Dr. Spyros Beltaos

Spyros Beltaos After obtaining his Diploma in Civil Engineering from the National Technical University of Greece, Spyros completed his Master’s (1972) and Doctoral (1974) studies at the University of Alberta, specializing in fluid mechanics and hydraulics. He was privileged to work with an outstanding teacher and scientist, Professor Nallamuthu Rajaratnam, whose emphasis on physical understanding was keenly emulated. Spyros’ graduate research led to comprehensive measurement and prediction of the flow and pressure fields generated by turbulent jets when they impinge on plane boundaries, and led to important insights into jet-scouring processes.

In 1974, he commenced work as a Research Officer at the Alberta Research Council, where he led field research programs related to ice in rivers and lakes. Studies on mixing and dispersion of contaminants in rivers and on the load bearing capacity of freshwater ice covers produced several advancements, including the concept of work done by a load on a floating ice cover as a measure of safety, regardless of load history or rate of application. But the greatest challenge was the threat posed by river ice jams: very little was known about it, especially about breakup jamming. With the insightful support of colleague Larry Gerard (in whose honour CRIPE later established the Gerard medal), Spyros conducted several field programs. These yielded first-time data from which an early glimpse into the hydraulic and structural properties of breakup ice jams was gained.

In 1979, Spyros moved to Burlington, Ontario, to begin work as a Research Scientist at the National Water Research Institute of Environment Canada. Here, he concentrated on river ice problems, first in relation to the national program on flood damage reduction and later with reference to climate impacts and their hydro-ecological implications. Building on his Edmonton work, he was able to clarify and fully verify the Pariset-Hausser-Gagnon theory, reducing prediction of equilibrium water levels to a simple graph involving channel discharge, width, and slope. Prediction of non-equilibrium jam profiles was next accomplished with the development of the numerical model RIVJAM in which Spyros introduced the concept of flow through the voids of breakup jams. In addition to its practical utility on a variety of socio-economic and environmental applications, this model helped understand the elusive conditions at ice jam toes and quantify the phenomenon of grounding. Model testing and calibration were greatly facilitated by the subsequent development of a flow-propelled probe for remote measurement of the thickness of an ice jam. Valuable data sets were obtained in many rivers, including several rivers in New Brunswick under a long-term collaboration with provincial colleague Brian Burrell.

Spyros Beltaos
Spyros Beltaos

Based on extensive observations, as well as on several data sets, Spyros formulated a physically-based criterion for the initiation of breakup, thus enabling transferability of results and overcoming the severe limitations of site-specific empirical methods. This criterion explains the effects of antecedent conditions, ice thickness and strength, and stream morphology; it also provides important insights on ice-jam formation and release mechanisms. Most recently, it has been used to quantify the potential of bridge piers to cause ice jams and to assess hydro-ecological impacts of alterations to the ice regime of rivers that may result from climate change or from regulation.

Spyros’ current research pertains to a beneficial aspect of ice-jam flooding, known to be a key agent of habitat replenishment for the ecosystems of the major river deltas of northern Canada, such as the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the Mackenzie Delta. Energy resource development and climate warming are the main issues that motivate this research. Warming trends are particularly pronounced in Artic regions, and future ice breakup regimes are likely to change. However, there is very little information that can be used to anticipate changes in ice jam frequency and develop suitable adaptation strategies.

Spyros has written some 250 scientific and technical papers, including contributions to many manuals, state of the art reviews, and books. He edited River Ice Jams (Water Resources Publications, Highlands Ranch, CO, 1995; and River Ice Breakup (Water Resources Publications, Highlands Ranch, CO, 2008). These multi-author books represent the first comprehensive treatments on their respective topics and were sponsored by the Canadian Geophysical Union (CGU) and the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE). He has served on many national and international working groups, societies, and committees, co-supervised graduate students as adjunct professor at different universities, taught various short courses, and received several honours and awards, including the Camille A. Dagenais award of CSCE and the Can-Am Civil Engineering Amity award of ASCE. He is widely consulted on major scientific and engineering projects and his field data sets are often used by other researchers to test and calibrate new models.

Spyros Beltaos
Spyros Beltaos