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David S. Leigh


Contact info

Geography-Geology Bldg, 210 Field Street, Athens, Georgia 30602, rm. 211
Office Hours:
12:30-1:30 Tuesday and Thursday

As a geomorphologist with interests in fluvial, eolian, hillslope, and soil systems, my overarching research themes examine late Quaternary climate changes and human impacts throughout the Holocene, including modern timescales.  I specialize in Quaternary stratigraphy and sedimentology, paleofloods, geoarchaeology with emphasis on site formation processes, as well as geomorphic influences on stream habitat and aquatic ecology.  I have extensive field experience in the southeastern and midwestern USA, highlands of south-central Mexico, western Argentina and Uruguay, and the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France.

I am a professor in the Department of Geography and Director of the Geomorphology Laboratory.  My research interests include close collaboration with faculty and students in UGA units of Geology, Ecology, Hydrology, Archaeology/Anthropology, and Soil Science. Most of my former students have taken earth-science jobs in academia or in the public and private sectors of environmental assessment and protection.

I am currently recruiting students with interests in Quaternary environmental change, geoarchaeology, paleoflood analysis, modern river channel change and aquatic habitat, and geomorphic consequences of dam removal.

  • Ph.D. (1991) University of Wisconsin
  • M.S.  (1988) University of Wisconsin
  • B.S.  (1982)  University of Colorado
Of note:


1995 UGA Michael Award for Excellence in Research

2008 Fulbright Award from the U.S. Department of State

2008 G.K. Gilbert Award for Excellence in Geomorphic Research from the American Association of Geographers

2018 Outstanding Faculty Award from the UGA Disability Resource Center

2020 Fellow of the Geological Society of America

Courses Regularly Taught:
Selected Publications:


Recent Journal Articles:

2015:  (Leigh, D.S., Gragson, T.L, Coughlan, M.R.)  Pedogenic effects of mid- to late-Holocene conversion of forests to pastures in the French western Pyrenees.  Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie 59, 225-245.

2015:  (Wang, L. and Leigh, D.S.)  Anthropic signatures in alluvium of the Upper Little Tennessee River valley, Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA,  Anthropocene 11, 35-47.

2016:  (Leigh, D.S., Gragson, T.L, Coughlan, M.R.)  Colluvial legacies of millennial landscape change on individual hillsides, place-based investigation in the western Pyrenees Mountains.  Quaternary International 402, 61-71.

2018: (Leigh, D.S.) Vertical accretion sand proxies of gaged floods along the upper Little Tennessee River, Blue Ridge Mountains, USA, Sedimentary Geology, 364, 342-350.  (

2018: (McDonald, J.M., Leigh, D.S., Jackson, C.R.) Watershed- to continental-scale influences on winter stormflow in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, Journal of Hydrology 563, 633-656. .

2018: (Suther, B.E., Leigh, D.S., Brook, G.A., LinHai, Y.) Mega-meander paleochannels of the southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain, USA, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 511, 52-79.

2018: (Holdridge, G., Leigh, D.S.)  Stable Carbon Analysis of Alluvial Paleosols in the Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca, Mexico, Quaternary International 490, 60-73.

2019: (Leigh, D.S., Gragson, T.L., LeFebvre, B.) Rapid alluvial sedimentation aided expansion of Moissac during the Middle Ages in southern France, Geomorphology 331, 49-58.

2020: (Suther, B.E. and Leigh, D.S.) Soil morphology of an alluvial chronosequence from the Little River, North Carolina Coastal Plain, USA. Geomorphology 351, accepted and in press.

2020: (Gragson, T.L., Coughlan, M.R., Leigh, D.S.) Contingency & Agency in the Mountain Landscapes of the western Pyrenees : A Place-Based Approach to the Long Anthropocene. Sustainability 12, 22pp., Special Issue "Historical Ecology and Landscape Archeology: Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to the Long Anthropocene".

2021: (Fesenmyer, K., Wenger, S., Leigh, D., & Neville, H.). Large portion of USA streams lose protection with new interpretation of Clean Water Act. Freshwater Science. doi:10.1086/713084

Recent Book Chapters:

2016:  (Leigh, D.S.).  Multi-millennial Record of Erosion and Fires in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA. In (K. Greenberg & B. Collins, Eds.), pp. 167-202. “Natural Disturbances and Range of Variation: Type, Frequency, Severity, and Post-disturbance Structure in Central Hardwood Forests”.  Springer, Basel, Switzerland.

2019: (Mason, J., Jacobs, P., Leigh, D.S.).  Loess, Eolian Sand, and Colluvium in the Driftless Area.  Chapter  in (E. Carson et al., Eds),  “The Physical Geography and Geology of the Driftless Area: The Career and Contributions of James C. Knox”, Geological Society of America Special Paper 543, Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO.

2019: (Daniels, M., Leigh, D.S., Carson, E.).  Holocene paleohydrology and paleofloods in the Driftless Area.  Chapter in (E. Carson et al., Eds),   “The Physical Geography and Geology of the Driftless Area: The Career and Contributions of James C. Knox”, Geological Society of America Special Paper 543, Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO.


Articles Featuring David S. Leigh

Chimborazo Province in Ecuador is a major agricultural center. Changes in freshwater availability and agricultural sustainability affect the province, with important cultural and economic implications for the region.

Four UGA Geography faculty have joined to move mountain studies further, with the support of two competitive seed grant programs on campus. The group led by our department's very own Dr. Fausto Sarmiento includes faculty from Arts and Sciences…

UGA Geography's David Leigh and a team of researchers review and synthesize spatially extensive studies of oligotrophic mountain streams in the rural Southern Appalachian Mountains, concluding that rural land-use activities significantly degrade water quality…

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