Graduate Students

Erika Colaiacomo

Erika Colaiacomo

M.S. Candidate

Office: CHCB 113A

Personal Summary

My initial interest in fluvial geomorphology was sparked by Dr. Kirstie Fryirs' class I took while studying abroad in Australia in Spring 2006, and I've been geting my feet in rivers ever since.  I spent my formative years in Massachusetts and headed west after completing my B.A. in Geology at Colgate University in 2007.  Prior to embarking on my master's degree, I provided GIS support to the PIBO Effectiveness Monitoring Program at the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station in Logan, UT and spent several years documenting and assessing wetlands, rivers, and riparian areas across Montana as an ecologist with the Montana Natural Heritage Program.  

I am thrilled to be investigating the downstream geomorphic response to the Condit Dam removal on the White Salmon River, WA for my master's research.  For background on the dam removal, check out the WA Department of Ecology and Steve Stampfli and Andy Maser's blog.  Also, our reservoir timelapse video taken during the dam breach gives an idea of the timing and magnitude of reservoir erosion and subsequent downstream transport. 


M.S., Geosciences, University of Montana, in progress.  Advisor: Dr. Andrew Wilcox

B.A., Geology, Colgate University, 2007.

Research Interests


Downstream Spatial and Temporal Response to Dam Removal:
Reach and Bedform-Scale Variations in Transport Capacity,
White Salmon River, WA


The removal of Condit Dam from the White Salmon River, Washington provides a unique opportunity to study how a bedrock-confined, gravel bed river responds to the disturbance of a large influx of fine reservoir sediment.  Downstream of the former dam, the White Salmon flows through two distinct reaches of differing confinement and slope:  a more confined reach with forced pool-riffle morphology and a less confined reach.  In my research, I quantify the spatial and temporal changes in transport capacity and sediment storage and/or evacuation in these reaches and bedforms.  The broader goal of this project is to better understand the forcings, sensitivities, and changes in transport capacity that dictate response to disturbance.



Out in the field:

I measured topography and grain size on the White Salmon during three field surveys:

-- August 2011 (2 months prior to breach)

-- January 2012 (2 months after breach)

-- August 2012 (9 months after breach)

Topographic Surveys: 

-- Longitudinal profile, cross sections, and pool surveys using Leica FlexLine TS06 Total Station, real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS, and weighted depth soundings

-- Bathymetry at river mouth using SonarMite MILSpec echosounder

Grain Size Surveys:

-- Wolman pebble counts

-- bulk sand samples

Field research

Back in the office:

  • Transport capacity, calculated using Bedload Assessment in Gravel-bedded Streams (BAGS)
  • Sediment budget calculations
  • Aerial photo analysis of channel change, digitized in ArcGIS


Funding:  National Science Foundation, Geological Society of America, Montana Water Center

Logistical assistance: Pacificorp, Kleinfelder, JR Merit, Interfluve, USGS

Field assistance: Rob Livesay, Sharon Bywater-Reyes, Elena Evans, Ben Gardener, Caitlin Alcott, Gardener Johnston



GSA Graduate Student Research Grant, 2012

Montana Water Center Student Research Fellowship, 2011


Sedimentary Geology Division of GSA Student Research Award, 2012

Third Place Poster Presentation, Montana AWRA, 2012

Professional Experience

Ecologist, Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT, 2008-2011.

GIS Technician, PIBO Effectiveness Monitoring Program, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, Logan, UT, 2008. 

Restoration Intern, Craters of the Moon Nat'l Monument and Preserve, Arco, ID, 2007. 


Missoula is fantastic for outdoor recreation!  The winter months find me skiing (nordic and downhill), snowshoeing, or hotspringing.  Summers are great for hikes or river floats, and I've recently been trying my hand at whitewater kayaking.  Year-round I like to get out around town--Missoula has a great farmer's market and lots of art events and live music.