Our current projects take place in two primary areas: the Himalayan rivers and deltas of South Asia and the mountainous desert coasts of northern Peru. In South Asia our research centers on the country of Bangladesh and its dominant feature, the Ganges-Brahmaputra river delta – this system drains the Earth’s highest mountain range, transports the largest sediment load that forms the world’s biggest delta, and serves as home to the most densely populated nation and largest coastal mangrove system. It is an amazing region – truly, a Land of Superlatives!

Within this complex and dynamic system we are addressing a variety of topics:

  • how Quaternary climate change and monsoon variability has affected delta evolution;
  • understanding geological controls on the occurrence and distribution of arsenic-contaminated groundwater, in collaboration with geochemists and hydrologists;
  • the controls of coastal sediment dynamics as a control on how the delta will response to sea-level rise, varying river discharge, and increasing human activities;
  • how tectonics and fluvial processes interact to define delta evolution and river behavior.

In coastal Peru we are collaborating with Professor Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist from Vanderbilt’s Department of Anthropology. The project focuses on a pre-ceramic archaeological site that was active from about 12,000 to 3000 years ago, preserving an incredible 9000 years of human and environmental history at a single site.

  • we have been working to reconstruct the area’s environmental conditions based on the geological record of riverine and coastal sediments.
  • the goal is to understand how major cultural shifts at the archaeological site may be linked with environmental change, including the onset of El Niño floods, droughts, and several tsunami events.


My courses generally focus on interactions between land, ocean, and climate and the development of continental margin settings from rivers to deltas, coasts, and the shelf. An overarching goal of these courses is to understand the interrelatedness of Earth system components – how they interact, the consequence of feedbacks, and the resulting patterns of global change that have resulted through Earth history.

EES 1030: Oceanography – An integrated survey of the origin and development of the world’s ocean basins, the interaction between oceans, land, and atmosphere that defines global climate, the control of ocean circulation by wind stress and heat and salt transfer, and the ocean processes that determine the variety, abundance, and distribution of life in the oceans.

EES 3330: Sedimentology – This course covers the production of sediment through weathering of mountain landscapes, their transport as mass movements and by surface-water flow, and the accumulation of this material in various depositional landscapes from deltas and coasts to the continental shelf, slope, and deep sea.

EES 7380: Source to Sink – An integrated systems-scale view on the production, transport, and deposition of sediment between mountain source areas and deep-sea basins: weathering, climate, and tectonic feedbacks; fluvial transport and storage; and continental margin development and processes.

EES 390x: Marine Geosystems – Land-ocean and ocean-atmosphere interactions: sediment transport, continental margin morphology and evolution, mass and energy transfer, biogeochemical cycling, climate systems.

EES 390x: TIES: Water and Social Justice in Bangladesh – A transdisciplinary investigation of water resources and water-related hazards in the world’s most densely populated country. Issues of clean-water access, groundwater extraction, flooding and drainage, and land erosion are considered in the context the natural and social sciences and their human impacts and possible solutions. (co-taught with Jonathan Gilligan and Brooke Ackerly [Political Sci.])

What Students Do

One of the primary tools used in our research is radioisotope geochronology, which makes use of sediment-bound radionuclides to reconstruct patterns of accretion and sediment dynamics. This suite of nuclides – including 7Be, 234Th, 137Cs, and 210Pb – encompass timescales from months to decades and are delivered via atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine pathways, thereby allowing a broad range of questions to be addressed. The radionuclides are measured by gamma-decay spectrometry in Vanderbilt’s Sediments Lab. In addition to radioisotope techniques, other methods used in our study of the sedimentary record include coring and seismic-reflection profiling. The Sediments Lab also supports a Geotek high-resolution core logger with magnetic susceptibility, natural gamma attenuation, and high-resolution digital camera used for the continuous downcore measurement of physical sediment properties. Our work employs geochemical approaches as well, particularly using elemental and isotopic fingerprints to assess the provenance of sediments from different source areas. We have recently purchased a new handheld X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) instruments to make in-situ measures of elemental concentrations in rocks and sediments.

