US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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John Buffington - Research Geomorphologist

John M. Buffington

Research Geomorphologist
322 East Front Street, Suite 401
United States

Phone: 208-373-4384
Fax: 208-373-4391
Contact John M. Buffington

Research Interests

Research Program: The geographic extent of the Rocky Mountain Research Station includes much of the western US. This landscape is geologically young and dynamic (steep terrain, prone to floods, wildfire, and debris flows), contains abundant resources (water, timber, minerals, recreation), and provides important habitat for many threatened and endangered fish (predominantly salmonids). Within this context, I conduct a broad range of geomorphic studies of watershed processes over multiple spatial and temporal scales, including (1) erosion and sediment transport, (2) genesis and evolution of channel morphology, (3) stream flow and channel hydraulics, (4) exchange of surface and subsurface water (hyporheic exchange), (5) physical and biological interactions in channel, riparian and hillslope environments, and (6) system response to natural and anthropogenic disturbance (e.g., floods, fire, climate change, dams, logging, mining). The overarching goal of this research is to address fundamental problems that have direct relevance for management, conservation, and restoration in mountain basins in the western US and abroad. Toward this end, a combination of field, laboratory, and numerical studies (computer models) are used to address basic and applied problems in collaboration with a diverse group of peers.

Current Research:
• Effects of climate change on channel morphology and salmonid habitat across different hydrologic regimes (snowmelt, rainfall, transitional) in northern basins (western US and Scotland)
• Geomorphic controls on salmonid habitat at watershed scales • Effects of post-fire debris flows on channel morphology and aquatic habitat
• Physical and biological controls on hyporheic exchange
• Formation of textural patches (grain-size facies) and their physical and biological significance
• Use of high-precision lasers for characterizing streambed topography: Predicting channel hydraulics, sediment transport, and aquatic habitat
• Effects of salmonid spawning activity on sediment transport, hyporheic exchange, and survival of offspring
• Methods for assessing and monitoring channel condition with regard to US & EU environmental laws

Briefing papers and additional resources:
Climate Change and Spawning Habitat - Science Briefing
Changes in Channel Morphology Over Human Time Scales - Science Briefing
Geomorphic Classification of Rivers - Science Briefing
2011 Workshop - Understanding and Adapting To Climate Change in Aquatic Ecosystems at Landscape and River Basin Scales: A Decision Support Workshop for Integrating Research and Management
2009 Workshop - Linking Hydromorphology to Ecology
Sediment Transport in Idaho and Nevada - Boise Adjudication Team
Valley Confinement Algorithm

Past Research

• Channel processes and classification
• Effects of riparian clearcutting on channel morphology
• Mechanistic studies of sediment transport thresholds (incipient motion)
• Equations for predicting bed load transport
• Effects of wood debris on channel morphology and aquatic habitat at reach and watershed scales
• Controls on the distribution of bedrock and alluvial channels
• Effects of salmonid spawning on bed stability and survival of offspring
• Controls on hyporheic exchange in pool-riffle channels
• Effects of timber harvest on streambed scour and survival of salmonids
• Controls on pool formation in coarse-grained channels
• Approaches for stream restoration
• Evaluating protocols for determining status and trend of channel morphology and associated aquatic habitat
• GIS approaches for predicting channel morphology, valley confinement, and aquatic habitat
• Potential effects of climate change on sediment yield


  • University of Washington, Ph.D. Geological Sciences, "The use of streambed texture to interpret physical and biological conditions at watershed, reach, and subreach scales" 1998
  • University of Washington, M.S. Geological Sciences, "Effects of hydraulic roughness and sediment supply on surface textures of gravel-bedded rivers" 1995
  • University of California Berkeley, B.A. Geology and Geophysics 1988

Professional Experience

  • Research Geomorphologist, USFS, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Boise, ID
    2004 - Current
  • Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Ecohydraulics Research Group, University of Idaho, Boise
    2000 - 2004
  • Postdoctoral Researcher, National Research Council, stationed at U.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program, Water Resources Division, Boulder, CO
    1998 - 2000
  • Research & Teaching Assistant (geomorphology), University of Washington, Dept. of Geological Sciences
    1991 - 1998
  • Field Assistant (geomorphology), King County Surface Water Management, Seattle, WA
    1993 - 1993
  • Hydrologist, USFS, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Juneau, AK
    1989 - 1991
  • Field Assistant (volcanology of western Mexico), University of California Berkeley, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics
    1989 - 1990
  • Research Assistant (geomorphology), University of California Berkeley, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics
    1988 - 1988

Professional Organizations

  • Hydrological Processes, Associate Editor (Editorial Board) (2015 - Current)
  • Oregon State University, Affiliate Faculty (2013 - Current)
  • Trinity River Restoration Program, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Science Advisory Board (2009 - Current)
  • University of Idaho, Adjunct Faculty (2004 - Current)
  • American Geophysical Union, Member (1991 - Current)
    Associate Editor (2011-2013), Editor (2015-current), Journal of Geophysical Research–Earth Surface
  • American Water Resources Association, Member (1998 - 2007)
  • Geological Society of America, Member (1993 - 2007)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Member (2001 - 2004)
  • American Fisheries Society, Member (2001 - 2004)
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Member (2001 - 2004)

Awards & Recognition

  • Named Lecture, 2010
    Borland Lecturer in Hydraulics, Colorado State University
  • Book Award, 2003
    American Water Resources Association (Washington State chapter) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Washington's Water Resources. Presented to the authors of "Restoration of Puget Sound Rivers"
  • Fellowship, 1997
    David A. Johnston Memorial Fellowship (scholarly excellence), University of Washington
  • Certificate of Merit, 1991
    Research excellence, PNW Research Station, Juneau, AK
  • Certificate of Appreciation, 1990
    Research excellence, PNW Research Station, Juneau, AK
  • Early Admission, 1984
    Early admission to UC Berkeley (prior to completion of high school)

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Last updated on : 02/08/2021