CoastLines ECU Integrated Coastal Programs newsletter Summer 2019

Corbett's Corner

Coastal North Carolina experienced significant weather events over the last twelve months. Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc down east, with winds reaching 106 mph and record-breaking rainfall of nearly 3 feet in areas. Hurricane Michael ravaged the Gulf coast of Florida and then, downgraded to a tropical storm, swept through northeastern NC, creating a 5-foot storm surge on the sound side. In early 2019, we experienced powerful nor’easters (one in April that even delivered snow), elevated pollen counts, and record high temperatures. In the face of these extreme weather phenomena, coastal communities continued to develop plans for long-term sustainability and to debate climate change, economics, and policy issues.

ECU, having always focused on the East, recognizes these and other challenges across our coast. The past 12 months we have been involved in developing the Integrated Coastal Programs (ICP), bringing together an interdisciplinary team of scientists and educators focused on coastal change. This team of faculty is involved in studying such aspects as: perceptions of change; the influence of policy-driven decisions on sustainability; event-driven physical changes; and community response to the impact of changing climate patterns.

ICP is the umbrella organization that works across all of ECU’s campuses to combine faculty and staff focused on studying the coast. The newly organized structure at ECU focuses on the entire coastal enterprise and includes ICP, CSI, DCS, and ICS. A veritable alphabet soup of acronyms you're likely to see again and again.

The Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), established in 2003 as a multi-institutional research partnership, is the flagship organization on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus. The Department of Coastal Studies (DCS) was established in 2018 and has been the principal focus of faculty growth during the last year, expanding from four to eight primary faculty. Finally, the Integrated Coastal Sciences (ICS) PhD program is a 2018/2019 reboot and upgrade of the long-established and interdisciplinary Coastal Resources Management PhD. Together, the new organizational structure and programs will change the way ECU engages in interdisciplinary coastal science across the university.

Opportunities abound for you, your friends, and family to get involved. Participate in our monthly public seminar series (Science on the Sound) at the Outer Banks Campus or online; sign your kids up for one of our many summer camps (2020); develop a field trip to the OBX for your students; consider teaching for, or promoting, our new spring Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast Residential Program; or come visit the Outer Banks Campus and meet with our faculty and staff to discover more about research and educational opportunities.

Follow us on Twitter (@coastalECU), Instagram (@coastalstudiesinstitute), and/or Facebook. It’s amazing how ECU has broadened its coastal portfolio from Greenville to the Outer Banks. Looking forward to seeing or hearing from you soon!

A Year to Hire

What does it take to create a department at a university? Well, a “unit code” that defines rules, regulations, and guidelines for committees, annual review, tenure, etc., and FACULTY! Yep, it’s hard to have a department without the faculty. SO, we spent the better part of last year engaged in an in-depth hiring process to grow the number of faculty in Department of Coastal Studies from four to eight. In addition, we worked with ECU’s Department of Biology to hire a new coastal ecologist and with NC State University's (NCSU) Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering to hire the new director of the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP). These six new faculty hires will be located at the Outer Banks Campus full time - increasing our research and curriculum capabilities at the coast. We will use this newsletter, and the next, to introduce these new faculty – providing information on their scientific expertise and goals, including a bit about the person behind that scientific persona.

The increase of faculty on the Outer Banks would not have been possible without strong support and commitment across campus - from the Provost’s vision of a strong coastal enterprise based on interdisciplinary science; to faculty chairing and serving on committees, participating in seminars, and meeting one-on-one with candidates; to the countless hours the administrative staff spent organizing schedules, completing endless reimbursement forms, and managing the challenging hiring process. From ad development to signatures on offer letters, it was a 10-month process and we thank everyone for their Herculean efforts. We have an incredible group of new Pirate faculty onboarding this Fall and next Spring.

