Professor researches record-breaking flooding in Namibia

A professor is digging up dirt to learn about record-breaking floods. ? Professor Paul Bierman has been studying Namibia’s rock and stream sediments for 14 years with colleague Kyle Nichols of Skidmore College. They recently returned after floods hit the region, Bierman said. ? “I had been working in southern Africa since the region was known for its old landscapes,” he said. “Namibia is also famous for such landscapes, so it made sense for me to look into Namibia.” ? Bierman said he decided to return to Namibia after hearing about the flooding on the news. He wanted to see where the sediments were coming from after heavy rainfall. ? “We didn’t see the flooding itself since it occurred in January, February and March; however we saw the evidence,” he said. “The streams still had water, and bridges were washed out, even in August when we were there.” ? This flooding was unprecedented. These were the largest floods on record. The deserts of Namibia are very arid and had been dry for a decade. Even the uplands only get about half as much rain as Vermont, Bierman said. ? “There was so much water that people went swimming, they went tubing and the desert turned green around rivers carrying so much sediment they were chocolate-brown,” he told University Communications. ? There were few fatalities, yet many refugees, Bierman said. ? “Where we were doing research the floods were merely an inconvenience. In the north, however, they were devastating,” he said. ? “These floods were caused by tropical moisture that went south. Usually rainfall would be more north,” Bierman said. “It makes you wonder, are we watching the world’s climate change?” ? When you look at the global picture, hurricanes have increased on the east coast of the United States in the past 30-40 years. Hurricane wind speed and duration have increased as well, he said. ? “All of these events are consistent,” he said. “It’s a glimpse of what the future world will look like.” ? Bierman and Nichols hope to discover whether sediment carried by rivers in such mega-floods is coming from the same source as those when sediment is transported by more normal events, according to University Communications. ?  “I do research for the sake of research, but also I enjoy bringing it back to the University and sharing it with students,” Bierman said. “It makes my class more interesting and relevant for students.”