Brian D. Collins

Senior Lecturer, Part-Time
Department of Earth and Space Sciences
University of Washington
Box 351310
Seattle, WA 98195


I have Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in geoscience from the University of Washington and a B.A. in biology from Oberlin College.


I teach classes on rivers (Fluvial Geomorphology, ESS 426/526, Applied Fluvial Geomorphology, ESS 541), writing (Technical Communication in Applied Geosciences, ESS 518), and environmental history (Changing Rivers of Puget Sound, ESS/AIS/ENVIR 310).

I advise students in the applied geoscience M.S. degree program (Masters in Earth and Space Sciences, Applied Geosciences or "MESSAGe"), an 18-month program that includes coursework, an internship, and an applied investigation capstone. Topics of recent capstone projects I've advised include: Effects of beaver dam-break floods on river channels and downstream hazards; combining dendrogeomorphology and hydrologic modeling to assess the effects of timber harvest on deep-seated landslide activity; and assessing the evolution of channel morphology and aquatic habitat in a newly-created river channel.

Current research

Applying geomorphology to the understanding and prediction of land use impacts and river hazards.

As part of a 4-yr project with colleagues in the UW School of Engineering sponsored by the NSF PREEVENTS program, geoscience colleagues including Allison Pfeiffer, Dan Scott, Scott Anderson, and others and I are seeking to better understand, and incorporate into flood modeling capabilities, sediment production, routing, and channel response (e.g., 4).

I work with MESSAGe students on their capstone applied investigations, and with students from my applied geomorphology course, recently completed an investigation into the causes of flooding in the Skokomish River (1).

Interactions of rivers, ecosystems, and people through time

I've previously studied the reciprocal interactions of rivers and their valley-bottom forests (7)(11) and currently work with Dan Scott and collaborators at the US Forest Service on evaluating wood jam dynamics and geomorphic change for stream restoration.

For several years I’ve been investigating how the Puget Sound’s river landscape and its associated ecosystems have changed historically (10)(12), including in-stream and floodplain habitats, and in applying this knowledge to restoring rivers and endangered salmon populations.

Evolution of river landscapes

I recently completed a field study of bedrock incision and strath terrace formation (6)(9) and worked with former Ph.D. student Sarah Schanz on a global review of strath terrace genesis (5) and on a field study to test the hypothesis that anthropogenic wood removal can trigger strath terrace formation (2). Previously I investigated how river landforms and habitats in the Puget Sound area evolved since deglaciation (7).

Erosion, landscape disturbance, and human systems

In a mountainous, minority region of SW Sichuan Province, with colleagues in geoscience and anthropology at the UW, Exeter University, and Oberlin College, I'm studying how the last several hundred years of traditional and modern land uses have affected soil erosion and landscape sustainability.

With Tom Dunne, I recently completed a long-term (30 yr!) field study of how hillslope erosion processes evolved over time following the eruption of Mount St. Helens (3).

Representative recent publications (*student author)

(1) Collins, B.D., *Dickerson-Lange, S.E., *Schanz, S., *Harrington, S. 2019. Differentiating the effects of logging, river engineering, and hydropower dams on flooding in the Skokomish River, Washington. Geomorphology 332:138-156. (PDF).

(2) *Schanz, S.A., Montgomery, D.R., Collins, B.D. 2019. Anthropogenic strath terrace formation caused by reduced sediment retention. Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS). (PDF)

(3) Collins, B.D., Dunne, T. 2019 in review. Thirty years of tephra erosion following the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

(4) Pfeiffer, A., Collins, B.D., Anderson, S.W., Montgomery, D.R., Istanbulluoglu, E. 2019 in review. Fluctuations in sediment supply, rather than peak flows, control river bed elevation variability in the uplands of Washington State.

(5) *Schanz S.A, Montgomery D.R., Collins B.D., Duvall, A.R. 2018. Multiple paths to straths: a review and re-assessment of terrace genesis. Geomorphology 312:12-23. (PDF)

(6) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R., *Schanz, S.A., *Larsen, I.J. 2016. Rates and mechanisms of bedrock incision and strath terrace formation in a forested catchment, Cascade Range, Washington. Geological Society of America Bulletin 128: 926-943. (PDF)

(7) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R., Fetherston, K.L., Abbe, T.B. 2012. The floodplain large-wood cycle hypothesis: a mechanism for the physical and biotic structuring of temperate forested alluvial valleys in the North Pacific coastal ecoregion. Geomorphology 139-140: 460-470. (PDF)

(8) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R. 2011. The legacy of Pleistocene glaciation and the organization of lowland alluvial process domains in the Puget Sound region. Geomorphology 126: 174-185. (PDF)

(9) Stock, J.D., Montgomery, D.R., Collins, B.D., Dietrich, W.E., Sklar, L. 2005. Field measurement of incision rates following bedrock exposure: Implications for process controls on the long-profiles of valleys cut by rivers and debris flows. Geological Society of America Bulletin 117: 174-194. (PDF)

(10) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R., Sheikh, A.J. 2003. Reconstructing the historical riverine landscape of the Puget Lowland. Pp. 79-128 in: Montgomery, D.R., Bolton, S.M., Booth, D.B., Wall, L., eds., Restoration of Puget Sound Rivers, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA. (PDF)

(11) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R. 2002. Forest development, wood jams and restora­tion of floodplain rivers in the Puget Lowland. Restoration Ecology 10: 237-247. (PDF)

(12) Collins, B.D., Montgomery, D.R., Haas A.D. 2002. Historical changes in the distribu­tion and functions of large wood in Puget Lowland rivers. Canadian Journal of Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences 59: 66-76. (PDF)