Figure 2

Recent graduate students have conducted a range of projects based on these research programs. For M.S. students, such sedimentary research is appropriate for careers in environmental consulting, environmental law, science writing, and science teaching. At the Ph.D. level, students will become prepared for careers in college teaching, academic research, the petroleum industry, and government agencies (e.g., USGS, EPA). Graduate students working on foreign projects will have the opportunity to travel overseas and spend many weeks in the field. For a career, the questions being addressed at our two field areas are new, exciting, and provide important contributions to the earth sciences and human-related environmental issues. The experience in a foreign nation and the relevance to human issues can also open doors with international consulting firms and non-governmental agencies.

Current Student Advisees

Jessica Raff (PhD student) 2017-present. Dissertation topic: Understanding Holocene mass inputs and sediment dispersal for the Bengal basin. 

C. Brandt Tate (PhD student) 2021-present. Dissertation topic: TBD, but going to be really cool!

Recent Student Advisees

Rachel Bain (PhD) 2014-2019; currently Research Scientist with US Army Corps of Engineers. Dissertation topic: Tidal Hydrodynamics in the Interconnected Channel Network of the Southwestern Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta, Bangladesh.

Ryan Sincavage (PhD) graduate 2017; currently tenure-track Assistant Professor at Radford University. Dissertation topic: From constructed landscape to sedimentary record: On the partitioning of Holocene fluvial sediments within Sylhet Basin.

Jennifer Pickering (PhD) graduated 2016; currently Postdoc Fellow at Univ. Kansas,, previously Clastics Geologist at Shell. Dissertation topic: Response of the Brahmaputra River to tectonic deformation in the upper Bengal basin.

Meagan Patrick (MS) graduated 2016; currently County Floodplain Management Coordinator. Thesis topic: Stratigraphy and Arsenic Distribution within the Lower Delta Plain of Bangladesh.

Marja Copeland (MS) graduated 2014; currently PhD student at Univ. Pittsburgh. Thesis: Stream-channel morphology in a mixed-bedrock valley: The Harpeth River watershed, middle Tennessee.

Lauren Williams (MS) graduated 2013; currently Research Scientist at Virginia Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Thesis: Late Quaternary stratigraphy and infilling of the Meghna River valley along the tectonically active eastern margin of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta.

Kimberly Rogers (PhD) graduated 2012; currently tenure-track Assistant Professor, East Carolina University. Dissertation: Sedimentation patterns and transport pathways linking river mouth to remote depocenters in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, Bangladesh.

Beth Weinman (PhD) graduated 2010; Associate Professor, California State University, Fresno. Dissertation: The Evolution of aquifers and arsenic in Asia: A Study of the fluvio-deltaic processes leading to aquifer formation, arsenic cycling, and heterogeneity in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Nepal.

Mohammad ‘Apu’ Ullah (M.S.) graduated 2010; currently at BP British Petroleum. Thesis: Provenance analysis of Late Quaternary sediments from the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, Bangladesh.

Russell Pate (M.S.) graduated 2008; presently a Senior Field Geophysicist at Schlumberger. Thesis: Multiple-proxy records of delta evolution and dispersal system behavior: Fluvial and coastal borehole evidence from the Bengal basin, Bangladesh

Alexander Kolker (PhD) graduated 2005; Associate Professor with Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dissertation: Response of Long Island’s coastal wetlands to environmental change.

Recent Grant Funding

NSF-OCE-160319, Coastal SEES Collaborative Research: Multi-scale modeling and observations of landscape dynamics, mass balance, and network connectivity for a sustainable Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. Lead PI with John Ayers, Jonathan Gilligan at VU EES, Hiba Baroud at VU Civil and Environmental Engineering, Irina Overeem at Univ. Colorado, Paola Passalacqua at Univ. of Texas, Carol Wilson at Louisiana St. Univ., and Rip Hale at Old Dominion; 2016-2020.

ONR-MURI-N00014-11-1-0683, Environmental stress and human migration in a low-lying developing nation: A comparison of co-evolving natural and human landscapes in the physically and culturally diverse context of Bangladesh. Lead PI with Jonathan Gilligan, John Ayers, George Hornberger at VU EES, Brooke Ackerly at VU Political Science, Katharine Donato at VU Sociology, Janey Camp at VU Environmental Engineering, and Chris Small, Mike Steckler, and Nano Seeber at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia U; 2011-2017.

