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.

Figure 3

Current Student Advisees

Ryan Sincavage (PhD candidate) 2013-present. Dissertation topic: From constructed landscape to sedimentary record: On the partitioning of Holocene fluvial sediments within Sylhet Basin

Rachel Bain (PhD student) 2014-present. Dissertation topic: Tidal network hydrodynamics on the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta undernatural and anthropogenically-modified conditions

Recent Student Advisees

Jennifer Pickering (PhD) graduated 2016; currently 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 Pittsburgh. Thesis: Stream-channel morphology in a mixed-bedrock valley: The Harpeth River watershed, middle Tennessee.

Lauren Williams (MS) graduated 2013; currently Ph.D. student at University of Rochester. 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 Research Associate, INSTAAR, University of Colorado, Boulder. Dissertation: Sedimentation patterns and transport pathways linking river mouth to remote depocenters in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, Bangladesh.

Beth Weinman (PhD) graduated 2010; presently a tenure-track Assistant 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; received PhD student at University of Houston; currently at BP. Thesis: Provenance analysis of Late Quaternary sediments from the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, Bangladesh.

Sarah Krentz (M.S.) graduated 2009; presently a lecturer at Middle Tennessee State University. Thesis: Evidence for a Tsunami Event in the New York metropolitan Region ~2300 yr BP: Constraints on Origins, Processes, and Effects.

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; now Associate Professor with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Dissertation: Response of Long Island’s coastal wetlands to environmental change.

Current 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.

Recent Invited Presentations

2016, Tulane University, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Fluvial, Coastal, Tectonic Interactions in a Land of Superlatives – the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta System.

2016, University of Memphis, Department of Earth Sciences. Geologic history of a continental-scale fluvial system: Example of the Ganges-Brahmaputra through varied climates and sea level of the Quaternary.

2015, University of Illinois, Department of Geology. Seventh Annual Jack and Richard Threet Lecture in Sedimentary Geology. Constructing the Ganges-Brahmaputra Mega-delta: From Process to Morphology to Stratigraphy.

2014, St. Louis University, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, St. Louis, MO. Coupled Human-Landscape Interactions in Bangladesh and the Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta.

2014, University of Virginia, Department of Environmental Sciences, Charlottesville, VA. A Tale of Two Deltas: Contrasting Perspectives on the Status of Natural and Human-modified Regions of the Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta.

2013, American Geophysical Union, Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. A Tale of Two Deltas: Contrasting Perspectives on the State of Natural and Human-modified Regions of the Ganges-Brahmaputra River Delta.

2013, IAS International Conference on Fluvial Sedimentology, Leeds, UK. Piecing together Holocene stratigraphy of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta using Sr sediment geochemistry: Implications for river behavior and delta evolution

2013, Joint Chapman/Penrose Conference on Coastal Processes and Environments under Sea-Level Rise and Changing Climate, Galveston, Texas. Diverse landscapes of the Ganges-Brahmaputra tidal delta plain: Implications for stability, resilience, and management.

2012, University of Kentucky, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Piecing together the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta: Interacting roles of rivers, climate and tectonics.

2011, National Academy of Sciences, Indo-US Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium, Irvine, CA. Future of Freshwater Supply – Himalayan Glacier and River Systems.

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

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.

Benneyworth, L., Gilligan, J., Ayers, J., Goodbred, S., George, G., Carrico, A., Karim, Md. R., Akter, F., Fry, D., Donato. K., Piya, B., 2016. Drinking water insecurity: water quality and access in coastal south-western Bangladesh. International Journal Of Environmental Health Research, 26: 508-524.

*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.

*Worland, S.C., Hornberger, G.M., Goodbred, S.L., 2015. Source, transport, and evolution of saline groundwater in a shallow Holocene aquifer on the tidal deltaplain of southwest Bangladesh. Water Resources Research, 51 (7): 5791-5805, doi:10.1002/2014WR016262

Reitz, M.D., *Pickering, J.L., Goodbred, S.L., Paola, C., Steckler, M., and Seeber, L., 2015. Effects of tectonic deformation and sea level on river path selection: theory and application to Bangladesh. Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface, 120 (4): 671-689.

