological response of fish to turbulence-generating structures used for instream restoration.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Katey spent several years working with public agencies to study and restore threatened salmonid populations on the West Coast. She is passionate about the work that state and federal agencies do to protect fish and their ecosystems, and hopes to work for one upon leaving UIUC.

Hobbies: hiking, exploring rivers, knitting, and spending time with her dog



Alec Fojtik

Alec is a former Masters student with research interests broadly encompassing the interaction between geomorphic and ecological systems within a watershed. He focused on both the channel sediment dynamics and surrounding biotic attributes which influence salmonid feeding and spawning habits. His research approach will include field measurements and GIS.

His academic pursuits began to center on ecogeomorphology during his time at Wheaton College, where he majored in Environmental Science and minored in Geology. Field courses in the Black Hills and plant stress/drought research at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 facility defined the ecological aspects of his interests while geology courses and a study of Hack’s Law in the Driftless Area inspired the geomorphology facet. Alec envisions a vocation centered around river and watershed restoration.   

Hobbies: Fly fishing, ultimate, birding, camping, and canoeing

Ryan Keeling

Ryan is a former Masters student whose research interests include the applications of GIS and Remote Sensing in assessing the human impacts on watershed quality, river restoration, and vegetation – water interactions. His Master’s thesis research investigated watershed characteristics in respect to fish habitat at the riverscape scale using GIS, remote sensing, and field surveys as his primary research tools. Ryan also held a 50% Research Assistantship at the USACE Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, IL.

He became interested in rivers, ecology, and geomorphology during his time as undergraduate and research assistant at the University of Michigan – Dearborn where he studied Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Geography, and GIS. Along with working as a student naturalist at the campus’ Environmental Interpretive Center, and as a proctor in the GIS lab, he assisted on research projects that investigated the restoration of western Lake Erie coastal wetlands and the impact of (sub)urbanization on the Rouge River watershed of Southeast Michigan. He hopes to apply the skills that he has gained at UMD and UIUC to work as an Environmental Consultant or continue as US government researcher.

Hobbies: cycling, hiking, camping, backpacking, running, traveling and cooking

Matt Blaser

I am an undergraduate student embarking on my senior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I am majoring in Geographic Information Science, with minors in Quantitative and Qualitative Methods in Natural Resource and Environmental Science and Business. I narrowed my focus to GIS and related studies while studying at Parkland College where I obtained my Associate's Degree in Science. My main interests include the acquisition and management of geospatially referenced data, and the various means of manipulating and communicating information. My previous job as a GPS Technician with American Water has fueled my interest in land surveying for companies associated with construction and transportation, and my current plan is to return to Parkland College for certification in land surveying upon graduating from UIUC. Conducting fieldwork with the Ecogeomorphology, Ecohydraulics, and Landscape Systems Lab has encouraged me to further explore jobs and projects in river and riparian zone restoration efforts which utilize various survey methods.


My hobbies include soccer, running, hiking, grilling, and spending time with friends and family.

Paige Richardson

Paige is a former undergraduate at UIUC double majoring in Environmental Sustainability and Geography and Geographic Information Science. Through various courses taken on campus, she developed a keen fascination with river systems and the various factors controlling these systems such as geomorphology, hydrology, etc. In particular, she was interested in how the hydrologic cycle and geologic setting control river morphology and the subsequent impact on the ecosystem as well as river management.


As a part of her Honors Project, Paige will be analyzing and mapping spatial variation of flow within and among mountain stream channels through use of GIS. While with our lab group, she anticipates gaining valuable experience and knowledge with regards to the study of river systems as a whole. Her ultimate goal is to combine this knowledge and her computational background in order to spot more efficient methods of data analysis and representation in geospatial technologies. After graduation she plans to attend law school where she can apply her hard science background in the practice of Environmental or IP Law.


Hobbies: reading, music, camping, hiking, and spending time with family.

Renee Berrigan

Renee is a former undergraduate at UIUC majoring in Environmental Sustainability and minoring in Geography. She has thoroughly enjoyed all of her environmental courses, especially those surrounding topics such as water management, sustainable development and geographic information systems. Through her time as an undergraduate, she has developed a passion for environmental communications—allowing her to combine her interest in collaborating with a variety of people, while educating the public on environmental concerns.
Her efforts within the lab included working with imaging software such as Gap Light Analyzer in order to study forest canopy structures by extracting their solar transmission indices from photographs taken at our field sites. Ultimately, the goal was to be able to take this information and perform a geographic analysis, which allows her to combine her background knowledge in GIS as well as an overall understanding of environmental systems. After graduation, Renee hopes to purse a career in either sustainability consulting or environmental education.
Hobbies and interests: running, playing volleyball, traveling to national parks, geology, music (trumpet player in the Marching Illini)