NSF-OISE-0968354, PIRE: Life on a tectonically-active delta: Convergence of Earth science and geohazard research in Bangladesh with education and capacity building. Co-PI with Mike Steckler, Nano Seeber, Won-Young Kim at Columbia University, Chris Paola at Univ. of Minnesota, and Cecilia McHugh at CUNY-Queens College; 2010-2017.

NSF/ Belmont Forum-G8 Collaborative Research: DELTAS: Catalyzing action towards sustainability of deltaic systems with an integrated modeling framework for risk assessment. Co-PI (International consortium w/15 institutions); 2013-2017.

Selected Recent Publications

link to Google Scholar page

(* graduate advisee; ** post-doc advisee)

Passalacqua, P., Giosan, L., Goodbred, S., & Overeem, I. (2021). Stable ≠ Sustainable: Delta Dynamics Versus the Human Need for Stability. Earth’s Future, 9(7), e2021EF002121.

Paszkowski, A., Goodbred, S., Borgomeo, E., Khan, M. S. A., & Hall, J. (2021). Geomorphic change in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, accepted.

**Chamberlain, E.L., Goodbred, S.L., **Hale, R., Steckler, M.S., Wallinga, J., **Wilson, C., 2020. Integrating geochronologic and instrumental approaches across the Bengal Basin. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 45(1): 56-74.

Goodbred, S.L., Dillehay, T.D., Galvez Mora, C., Sawakuchi, A.O., 2020. Transformation of maritime desert to an agricultural center: Holocene environmental change and landscape engineering in Chicama River valley, northern Peru coast. Quaternary Science Reviews, 227(1): 106046.

Grimaud, J.-L., Grall, C., Goodbred, S., Steckler, M.S., *Sincavage, R., *Pickering, J.L., Paola, C., Seeber, N., Hossain, M.S., 2020. Flexural deformation controls on Late Quaternary sediment dispersal in the Garo-Rajmahal Gap, NW Bengal Basin. Basin Research,

*Bain, R.L., **Hale, R.P., and Goodbred, S.L., 2019. Flow Reorganization in an Anthropogenically Modified Tidal Channel Network: An Example from the Southwestern Ganges‐Brahmaputra‐Meghna Delta. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface. 2018JF004996.

**Hale, R.P., *Bain, R., Goodbred, S.L., Best, J., 2019. Observations and scaling of tidal mass transport across the lower Ganges-Brahmaputra delta plain: implications for delta management and sustainability. Earth Surface Dynamics, 7: 231-245.

*Pickering, J.L., *Diamond, M.S., Goodbred, S.L., Grall, C., Martin, J.M., Palamenghi, L., Paola, C., Schwenk, T., Sincavage, R.S., Spieß, V., 2019. Impact of glacial-lake paleofloods on valley development since glacial termination II: A conundrum of hydrology and scale for the lowstand Brahmaputra-Jamuna paleovalley system. GSA Bulletin, 131(1-2): 58-70.

*Sincavage, R.S., Paola, C., Goodbred, S.L., 2019. Quantifying mass extraction and downstream fining patterns across the Sylhet Basin of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 124(2): 400-413.

*Pickering, J.L., Goodbred, S.L., Beam, J.C., Ayers, J.C., Covery, A., Rajapara, H.M., Singhvi, A.K., 2018. Terrace formation in the upper Bengal basin since the middle Pleistocene: Brahmaputra fan delta construction during multiple highstands. Basin Research, 30(S1): 550-567.

*Sincavage, R., Goodbred, S., *Pickering, J., 2018. Holocene Brahmaputra River path selection and variable sediment bypass as indicators of fluctuating hydrologic and climate conditions in Sylhet Basin, Bangladesh. Basin Research, 30(2): 302-320.

