Christopher Wilson

  • Research Assistant Professor
  • Department of Civil & Engineering
  • 430 John D. Tickle Building
    851 Neyland Drive
    Knoxville, TN 37996-2313
    Phone: (865) 974-7724
    Fax: (865) 974-2669


    Chris Wilson

    Growing up in Cleveland, OH, we had the dubious distinction of having our river catch on fire. Our burning river coupled with many a long weekend enjoying the Mississippi River at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN fueled my passion for water and started me on my career path.

    I graduated from Rhodes with a B.S. in Biology, focusing in Ecology, but I also minored in Earth Systems Science and English. It was at Rhodes where my love of water fully developed.

    After Rhodes, I eventually ended up back in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University for graduate school. At CWRU, my graduate studies were in Geological Sciences but I was able to develop a broad-spectrum approach to my research by coupling geology, hydrology, biology, and environmental science as a fellow of the Joint Biology/Geology Interdisciplinary Program in Great Lakes Studies. Specifically, my research was to differentiate sediment sources and quantify infilling rates in coastal wetlands and estuaries using state-of-the-art fingerprinting techniques, which included two naturally-occurring radionuclides.

    After completing my degree, I began a post-doctoral appointment at the USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Lab in Oxford, MS. My hope was to begin a career working within the government. However, I eventually returned to academia and I am currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Knoxville, Tennessee.

    While working with Prof. Papanicolaou, I am part of a larger team focused on many studies related to water, sediment, and carbon transport within watersheds. The nature of my research is field-based focusing on the movement of water, sediment, and soil organic carbon within watersheds using geochemical tracers. Here, I was able to branch out from my focus area that I began during my graduate studies. Some of these areas are highlighted below.


    Research Topics

    Bank Erosion

    (a) Augering a hole to install a Photo-Electric Erosion Pin (PEEP). We have installed PEEPs in the Clear Creek, IA watershed to monitor continuously fluvial erosion of stream banks. (b) Two different kinds of PEEPs. (c) Measuring the exposure length of the PEEPS.

    Bank Erosion 2

    (a) We are classifying the streams of western Iowa in terms of bank erosion severity. Stream reaches colored orange and red are experiencing intense bank erosion as seen in the outset. (b) A severely eroded stream bank in western Iowa.

    Bank Erosion 3

    (a) The knickpoint in Mud Creek, IA. Knickpoints are a persistent problem in western Iowa due to the stream channelization that has occurred in the past century to help with flooding. (b) Samples of the stream bed and channel banks were collected for geotechnical analysis to help determine the primary forces causing the knickpoint to advance upstream. (c) Measurements of the water surface were conducted at the knickpoint using a laser suspended from a radio antenna truss to determine the rate at which the knickpoint was advancing.


    Soil Organic Carbon Biogeochemistry

    Soil Organic Carbon Biogeochemistry 1

    (a) Over 1000 soil samples collected from 2006-2010 from representative fields in the Clear Creek watershed. The samples provided spatial and temporal data concerning Soil Organic Carbon dynamics, and provided verification for the coupled models. (b) The Soil Conditioning Index (SCI) for a headwater system in Clear Creek. A positive SCI, which is in all fields, suggests the field has an improving soil condition, while conversely a negative SCI suggests a degrading condition (Papanicolaou et al., 2009). Although all fields in the sub-watershed have an improving soil condition, the high erosion rates have slowed the rate at which they are improving, thus providing low SCI values.


    Conservation Practices

    Conservation Practices

    (a) Modified rock inlets can be used to replace traditional slotted pipe intakes for tile drains. (b) The rock will help sediment and attached phosphorus to settle out before entering the stream. We have added wood chips to the rock inlet to help break down nitrates, as well, and are currently evaluating the effectiveness of this design through a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. (c) We are testing different combinations of pea gravel and wood chips in the laboratory, (d) along with modeling the field set-up using the Water Erosion Prediction Project, or WEPP, model.


