Dortch appointed to geomorphology position at KGS

Jason Dortch, who joined KGS as a post-doctoral employee in January 2018, has been hired to a permanent position as a geomorphologist. Dortch earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees in geology from the University of Cincinnati and says he doesn’t want to “chase goals” in his new position at KGS. “I want to keep it fluid and interesting. I think that’s more important,” he says. “Maybe that’s my goal … to keep it interesting.”
Dortch has been occupied mostly with LiDAR applications in the Digital Earth Analysis Laboratory since arriving at KGS. He has worked with other Survey researchers, looking at the LiDAR data for patterns, surface roughness, and landforms for mapping and geologic hazards purposes, among others. “The new job will take that work a step forward, identifying processes occurring in different regions of Kentucky. Now I can go into the field more often, collect rocks, date them, and figure out the frequency of these processes and their magnitude.”

Dortch’s interest in the evolution of landscapes took him around the globe before he joined KGS, including to the Himalaya Mountains in India and the Andes of South America, where he found different and interesting landscapes and processes. “When I’m trying to think about how landscapes evolved over million-year timescales, the conditions in which they evolved may not be the same as what we see today. We’re looking at a surfaces heavily modified by human activities today, because much of the soil and colluvium are gone. So when I think about my models, I have to think about what the landscape looked like before people with iron tools, because that’s when most of the bedrock topography formed.”

All the landscapes he has researched are interesting, he says, for different reasons, including Kentucky’s. “One of the mind-boggling things we’re trying to get our heads around in this state is all the karst,” he says. “Karst and sinkholes mess with my landscape evolution models because they swallow all the sediment without evacuating it out of the valley. How do you measure how much sediment is going out of your valley in these landscapes? There are some big paradigm questions that you could try to solve in this state, though some of them could be unsolvable.”

Kentucky’s varying landforms, he says, could keep him busy for the rest of his career. He’s writing a grant application to the National Science Foundation to study landslide processes in eastern Kentucky. Landslides are typically a secondary process, caused by other conditions, such as river incision, but the steep terrain of eastern Kentucky could be an exception. “There may be a different situation in eastern Kentucky, where the landscape may be driven by landslides. Places like eastern Kentucky might be inherently unstable. It’s worth looking into.”


Jason Dortch in the KGS Digital Earth Analysis Laboratory.
Jason Dortch in the KGS Digital Earth Analysis Laboratory.
Last Modified on 2023-01-05
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