**Chamberlain, E.L, Wallinga, J., Reimann, T., Goodbred Jr., S.L., Steckler, M.S., Shen, Z., *Sincavage, R., 2017. Luminescence dating of delta sediments: Novel approaches explored for the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. Quaternary Geochronology 41,

*Pickering, J.L., Goodbred, S.L., Beam, J.C., Ayers, J.C., Covery, A., Rajapara, H.M., Singhvi, A.K., 2017. Terrace development in the upper Bengal basin since the middle Pleistocene: History of Brahmaputra-Jamuna delta construction during multiple highstands. Basin Research. 1–18,

Dillehay, T.D., Goodbred, S., Pino, M., Sánchez, V.F.V., Tham, T.R., Adovasio, J., Collins, M.B., Netherly, P.J., Hastorf, C.A., Chiou, K.L, Piperno, D., Rey, I, Velchoff, N., 2017. Simple technologies and diverse food strategies of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene at Huaca Prieta, Coastal Peru. Science Advances 3 (5), e1602778

Ayers, J.C., George, G., Fry, D., Benneyworth, Wilson, C., Auerbah, L., Roy, K., Karim, Md. R., and Akter, F., Goodbred, S.L., 2017. Salinization and arsenic contamination of surface water in southwest Bangladesh. Geochemical Transactions, 18(4): 1-23.

Ayers, J.C., Goodbred, S., George, G., Fry, D., Benneyworth, L., Hornberger, G., Roy, K., Karim, Md. R., and Akter, F., 2016, Sources of salinity and arsenic in groundwater in southwest Bangladesh. Geochemical Transactions, 17:4.

*Rogers, K.G., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Khan, S.R., 2015. Shelf-to-canyon connections: Transport-related morphology and mass balance at the shallow-headed, rapidly aggrading Swatch of No Ground (Bay of Bengal). Marine Geology, 369: 288-299.

*Auerbach, L.W., Goodbred Jr, S. L., Mondal, D.R., **Wilson, C.A., Ahmed, K.R., Roy, K., Steckler, M.S., Small, C., Gilligan, J.M., Ackerly, B.A., 2015. Flood risk of natural and embanked landscapes on the Ganges–Brahmaputra tidal delta plain. Nature Climate Change, 5(2): 153-157.

**Wilson, C.A. and Goodbred, Jr., S.L., 2015. Building a large, tide-influenced delta on the Bengal margin: Linking process, morphology, and stratigraphy in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta system. Annual Review of Marine Science, 7: 67-88.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., *Youngs, P.M., *Ullah, Md.S., *Pate, R.D., Khan, S.R., Kuehl, S.A., Singh, S.K., and Rahaman, W., 2014, Piecing together the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river delta: Application of Sr sediment geochemistry to reconstruct river-channel histories and Holocene delta evolution. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 126: 1495-1510.

*Pickering, J.L., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Reitz, M., *Hartzog, T.R., Mondal, D.R., and Hossain, Md.S., 2014. Holocene channel avulsions inferred from the Late Quaternary sedimentary record of the Jamuna and Old Brahmaputra river valleys in the upper Bengal delta plain. Geomorphology, 227: 123-136.

*Rogers, K.G., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Mondal, D.R., 2013. Monsoon sedimentation on the ‘abandoned’ tide-influenced Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta plain. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science, 131: 297-309.

Dillehay, T.D., Bonavia, D., Goodbred, S., Pino, M., Vásquez, V., Tham, T.R., 2012. Late Pleistocene human occupation at Huaca Prieta, Peru, and its implications for early Pacific coastal adaptations. Quaternary Research, 77: 418-423.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L. and Saito, Y., 2011. Tide-dominated Deltas. In Davis, R. and Dalyrymple, R.W. (eds.), Principles of Tidal Sedimentology. Springer Press, New York. p. 129-149. DOI: 10.1007/978-94-007-0123-6_7.

*Kolker, A.S., Kirwan, M., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Cochran, J.K., 2010. Global climate changes recorded in coastal wetland sediments: Empirical observation linked to theoretical predictions. Geophysical Research Letters, 37: L14706.

*Rogers, K.G., and Goodbred, Jr., S.L., 2010. Mass failures associated with the passage of a large tropical cyclone over the Swatch of No Ground submarine canyon (Bay of Bengal). Geology, 38:1051-1055.