Fluvial Geomorphology

Environmental Science with Ryan Richardson

Learning Objectives

  • Experiencing a day-in-the-life of an environmental scientist

  • Collecting and cataloging macroinvertebrates as indicators of stream health

  • Understanding the impact that construction and commerce can have on a river or stream

The Experience

Fluvial geomorphology is the science of understanding rivers and how they change as a result of natural and man-made influences. Ryan Richardson of the River Design Group is a Fluvial Geomorphologist who shows students how to evaluate the health of streams and rivers by examining the animals that live in them.

At Furman University’s environmental science lab, Ryan explains how scientists measure pollution levels in streams and rivers by the presence or absence of animals classified as pollution-sensitive or pollution-tolerant.

With “Stream Invertebrate Identification Sheets” in hand, students head outside, put on rubber boots, and wade through two streams on Furman’s campus—one protected by a forest, the other near a construction site. Students search for and catalog crayfish, salamanders, alderfly larvae, watersnipe larvae, and a variety of worms in each location.

The Scientific Method

Returning to Furman’s science lab, students compare the types and number of macroinvertebrates found in each stream as a measurement of water quality. Ryan encourages students to think critically about influences on the macroinvertebrate community beyond pollution—seasonal variations, droughts, or invasive predatory species—before drawing conclusions. Students not only experience a day-in-the-life of an environmental scientist, they practice critical thinking, using the scientific method to solve problems.

Meet the Instructor

Ryan Richardson is a fluvial geomorphologist who is in love with his job. He flies from his home in Whitefish, Montana to introduce students to environmental science, sharing his passion for rivers, the outdoors, and the scientific method with what he hopes will be the next generation of scientists.