Starting in August, 2019:

  • George Bonner (left) – Director, North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP). George will begin his duties on August 1, 2019. His position is a partnership with NCSU’s Department of Civil, Construction, & Environmental Engineering, funded by Academic Affairs and NCROEP. George has 30 years of experience as an Officer and Civil Engineer in the U.S. Coast Guard. During this time, George has worked with public and private stakeholders, many universities, and across all levels of government.
  • David Lagomasino (top right) – (Department of Coastal Studies): Landscape Geomorphology, Ecohydrology, and Remote Sensing. Research combines geology, hydrology, and ecology to understand how the Earth's landscape responds to changes caused by natural events and rapid urban expansion.
  • Kimberly Rogers (bottom right) – (Department of Coastal Studies): Coupled Human-Natural Systems and Coastal Processes. Research integrates quantitative and qualitative approaches, such as field measurements of sedimentation, computational models, and ethnographic techniques, to explore complex feedback between fluvial and coastal processes, global change, and human decisions regarding land use and infrastructure that are shaping deltas and their coastal environments.

Starting in January, 2020:

  • Nadine Heck (bottom left) - (Department of Coastal Studies): Human-Environment Geographer. Research has an applied, quantitative focus and explores marine conservation and natural resource management issues that lie at the interface of ecological, social, and institutional systems using a mix of social science and geospatial methods.
  • Jim Morley (right) - (Department of Biology): Coastal Ecologist. Fisheries ecologist who examines how climate variability and long-term changes in the ocean affect marine populations. Research also investigates habitat use and transitions between life stages in marine species.
  • Siddharth Narayan (top left) - (Department of Coastal Studies): Coastal Engineer. Research focuses on the interactions between coastal engineering, ecology and morphology with an emphasis on coastal flood risk analysis and management.

Dr. Kimberly Rogers once rode out a tropical cyclone on a boat anchored in a tidal channel in Bangladesh. As she was alerted to the threatening weather phenomenon, she quickly grabbed her passport, her hard drive (containing her data), a bottle of water, and a roll of duct tape (just in case). With the boat lashed to a tree, the wind gusting, and rain blowing horizontally, she huddled with her Bangladeshi colleagues, sipped on 7-Up, smoked a cigarette (although she’s not a smoker), and waited for the storm to pass.

Such is the life of a global research scientist.

Growing up, Kimberly enjoyed spending time on the coast of Texas frolicking on the beach under a big, blue sky. She became intrigued with the elements of nature at work there - the tumbling waves of the salty ocean, the tidal fluctuations, and the sand, particularly the sand. She was curious about the seemingly infinite number of grains - the texture, the composition. Where did it come from? How did it get there? That sense of wonder led her to pursue an education in the field of geology, eventually earning a doctoral degree in environmental engineering. She is a Sedimentologist. “I study mud, basically,” she says.

But that mud talks. It has a story to tell. And Kimberly understands the methods necessary to interpret that story.

She has conducted extensive research on river deltas (where rivers meet the sea), specifically, how processes both upstream and downstream meet at the coastal zone, how they shape the coast, and where large sedimentary deposits are released from a river mouth and ultimately rest on the ocean floor. “We call it the study of sediment from source-to-sink, that is, tracking sediments from where they are sourced in the mountains to their final resting place in the deep sea.”

In South Asia is the low-lying Ganges delta of Bangladesh, the world’s largest and most populated river delta. The nutrient-rich soil is ideal for numerous crops, such as rice, tea, and wheat, enabling two-thirds of the inhabitants to engage in agriculture. The delta is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly sea level rise. This is one of the regions in which Kimberly has conducted research, gathering data about sediment that began its journey high in the Himalayas.

To fully understand the dynamics of sediment transport, it is necessary to consider the dense population on the delta and the way human activity affects the surrounding natural resources. This is best accomplished through application of social science techniques. By examining the interactions between human decision-making regarding infrastructure placement and land use, and how natural systems respond to these activities, an assessment of how human behaviors impact sediment movement can be made.

