"The World is your Oyster"
This Spring, the ECU Outer Banks Campus welcomed a new group of undergraduate students for the 2021 Semester Experience at the Coast. I opened my initial conversation with our students with this bit of advice, "The world is your oyster". I was trying to emphasize the unique opportunity they have to take face-to-face courses on such an incredible campus, full of experiential courses, internships and faculty ready to engage with them. The chance to take part in all of this even during the challenges associated with COVID! Take the opportunity, embrace it, make the most of it! They took the advice…we had a great semester with these 16 bright young minds! Several of the students participated in research with faculty on the coast, others were embedded in the community engaged with internships. ECU’s Outer Banks Campus was beginning to look more alive and we embraced it! Thanks to those students that trusted us with their health and education this spring…it was a pleasure to get to know you and welcome you to our coastal campus. As we look toward the growth of the academic and research programs on the coast, it is hard not to think back to the same phrase…truly, figuratively and sometimes literally, the world is our oyster!
Integrated Coastal Programs is making significant progress toward creating a thriving campus in Wanchese, NC. We have more than doubled the undergraduate and graduate populations during the last year, creating a vibrant atmosphere focused on learning, pushing new boundaries in education and research. Like any campus, the activity doesn’t end at the end of the spring semester…OH NO! Lots more to come this summer.
We are excited to welcome ten undergraduate students this summer from across our nation and Puerto Rico that are participating in an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). This unique interdisciplinary REU program will allow individual students to be an important part of a team working to study natural and built environments from diverse perspectives that span the natural sciences, engineering, and social sciences. Like a lot of what we take on, this REU program doesn’t fit the traditional mold…we are working across three institutions (University of Puerto Rico Arecibo, Clemson University in South Carolina, and East Carolina University) and have a focus on team science, allowing students to pursue an individual research project but collaborate with other students, faculty, researchers, and community members to integrate their work within a broader context.
We wouldn’t forget about our community in all of this growth. We have developed new virtual programs (Meet the Scientist and Kitchen Science) and summer camps are back!! Yes, you heard that right…we will be offering four summer camps in 2021! CSI’s summer camps take a fun approach to introducing our future scientist to the coast. It will be great to hear the chatter and laughs of these campers in July and August. As we reignite youth programs on our campus, we are also looking for new opportunities to develop pathways for high schoolers to join the ranks of ECU and our partner institutions. So, keep your eyes out for new academic-focused summer programs for high schoolers…we look to develop summer “accelerator” programs to give academically-focused high school students a chance to work directly with our faculty and learn more of NC’s coastal ecosystem!
All we are working toward can’t be done on our own…we need your help! As a friend and supporter of Integrated Coastal Programs and the Coastal Studies Institute, consider contributing to our mission in creating a vibrant coastal campus and growing opportunities for students to spend a semester or more on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus!
At the beginning of each new school year, the Coastal Studies Institute hosts the UNC Institute for the Environment’s Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS). OBXFS is a semester-long program for UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates in which students take classes, go on field trips, participate in a local internship, and complete a group Capstone research project. The Capstone topic is always pertinent to issues threatening coastal North Carolina. Through the various experiences provided by OBXFS, the students are able to become completely immersed in interdisciplinary academics and the Outer Banks community, both of which provide a unique learning environment for participants.
“The OBXFS students learn about environmental topics from several different disciplinary perspectives, providing a real-world view of how disciplines are interconnected. They also apply their knowledge and newly learned approaches to the study of a complex natural resource problem through the Capstone research project and gain experience in research or an environmental job through internships with mentors in the CSI and Outer Banks communities. The semester program is meant to connect the dots between coursework and the complexity of real-world decision-making.”, explains Lindsay Dubbs, OBXFS Director.
Similarly, during the Spring semester, ECU and other UNC System undergraduate students have an opportunity to study at the beach through ECU’s Semester Experience at the Coast program that was recently initiated in 2020. While open to all students, the experience is especially designed for those with an interest in coastal studies, and the credits earned through the offered courses count toward the ECU Coastal and Marine Studies Interdisciplinary (COAS) Minor. In addition to classes, students often take on an internship with a local organization or an independent research project guided by a faculty member. Teamwork is often encouraged and required in many classrooms and labs, but great emphasis is also placed on individual development and preparation for further interdisciplinary learning and professions. The environment of the OBX Campus and surrounding area make it the ideal place to foster continued interest in coastal issues through the hands-on lab and field-based experiences.
