Landscapes and the associated ecosystems are defined by complex and reciprocal interactions between physical and ecological processes. Physical earth surface processes, which sculpt landforms through erosion and deposition of sediment, also create and destroy habitat for living organisms. In return, animals and plants modify their habitat, altering these physical landscape processes. In order to better understand landscape dynamics and ecosystem functioning, predict their responses to environmental change, and to guide conservation and restoration efforts, it is crucial to understand these complex inter-relationships.      

To this end, my research group studies landscape systems at spatial scales ranging from an entire river basin down to an individual landform/patch of habitat (see images on the right side). So far, we have primarily explored connections between riverine habitats (stream channels and the adjacent hillslopes) and the associated aquatic and terrestrial organisms (e.g., fish, riparian forests). However, we are also interested in links between such systems and other environments and ecosystems (e.g., lacustrine, marine).


Mountainous landscape of the Pacific Northwest is an excellent model of such systems. Streams and rivers, with abundant fish like salmon and trout, run through valleys covered by productive temperate rainforest and are commonly affected by disturbances on the slopes of rugged mountains that flank them. Natural and anthropogenic disturbances readily propagate through these systems. Changes in the disturbance regime (e.g., storm or wildfire frequency) due to changes in climate or land use, such as forest harvest, can greatly modify these intricate and dynamic systems.


To address our research questions, our group typically combines fieldwork, remote sensing (especially drones, LiDAR), and geospatial analysis. We also conduct experimental (laboratory) work.

Basin scale

Reach scale

Selected Research Projects

Linkages between riparian forest, large instream wood, and river dynamics

Geomorphic disturbances and fish habitat in streams and rivers

Geomorphic disturbances, river channel response, and river delta dynamics.


River restoration: habitat and ecosystem response to dam removal and placement of large wood structures

River restoration: instream structures and hydraulic habitat for fish (with Cory Suski, Rafael Tinoco, and Bruce Rhoads)

Landform/habitat unit scale

Representative publications:

Cienciala, P. and Hassan, M.A., 2013. Linking spatial patterns of bed surface texture, bed mobility, and channel hydraulics in a mountain stream to potential spawning substrate for small resident trout, Geomorphology, 197, pp. 96-107

Cienciala, P. and Hassan, M.A., 2016. Sampling variability in estimates of flow characteristics in coarse-bed channels. Effects of sample size and consequences for modeling channel processes and stream habitat. Water Resources Research, 52(3), pp. 1899-1922

Cienciala, P. and Hassan M.A., 2016. Modeling the influence of channel morphology on spatial patterns in energetic profitability of foraging habitat for drift-feeding trout. Paper 26086 In, Webb JA, Costelloe J.F., Casas-Mulet R., Lyon J.P., Stewardson M.J. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics. Melbourne, Australia, 7-12 February 2016, The University of Melbourne

Hassan M.A., Ferrer-Boix, C., Cienciala, P., Chartrand, S., 2017. Sediment transport and channel morphology: implications for fish habitat. In: Radecki-Pawlik, A., Hradecky, J., Pagliara, S. and Hendrickson, E. (Eds.), Open Channel Hydraulics, River Hydraulics Structures and Fluvial Geomorphology, CRC Press

Cienciala, P. and Pasternack, G.P., 2017. Floodplain inundation response to climate, valley form, and flow regulation on a gravel-bed river in a Mediterranean-climate region, Geomorphology, 282, pp. 1-17

Cienciala, P. and Hassan, M.A., 2018. Spatial linkages between geomorphic and hydraulic conditions and invertebrate drift characteristics in a small mountain stream, Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 75(11), pp.1823-183

Cienciala, P., Nelson, A., Haas, A., and Xu, Z., 2020. Lateral geomorphic connectivity in a fluvial landscape system: Unraveling the role of confinement, biogeomorphic interactions, and glacial legacies, Geomorphology, 354, 107036.

Strailey, K.; Osborn, R., Tinoco, R.O., Cienciala, P., Rhoads, B., Suski, C.D. 2021. Simulated instream restoration structures offer smallmouth bass ("Micropterus dolomieu") swimming and energetic advantages at high flow velocities. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences,


Cienciala, P., Melendez Bernardo, M., Nelson, A.D., Haas, A.D., 2021. Sediment yield from a forested mountain basin in inland Pacific Northwest: Rates, partitioning, and sources, Geomorphology,  374,107478

Cienciala, P., 2021. Vegetation and Geomorphic Connectivity in Mountain Fluvial Systems. Water, 13(5), 593,

Field Sites


Lillooet River Basin

British Columbia

Squamish River Basin

British Columbia

Columbia River Basin


Washington State

Fraser River Basin


British Columbia

SOURCE: ESRI, Digital Globe, GeoEye, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, USDA, USGA, AeroGRID, IGN, and the
GIS User Community