For Kimberly, this is where it gets exciting. “I am a field scientist and I love going to those areas where you can see the processes happening in a place, where you can literally see the tides turning, and where people have learned over thousands of years how to adapt their livelihoods to the dynamics of the natural environment.”

Similarly, on the Ganges river delta, Kimberly has carried out research in the largest coastal mangrove forest on Earth. This jungle-like forest protects the coastline from storm surges, waves, and tides. And the extraordinary ecosystem provides habitat for an astounding level of biodiversity of flora and fauna – it is here that the endangered and revered Bengal tiger prowls. At one time, it was feared that the mangrove forest would be swallowed up by sea level rise. However, after close analysis of her field measurement data and computational models, she was able to dispel that theory. She deduced that the forest is accumulating sediment at a rate of one centimeter per year, which is about the average rate of rising coastal water along the forest’s edge, thus the elevation of the forest floor is keeping pace with local sea level rise.

Kimberly knows that when beginning research, access and building trust are paramount. Wherever her assignments take her, she enjoys getting to know the people, learning about the culture, sharing stories and ideas - simply making human connections. “I want to bring science to the community, share what the data shows and have a two-way conversation to ask people: Does this data look right to you? Does it make sense? Is this something that you’ve been experiencing?"

"It’s important to note that the effects of climate change are different everywhere. As is coastal risk and vulnerability. It’s best to avoid sweeping generalizations because there are many contributing factors and different metrics to consider.”

She is thoughtful when expressing her concerns: carbon and greenhouse emissions; rollbacks on environmental protection regulations; and laxity of policing deforestation in the Amazon and other tropical forests. And her hopes: that her research is broadening the conversation regarding vulnerability, resilience, and adaptation; and that it will impart change, whether through policy or the way people think and make decisions.

Joining the faculty of the Department of Coastal Studies, Kimberly says, “I look forward to working with a group of people who are excited to be here and who are energized by their science and interested in looking at different perspectives on coastal issues.”

She intends to apply what she’s learned about human nature and coastal processes to study the communities of North Carolina’s Inner Banks. She plans to talk with residents and learn about changing dynamics in their system and how they’re learning to mitigate it. She is especially interested in evaluating spatial differences in sea level rise and sediment dynamics along the North Carolina coast – why they are so different and what it means in terms of coastal resilience.

As Kimberly leaves her post at University of Colorado, Boulder, she’ll bid a fond farewell to breathtaking Rocky Mountain vistas, pine-scented air, hiking and biking adventures, and the rustling leaves of her favorite cottonwoods. But she welcomes the unique opportunity to live and work on a barrier island. She anticipates venturing into the marshes, learning about native birds and plants. “I want to get in a kayak and explore every bald cypress forest along the coast.”

Kimberly sums up her enthusiasm, “I can finally be a coastal scientist who lives on the coast!”

Dr. David Lagomasino does not have the superpower ability to fly, but when it comes to observing the geography and ecology of our coasts, he does have a bird’s-eye view. David is a remote sensing scientist, specializing in the science of obtaining information about objects or areas from a distance. Using airborne platforms such as drones, planes, and satellites outfitted with a range of sensors (e.g., thermal infrared or hyperspectral), he can measure a variety of characteristics: land cover, structural details, height, elevation, and spatial as well as thermal properties. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are especially beneficial in mapping large expanses of land and remote or hard-to-access areas.

“The captured imagery illustrates on a large scale how fast the world is changing, particularly along the highly dynamic coastline,” says David. “It puts things in perspective by presenting evidence of the interaction between natural systems and human and urban systems.”

Image on right displays land change from 2000-2018 in the area surrounding Oregon inlet. The scale is from red (land loss) to blue (land gain).

Data can be used to generate maps of coastal features and wetlands, monitor shorelines and erosion, and chart wildlife habitats. Sharing research and findings serves as a catalyst for informed decision-making to mitigate the damage of urban growth, climate, and natural disasters on vulnerable areas.