    Isotopic Tracers

    Isotopic Tracers

    (a) Radionuclides are delivered to upland surface soils during precipitation events. Upland erosion processes (sheet and rill erosion) remove a thin layer of high activity soils. Channel sources contain low activity sediment. Near vertical banks receive little input from the rain and bank collapse removes large volumes of low activity sediment. Suspended sediment contains a mixture of high activity upland sediment and low activity channel sediment, which produces an intermediate signature. (b) Soil samples are collected from upland fields and stream banks within the watershed, while suspended sediment samples are collected over the course of a runoff event hydrograph to see changes in source contributions over time. (c & d) Samples are analyzed at the Iowa Radionuclide Analysis Lab in IIHR using gamma spectroscopy. (e) Pie charts showing the partitioning of the suspended sediment samples into eroded upland surface soils and channel sediments during a runoff event in the Clear Creek watershed. The black pie pieces represent the upland proportions. The grey pie pieces represent the channel proportions. The solid line represents the discharge during the event. The dashed lines (only in a) correspond to the sediment loads with the black dashed line for the upland load and the grey dashed line for the channel load. (Wilson et al., 2012)


    Saturated Hydraulic Conductivity

    Saturated Hydraulic Conductivity

    (a) We have conducted measurements of saturated hydraulic conductivity using (b) a semi-automated double ring infiltrometer that can make measurements for up to a week with minimal attention. These measurements have been conducted in the Clear Creek watershed under various land uses (e.g., till vs. no-till) to determine Ksat variability (Papanicolaou et al., 2008). (d) With help from Iowa State University we are correlating the variability in Ksat to different soil properties, as well as land use and erosion.


    Selected Publications

    1. Dermisis, D., O. Abaci, A.N. Papanicolaou, and C.G. Wilson. 2010. Evaluating the effects of grassed waterways in southeastern Iowa. Soil and Use Management. SUM-2009-209] (doi: 10.1111/j.1475-2743.2010.00257.x).
    2. Wilson, C.G., A.N. Papanicolaou, and O. Abaci. 2009. SOM dynamics and erosion in an agricultural test field of the Clear Creek, IA watershed. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions. 6:1–39.
    3. Papanicolaou, A.N., C.G. Wilson, O. Abaci, and M. Skopec. 2009. SOM Loss and soil quality in the Clear Creek, IA Observatory. Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science. In Press.
    4. Wilson, C.G., R.A. Kuhnle, D.D. Bosch, J.L. Steiner, P.J. Starks, M.D. Tomer, and G.V. Wilson. 2008. Relative source contributions of eroded sediments to the suspended load of CEAP watersheds in Mississippi, Iowa, Georgia, and Oklahoma. Journal of Soil & Water Conservation. 63(6):523-532.
    5. Kuhnle, R.A., R.L. Bingner, C.V. Alonso, C.G. Wilson, and A. Simon. 2008. Conservation practice effects on sediment load in the Goodwin Creek Experimental Watershed. Journal of Soil & Water Conservation. 63(6):496-503.

    Other Significant Publications

    1. Papanicolaou, A.N., C.G. Wilson, K. Wacha, and T. Moorman. 2011. Watershed scale carbon cycle dynamics in intensively managed landscapes: bridging the knowledge gap to support climate mitigation policies. 34th International Association of Hydraulic Engineering & Research (IAHR) Biennial Congress, Brisbane, Australia.
    2. Wilson, C.G., A.N. Papanicolaou, and O. Abaci. 2007. A comparison of watershed models in the Clear Creek, IA watershed. EWRI World Environmental & Water Resources Congress 2007. May 15-19, 2007. Tampa, FL.
    3. Wren, D.G., R.R. Wells, C.G. Wilson, C.M. Cooper, and S. Smith. 2007. Sedimentation in three small erosion control reservoirs in northern Mississippi. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 62(3): 137-144.
    4. Rhoton, F.E., W. Emmerich, M. Nearing, J. Ritchie, C.G. Wilson, and D. DiCarlo. 2006. Identification of sediment sources in a semiarid watershed using multiple diagnostic properties. 8th Federal Interagency Sedimentation Conference, Reno, NV.
    5. Kuhnle, R.A., R.L. Bingner, C.V. Alonso, and C.G. Wilson. 2006. Goodwin Creek Experimental Watershed – Effect of conservation practices on sediment load. In: Proceedings of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International (ASABE) Meeting, July 9-12, 2006, Portland, Oregon. Paper No. 062069, 11 pp.

    Synergistic Activities

    1. Editorial Assistant: Journal of Great Lakes Research, 1997 – 2003
    2. Reviewer: Earth Surface Processes and Landforms

    • Journal of Environmental Quality
    • Journal of Hydraulic Engineering
    • Marine and Freshwater Research
    • The Science of the Total Environment
    • Science & Technology Center in Ukraine (proposal)

    3. Session Leader: 8th Federal Interagency Sedimentation Conference