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John M. Buffington

John Buffington - Research Geomorphologist

Research Geomorphologist

322 East Front Street, Suite 401
Boise, ID 83702
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 to present

    Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Ecohydraulics Research Group, University of Idaho, Boise
    2000 to 2004

    Postdoctoral Researcher, National Research Council, stationed at U.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program, Water Resources Division, Boulder, CO
    1998 to 2000

    Research & Teaching Assistant (geomorphology), University of Washington, Dept. of Geological Sciences
    1991 to 1998

    Field Assistant (geomorphology), King County Surface Water Management, Seattle, WA

    Hydrologist, USFS, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Juneau, AK
    1989 to 1991

    Field Assistant (volcanology of western Mexico), University of California Berkeley, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics
    1989 to 1990

    Research Assistant (geomorphology), University of California Berkeley, Dept. of Geology & Geophysics

    Professional Organizations

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


    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)

    Featured Publications


    Malesky, Danielle M.; Bentz, Barbara J.; Brown, Gary R.; Brunelle, Andrea R.; Buffington, John M.; Chappell, Linda M.; DeRose, R. Justin; Guyon, John C. II; Jorgensen, Carl L.; Loehman, Rachel A.; Lowrey, Laura L.; Lynch, Ann M.; Matyjasik, Marek; McMillin, Joel D.; Mercado, Javier E.; Morris, Jesse L.; Negron, Jose; Padgett, Wayne G.; Progar, Robert A.; Randall, Carol B., 2018. Effects of climate change on ecological disturbances [Chapter 8]
    Penaluna, Brooke E.; Reeves, Gordon H.; Barnett, Zanethia; Bisson, Peter A.; Buffington, John M.; Dolloff, Andy; Flitcroft, Rebecca; Luce, Charles H.; Nislow, Keith; Rothlisberger, John; Warren, Mel. , 2018. Using natural disturbance and portfolio concepts to guide aquatic-riparian ecosystem management
    Bisson, Peter A.; Montgomery, David R.; Buffington, John M., 2017. Valley segments, stream reaches, and channel units [Chapter 2]
    Thurow, Russ F.; Buffington, John M., 2016. Wild salmon response to natural disturbance processes
    Lisle, Thomas E.; Buffington, John M.; Wilcock, Peter R.; Bunte, Kristin, 2015. Can rapid assessment protocols be used to judge sediment impairment in gravel-bed streams? A commentary
    Nagel, David E.; Buffington, John M.; Payne (Parkes) , Sharon L.; Wenger, Seth; Goode, Jaime R., 2014. A landscape scale valley confinement algorithm: Delineating unconfined valley bottoms for geomorphic, aquatic, and riparian applications
    Rosenberger, Amanda E.; Dunham, Jason B.; Buffington, John M.; Wipfli, Mark S., 2011. Persistent effects of wildfire and debris flows on the invertebrate prey base of rainbow trout in Idaho streams
    Moir, Hamish J.; Gibbins, Christopher N.; Buffington, John M.; Webb, John H.; Soulsby, Chris; Brewer, Mark J., 2009. A new method to identify the fluvial regimes used by spawning salmonids
    Caamano, Diego; Goodwin, Peter; Buffington, John M.; Liou, Jim C. P.; Daley-Laursen, Stanley, 2009. Unifying criterion for the velocity reversal hypothesis in gravel-bed rivers
    Tonina, Daniele; Luce, Charles H.; Rieman, Bruce; Buffington, John M.; Goodwin, Peter; Clayton, Stephen R.; Ali, Shawkat Md.; Barry, Jeffrey J.; Berenbrock, Charles, 2008. Hydrological response to timber harvest in northern Idaho: Implications for channel scour and persistence of salmonids
    Barry, Jeffrey J.; Buffington, John M.; Goodwin, Peter; King, John .G.; Emmett, William W., 2008. Performance of bed-load transport equations relative to geomorphic significance: Predicting effective discharge and its transport rate
    Barry, Jeffrey J.; Buffington, John M.; King, John G.; Goodwin, Peter, 2006. Performance of bed load transport equations in mountain gravel-bed rivers: A re-analysis
    Burke, Michael; Jorde, Klaus; Buffington, John M.; Braatne, Jeffrey H.; Benjakar, Rohan, 2006. Spatial distribution of impacts to channel bed mobility due to flow regulation, Kootenai River, USA
    Barry, Jeffrey J.; Buffington, John M.; King, John G., 2004. A general power equation for predicting bed load transport rates in gravel bed rivers
    Buffington, John M.; Woodsmith, Richard D.; Booth, Derek B.; Montgomery, David R., 2003. Fluvial processes in Puget Sound rivers and the Pacific Northwest [Chapter 3]
    Montgomery, David R.; Collins, Brian D.; Buffington, John M.; Abbe, Tim B., 2003. Geomorphic effects of wood in rivers [Chapter 2]
    Buffington, John M.; Lisle, Thomas E.; Woodsmith, Richard D.; Hilton, Sue, 2002. Controls on the size and occurrence of pools in coarse-grained forest rivers
    Buffington, John M.; Montgomery, David R., 1999. A procedure for classifying textural facies in gravel-bed rivers
    Buffington, John M.; Montgomery, David R., 1999. Effects of hydraulic roughness on surface textures of gravel-bed rivers
    Buffington, John M.; Montgomery, David R., 1999. Effects of sediment supply on surface textures of gravel-bed rivers
    Montgomery, David R.; Buffington, John M.; Smith, Richard D.; Schmidt, Kevin M.; Pess, George, 1995. Pool spacing in forest channels
    The Valley Confinement Algorithm (VCA) is a GIS based program that uses NHDPlus data to delineate unconfined valley bottoms. This webpage provides access to the VCA ArcGIS Toolbox script and documentation describing the program.