Visual and digital analysis of remote sensing datasets is not without its challenges, though. Extrapolating data involves complicated coding, parsing, and scripting. Software bugs in computer programs can make for a difficult and slow process. It is times like these when a break from the computer is in order. David likes going out in the field and doing what is called “ground truth.” In remote sensing, "ground truth" allows image data to be related to real features and materials on the ground and aids in the interpretation and analysis of what is being sensed. This enables him to scale measurements to see if they line up with what he sees in the field.

Trees can be measured with drones using photogrammetry, a technique which uses photography to extract measurements of the environment. To take it a step further, stereophotogrammetry utilizes a three-dimensional model based on the positions of recognizable points in different photographs. If imagery reveals that trees in an area are 10 feet tall, David can visit the area and confirm (ground truth) that is truly the case. How does one measure the height of a tree? In the “old days”, a protractor and a good understanding of trigonometry were required. Today, there’s a handy gadget called a laser rangefinder which uses a laser beam, calculating the height in a matter of seconds.

At East Carolina University (ECU), while pursuing his master’s degree in Geology, David conducted research on marsh sedimentation in the Pamlico Estuary. His doctoral research (Geological Sciences) led him to the mangrove forests in the Florida Everglades and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (Mexico). He has collaborated on research in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Gabon. “It’s interesting to see how different communities around the world use their resources. They live off the trees, the fish they catch, the oysters. Observing this first-hand, really provides a perspective on how these small coastal communities thrive and how important it is to protect that way of life.

All around the world, communities face different problems,” he says. He is concerned about threats posed by human activity, climate variability, the increase in larger communities along the coast, hardening shorelines, and disposal of plastics and nutrients in the water. “The solution is conscious awareness that these things are happening and determining how they can be corrected.”

Recently, David worked on a project regarding global mangrove losses. Mangrove forests are prized for their ability to capture and store atmospheric-carbon-dioxide. And just like marshland, they act as nurseries for many fish species and provide storm buffering capabilities. Land conversions in the form of agriculture (rice farms), aquaculture (shrimp farms), and urbanization (manmade) account for much of the deforestation of mangrove wetlands. Preliminary results show a concerning rate of loss. The model processing used on the mangrove project works for marshes as well and was applied with success in the Chesapeake Bay.

Aerial photo of mangrove loss in south Florida.

In the Department of Coastal Studies, David intends to work along the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, analyzing the shorelines, applying his knowledge of coastal ecosystems – marsh coast and beaches. He will use remote sensing to determine where things are changing and to identify vulnerable areas in the fishery and human communities. With his knowledge and expertise, he will address broader questions from the communities.

He is pleased with the focus that the state of North Carolina and ECU are placing on coastal studies - bringing in a cohort of ambitious scientists to conduct research on the coast from a variety of different backgrounds and disciplines, all contributing their personal component.

Growing up in Miami, Florida, he enjoyed scuba diving among coral reefs and colorful marine life. Here, he looks forward to checking out the abundant historic shipwrecks. “It will be nice to live near the water and have easy access to getting out on the water,” he says. He prefers reading non-fiction and favors books about geology and stories of the history and legends of local people.

Moving from Maryland, in the DC suburbs, and having always lived in large metropolitan areas, he is ready to embrace a more relaxed lifestyle. David and his data-seeking flying machines should be right at home on the Outer Banks, the birthplace of aviation.

As a young man, George Bonner listened with rapt attention as Coast Guardsmen and World War II veterans regaled him with stories of adventure and bravery on the high seas. Growing up on the water in Manteo (North Carolina) - swimming, boating, fishing, and crabbing - George dreamed of one day joining the Coast Guard himself.

Upon graduation from high school, he headed to North Carolina State University (NCSU). After a year, with his heart still set on joining the Coast Guard, he applied to the United States Coast Guard Academy. He was accepted and knew immediately he had found his niche. As his career in the Coast Guard progressed, he continued his education, earning a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering and a Graduate Studies Certificate in Coastal Engineering. He is a registered professional engineer in North Carolina and Virginia.