“The Semester Experience at the Coast is a unique program that truly immerses students into the curricula that they have come to the Outer Banks campus to study. Students have an opportunity to actually visit and experience the habitats, people, communities and processes that are typically only presented within the pages of textbooks and readings”, says Reide Corbett, Dean of ECU Integrated Coastal Programs and Executive Director of the Coastal Studies Institute.
He continues, “We can provide the real-world analog in concert with more traditional classroom learning, and we are excited by the positive response from the students during the last two spring semesters. We are continuing to grow the spring program and intend to expand this interdisciplinary academic opportunity to include both the fall and spring semesters in the near future.”
While undergraduate students have their own designated semesters to be on campus, there are almost always graduate students around. The ECU Outer Banks Campus offers a unique, desirable setting for many participants of ECU’s Integrated Coastal Sciences Ph.D. (ICS) program. This research-intensive doctoral program blends natural and social sciences to best prepare students to work across disciplinary boundaries while addressing real coastal issues. The program exposes students to field work and places great emphasis on collaboration, while providing enough flexibility to allow students to choose where they would like to study (Greenville or OBX). Upon completion of their dissertation, students are well-prepared for careers with government agencies, private firms, nonprofit organizations or in academia.
“Wicked, complex problems at the coast take a team of researchers to solve. To be successful at solving these complex coastal problems, one needs to understand what kind of team to put together, what kinds of language to understand and speak, and what types of skills and datasets will need to be analyzed. Students get all of that training through our program. This coastal Ph.D. program trains the students to address complex problems from multiple perspectives and present them, from day one, to scientists and managers, then translating and communicating that science to a broad audience.”, says Sid Mitra, ICS Program Director.
An Experience for Growth and Maturity
by Chanel Sturdivant
As my spring semester in the OBX and first year at East Carolina University end, I have a lot to share about my experience. I am a junior-year transfer student from a community college earning a degree in biology with a concentration in Ecology. My transfer to ECU presented both opportunity and struggle. Research and internships are an important part of my degree path; yet the prospect of having to get as much practical experience while still doing well in classes all in a two and a half year time span intimidated me. Truthfully, it still does even now, but I knew that I had to start somewhere.
My internship experience was fun and gratifying. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I have grown and matured in just the short four months I worked there. So, to any student who may be reading this, I encourage you to take on an internship while at the coast. It will be an experience for growth and maturity.
Where there's a will, there's a wave.
by Marco Agostini
My name is Marco Agostini, and I am a ECU senior Computer Science major with a minor in Coastal and Marine Studies. In the spring of 2020, I came to the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) as a pioneer of the Semester at the Coast Program. I had an incredible experience my entire time there, but unfortunately our semester was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I was determined to not let that be the end of my time at CSI. Eight months later I renewed contact with Dr. Reide Corbett and Dr. David Lagomasino, and we began to formulate plans for a potential internship opportunity for the spring of 2021. After many emails back and forth and hectic scheduling, we were finally able to confirm plans for my return to CSI in the spring. I was ecstatic!
Both of my semesters at the Coastal Studies Institute have been extraordinary and have positioned me to make a career in this field a possibility. I highly recommend the Semester at the Coast program as an incredible interdisciplinary learning experience for environmentally-passionate students of any major.
All along it has seemed that Dr. Rachel Gittman’s career path has had an element of intersection. During her schooling she studied terrestrial then marine environments. As a consultant, she often experienced the tug between scientific fact and human want. Now in academia, Gittman is a Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) Research Associate and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, yet her projects often involve coastal engineering and adaptation. So how did she get to where she is today?
Interestingly, other plans fell into place instead. Gittman fell in love with academia and decided to switch her focus to marine and coastal ecosystems. During her pursuit of the perfect-fit graduate program and the completion of her time as a consultant, Gittman found herself working on a living shoreline project, a shoreline stabilization method that utilizes natural and living materials instead of manmade structures such as bulkheads or jetties. Her involvement in the project led her to become interested in the cross-section of engineering and ecological restoration.
As she was accepted as a Ph.D. student at University of North Carolina’s Institute for Marine Sciences, it just so happened that coastal management and ecosystem protection was becoming a hot topic in North Carolina, and living shorelines were gaining momentum. In fact, her very first day of grad school, her advisors handed her the task of writing a proposal for a living shoreline in NC.
