Robert Criss

Professor Emeritus of Earth & Planetary Science

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Criss specializes in hydrogeology, the geology of water and systems of water. Much of his work has an environmental slant. He investigates the transport of aqueous fluids in environments such as rivers, cool potable groundwater systems essential to civilization, and deeper, hotter hydrothermal systems. Since 1990, the mid-continent experienced floods of such severity that they would not, under normal circumstances, be expected to have all occurred in a period of less than several centuries. Criss and a colleague have proven that engineering modifications of waterways have increased the frequency and severity of floods on most Midwestern rivers.

In the media


Record Missouri flood manmade calamity

Record Missouri flood manmade calamity

Why was the New Year’s flood in Missouri so bad? Most news reports blamed it on the heavy rain, but Robert Criss, PhD, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis says analysis of the flood data shows much of the damage was due to recent modifications to the river.
Major Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as 5 feet, study finds

Major Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as 5 feet, study finds

As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the midwestern United States, a new study from Washington University in St. Louis suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain.

Hydrogeologist questions reservoir releases and blasting rock to deepen the Mississippi for barge traffic

Coverage of the recent shipping crisis on the Mississippi River assumes that the appropriate response to a problem like low water levels is to find an engineering solution. Washington University in St. Louis hydrogeologist Robert E. Criss disagrees. He feels the river has been over-engineered and that many of the engineering “solutions” are not economic if all of their costs, including those to the taxpayer and to the environment, are taken into account.

New model provides different take on planetary accretion

The prevailing model for planetary accretion assumes that the Solar System’s planets formed in an extremely hot, two-dimensional disk of gas and dust, post-dating the Sun. In the March issue of Planetary and Space Science, two scientists at Washington University in St. Louis propose a radically different model, in which collapse takes place in a cold, three-dimensional dust cloud.

Flooding will only worsen unless river management improves, says WUSTL hydrogeologist

Washington University in St. Louis hydrogeologist Robert Criss, PhD, wasn’t particularly surprised by the spring floods on the Mississippi this year. Floods are becoming more frequent and more severe, he says. “We are increasingly constraining the river by building wing dikes and higher levees and then upping the ante by building in the river’s natural flood plains” Criss says. “There are far better ways to deal with this problem than have municipalities compete with one another to build the highest levee and fight over who has the right to be protected in times of distress.”

Population growth puts dent in natural resources

CrissIt’s a 500-pound gorilla that Robert Criss, Ph.D., professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, sees standing on the speaker’s dais at political rallies, debates and campaigns. Its name is population growth. And sometime during President-elect Barack Obama’s first several months in office, he will have to factor it into future environmental policy, says Criss.”Population growth is driving all of our resource problems, including water and energy. The three are intertwined,” Criss says. “The United States has over 305 million people of the 6.7 billion on the planet. We are dividing a finite resource pie among a growing number of people on Earth. We cannot expect to sustain exponential population growth matched by increased per capita use of water and energy. It’s troubling. But politicians and religious leaders totally ignore the topic.”