Fast-forward thirty years. Following a career of distinguished service, achieving the rank of captain and most recently serving as deputy director of operational logistics, George has retired. However, his retirement period will be short-lived. He has been appointed Director of the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP). The mission of the program is to bring together coastal, electrical, and industrial engineering disciplines for the research and development of technologies to harness energy (tides, waves, currents) from the ocean. Specifically, the program aims to investigate and develop technologies that enable the use of ocean energy resources in a responsible manner to cost-effectively supply a portion of the renewable energy needs of the state of North Carolina and to support the development of a workforce, serving as a catalyst for economic development of the State. George’s position will be located at NCSU in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering but he will be physically located at Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) on East Carolina University’s Outer Banks Campus on Roanoke Island.

"With rapidly expanding application of renewable ocean solutions to meet energy demands across the world, I’m excited with this role in advancing industry-leading research across the UNC System and promoting sustainable solutions to best serve our economy, national security, and environment."

As director of the NCROEP, George will work with CSI’s executive director and the program’s technical advisory committee to implement the strategic plan and vision. He will be responsible for integrated research, education, training, and outreach and is excited about exploring ways to enhance collaboration and communication. He intends to push for advanced research – positioning the NCROEP to become a renewable energy research leader beyond the state of North Carolina.

George is equipped for the task, bringing the skills, character, and commitment to lead ingrained in him throughout his distinguished career. He anticipates engaging with the local and regional community to share research findings, to facilitate input, and increase understanding of the benefits and the challenges involved in alternative marine energy. He envisions advancing the concept of hydrokinetic energy by using similar methods that were successful in the promotion of wind energy. He is excited about ongoing research, particularly in the Gulf Stream, that may not only deliver power to the grid but could benefit services in niche markets, such as wastewater treatment plants. George looks forward to meeting and working with faculty, researchers, and teams from NCROEP’s partner universities (NCSU, NC A & T, and UNC Charlotte) and developing relationships with other stakeholders and agencies.

Minimization of greenhouse gases, reduced impact on environment, and a wide range of economic, health, and climate benefits are all byproducts of renewable energy technology. While George was assigned to duty stations on various islands, the detrimental effect of natural phenomena was evident. “Those communities struggled with the same coastal and natural ecosystem concerns we face here on the Outer Banks,” he says. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, flooding, erosion, rising seas, and the consequences of human activity. Although his team successfully implemented risk reduction measures for coastal shoreline erosion in those communities, situations like these are widespread and illustrate the need to accelerate development of ocean energy technologies to mitigate the effects of global climate change.

While stationed in Alaska, on Kodiak Island, a place of verdant forests and tundra and sparkling blue waterways, George had some surprise encounters – aside from the brown bear variety. He ran into former classmates from Manteo High School who were engaged in the area’s commercial salmon fishing industry. And while assigned to the Coast Guard station in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he came across fellow Outer Bankers who were sport fishing, joining the big game enthusiasts casting for mahi, wahoo, tuna, and tarpon. “Seeing familiar faces in those somewhat remote locations, makes you realize how small the world really is,” he says.

After a lifetime of being on the water, boating with his family remains one of George’s greatest pleasures, navigating the same bodies of water where he played and worked in his youth. Returning to his hometown of Manteo, he has come full circle.

Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast: Hands-On and Hands-Down a Great Experience

Field and Lab Experiences

Imagine a course of study where spending time outside is a requirement! Where the learning environment consists of a remarkable coastal setting surrounded by diverse freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems. The Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast Residential Program offers such an advantage. Located on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus, the program provides students with an interest in coastal resources, science, and management, the opportunity to immerse themselves in field and lab-based experiences.