*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.

Cerrato, R., *LoCicero, P.V., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., 2013. Climate change and anthropogenic effects on mollusc assemblages in a shallow bar-built lagoonal system. Global Change Biology, 19: 3024-3036.

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.

Dillehay, T.D., Bonavia, D., Goodbred, S., Pino, M., Vásquez, V., Tham, T.R., and 22 others, 2012. Chronology, Mound-Building, and Environment at Huaca Prieta, Coastal Peru, from 13,700 to 4,000 years ago. Antiquity, 86: 48-70.

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.

*Kolker, A.S., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Hameed, S., and Cochran, J.K., 2009. High-resolution records of the response of coastal systems to long-term and short-term sea level variability. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science, 84: 493-508.

*Pate, R.D., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Khan, S.R., 2009. Delta double-stack: Juxtaposed Holocene and Pleistocene sequences from the Bengal Basin, Bangladesh. Sedimentary Record, 7(3): 4-9.

*Weinman, B.A., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Zheng, Y., Aziz, Z., Steckler, M., van Geen, A., Singhvi, A., and Nagar, Y.C., 2008. Contributions of floodplain stratigraphy and evolution to the spatial patterns of groundwater arsenic in Araihazar, Bangladesh. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 120: 1567–1580.

van Geen, A., Y. Zheng, S. Goodbred Jr., A. Horneman, Z. Aziz, Z. Cheng, M. Stute, B. Mailloux, B. Weinman*, M.A. Hoque, A.A. Seddique, M.S. Hossain, S.H. Chowdhury, and K. M. Ahmed. 2008. Flushing History as a Hydrogeological Control on the Regional Distribution of Arsenic in Shallow Groundwater of the Bengal Basin. Environmental Science and Technology, 42:2283–2288.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., 2003. Response of the Ganges dispersal system to climate change: a source-to-sink view since the last interstade. Sedimentary Geology, 162:83-104.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Kuehl, S.A., Steckler, M., and Sarker, M.H., 2003. Controls on facies distribution and stratigraphic preservation in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta sequence. Sedimentary Geology, 155:301-316.

Allison, M.A., Khan, S.R., Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Kuehl, S.A., 2003. Stratigraphic evolution of the late Holocene Ganges-Brahmaputra lower delta plain. Sedimentary Geology, 155:317-342.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., 2001. Ocean Margin Sediments. In Steele, J., Thorpe, S., and Turekian, K. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences. Academic Press, p. 1965-1973.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Kuehl, S.A., 2000. Enormous Ganges-Brahmaputra sediment load during strengthened early Holocene monsoon. Geology, 28:1083-1086.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Kuehl, S.A., 2000. The significance of large sediment supply, active tectonism, and eustasy on margin sequence development: Late Quaternary stratigraphy and evolution of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. Sedimentary Geology, 133:227-248.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Kuehl, S.A., 1999. Holocene and modern sediment budgets for the Ganges-Brahmaputra river: Evidence for highstand dispersal to floodplain, shelf, and deep-sea depocenters. Geology, 27:559-562.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Kuehl, S.A., 1998. Floodplain processes in the Bengal Basin and the storage of Ganges-Brahmaputra river sediment: an accretion study using 137Cs and 210Pb geochronology. Sedimentary Geology, 121:239-258.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., Wright, E.E., and Hine, A.C., 1998. Sea-level change and storm-surge deposition in a Late Holocene Florida salt marsh. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 68:240-252.

Goodbred, Jr., S.L., and Hine, A.C., 1995. Coastal storm deposition: Salt-marsh response to a severe extratropical storm, 1993, west-central Florida. Geology, 23:679-682.