  • WHO: Open to undergraduate science and non-science majors. Earn a Coastal Science minor!
  • WHERE: Coastal Studies Institute, ECU’s Outer Banks Campus
  • WHEN: Spring 2020
  • COURSES OFFERED: ANTH 2005 - Environmental Anthropology; COAS 2025 - Survey of Coastal and Marine Resources; GEOG 3420 - Remote Sensing of the Environment I; GEOL 1400 - Bays and Beaches Around the World: Geological Form and Function; GEOL 2600 - Analysis Techniques and Methods of Coastal Ocean Research; plus the opportunity to do hands-on research for course credit.


  • Small class size (~20 students) and strong faculty and student interaction
  • Classroom learning connected with active learning opportunities at the coast and real-world applications
  • A remarkable coastal setting surrounded by diverse freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems
  • Cutting-edge coastal research labs
  • Credits count toward COAS minor

HOUSING: Students will live near the historic downtown Manteo area - 4 miles from campus and near ocean beaches and the site of the first English settlement in the New World. Housing costs will be comparable to those on main campus.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Reide Corbett, Dean, corbettd@ecu.edu, 252-475-5428

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Evaluation (SAVE) in the Currituck Sound

As the name implies, submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) grows beneath the surface of the water, in shallow depths. Although these underwater grasses may seem to keep a low profile, they are incredible multitaskers, helping to sustain life within marine, estuarine, and riverine environments by providing:

  • a refuge for small fish and shellfish to hide from larger fish predators;
  • habitat for many species;
  • absorption of wave energy and nutrients, producing oxygen and improving water clarity;
  • settlement of suspended sediment in the water and stabilizes bottom sediments;
  • protection for shorelines from erosion; and
  • opportunities for fishing, crabbing, waterfowl hunting, wildlife study, and bird watching.

SAVE Currituck Sound is a two-year project funded by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and headed by CSI director and scientist Dr. Reide Corbett in collaboration with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Field Research Facility and Continental Shelf Associates, Inc.

Work involves placing transects and collecting sediment samples at two sites in the Currituck Sound. By measuring biological, chemical, and physical parameters at each site in the Currituck Sound, researchers can understand how the drivers of SAV distribution change with time. Analyzing samples and quantifying water column parameters can determine short-term changes in distribution associated with seasonal growth. Aerial imagery can assess long-term changes.

Meteorological and water data from observing platforms in the Currituck Sound, installed and maintained by the USACE Field Research Facility will provide information on how environmental factors — waves, turbidity, salinity, etc. — affect SAV distribution. “Broadly what we’re trying to do is understand the primary drivers of SAV distribution in the Currituck Sound, which has had significant change over the last three or four decades,” explains Dr. Corbett.

In the lab, researchers are conducting further analysis on sediment grain size to categorize bottom type and using water samples to measure total suspended sediment. Throughout the study, comparisons have been made to historical data from the 1950’s, 70’s and 90’s to identify changes in these parameters as well as shoreline changes through time.

The study continues until October 2019 and will play a role in developing and refining the mitigation measures to be taken by NCDOT in low salinity, water-dependent projects where SAV is a critical part of aquatic ecosystems.

It’s after hours and excitement is building as individuals make their way through the doors of the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus. They’ve come to get their “science fix” and to mingle with like-minded people at the popular monthly lecture series “Science on the Sound.” Lured here by such captivating topics as: “A Passion for Dirty Water: Septic Detectives, Wastewater Treatment Plants, and a Story of Human Impact & Ingenuity in Coastal Ecosystems” to “War Offshore! Honoring and Protecting a WWII Battlefield off the Carolina Coast” to “Sharks, Laser Beams, and Shipwrecks: Your Role as an Underwater Shark Detective”, the attendees are curious and have a thirst for knowledge.

Expand your science horizons and join the crowd at CSI for the thought-provoking and informative lectures scheduled for Fall 2019. Can't make it in person? The lectures are live-streamed on CSI's YouTube channel, where you can also enjoy watching past presentations.

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