The site lies along the Rachel Carson Reserve, which is highly subject to shoreline erosion, and is comprised of several 15 m long breakwater reefs constructed with material especially designed for oyster recruitment. Gittman, Narayan, and their grad students will monitor the site over time to assess 1) how the oyster reefs form 2) if they are comparable to a naturally occurring reef in a similar system and 3) how well the reefs provide protection for the marsh behind it. The third assessment will be determined by the amount of shoreline accretion or erosion that takes place. In addition to the ecological aspects of the study, the team hopes to quantify the wave environment in the creek setting.
“We hypothesize that the main force behind the shoreline erosion at the Reserve is boat wake,” Gittman explains. “Even though Taylor’s Creek is a no wake zone, it’s a heavily trafficked area with a new boat house and public boat ramp right across from our study site. Even though the boats are being driven slowly, there’s still some wake generated as they speed up, slow down, and turn around. All of the different boats in the area at a given time are mixing the waves, potentially compounding them and causing issues along the shoreline.”
The combination of expertise highlighted through this project and others Gittman has worked on has made her thankful to be a part of ECU’s Integrated Coastal Programs. Her interests clearly straddle the line between coastal ecology and engineering, which sometimes leaves her feeling like she needs “multiple Ph.D.s” to understand and combat all of the challenges. It’s because of these feelings she encourages her students not just to get good lab and field experience early on, but to also push themselves.
In closing, Gittman reflects, “Don’t be afraid to cross interdisciplinary boundaries and ask questions that require expertise out of your comfort zone. That’s what we should all be doing- trying to find the collaborations to answer the wicked, complex questions. The solution might be simple, yet it requires a lot of thought from a lot of different perspectives to get there. And in my opinion, the interdisciplinary nature of Integrated Coastal Programs is one of the most interesting characteristics of the program. It’s a real strength of ECU, and I am excited to be a part of it.”
The Integrated Coastal Sciences, formerly known as Coastal Resource Management (CRM), Ph.D. Program has produced many successful alumni over the years. Among them is Dr. Susan Lovelace, a 2008 graduate who joined the program at the beginning of its second year.
After receiving a degree from North Carolina State University, Lovelace moved to Beaufort, NC for a 6-month position at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences. She ended up staying in Beaufort for many years, falling in love, raising a family, teaching and then later working for the NC Estuarine Research Reserve.
As a site manager for the Rachel Carson Reserve, one of the things Lovelace learned was that “you can’t manage fish, but you can manage people.” This was a theme that continued to show itself through many of the grant proposals she wrote, and it made her interested in the human dimensions’ aspect of coastal management. While writing proposals, Lovelace also experienced a particular “inconvenience.” Because she herself did not hold a Ph.D. at the time, she was often having to find someone else to list as the primary investigator for the grants.
Around the same time that Lovelace began to look into Ph.D. programs that fit her needs, ECU was launching the CRM program, and it turned out to be a perfect fit for Lovelace. As she describes it, it was “a non-traditional Ph.D. program for a non-traditional student.” She continued to live in Beaufort, raising her family and still working full-time. For her, the research aspect came first and then she finished with classes.
“What drew me to the program at the time was the ability for me to make it what I needed it to be”, Lovelace reflects. The interdisciplinary nature of the program helped her to widen her coastal knowledge, and she jokes that it was like doing “three masters and a dissertation.”
So where is Lovelace now? About 6 and a half years ago, she took a position at the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium as the Assistant Director for Development and Extension. She has been at SC Sea Grant ever since, and just this year she was named the Executive Director of the organization. She was very excited to hit the ground running in what was a busy time this winter for SC Sea Grant. Her new position includes roles such as engaging stakeholders and building teams for research proposals and projects, and she attributes part of the success she’s experienced so far to the wide knowledge base she acquired from the CRM program.
WAVES TO WATER
Desalinated Water Coming to a Pier Near You
It’s the final countdown to DRINK stage of the $3.3M Waves to Water Prize, now less than a year away, and the Coastal Studies Institute, Jennette’s Pier team is getting ready to rock and roll! While the remaining contestants are currently creating their wave-powered desalination systems, our crew has been busy coordinating with the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to ensure everything is in place for the big show at Jennette’s Pier in April 2022.
Most recently, the folks at CSI and Jennette’s Pier orchestrated a test article deployment at Jennette’s Pier in April. To say the deployment was no small feat would be an understatement. All in all, there were close to twenty people involved, from drone flyers and crane operators to divers and marine craft drivers! The test article was a large buoy, crafted by team members at CSI, which had to be lifted and dropped over the side of Jennette’s Pier and anchored into place about 100 yards from the pier. The buoy then had to stay in place for five days and be retrieved. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, the deployment and retrieval had to line up with a good weather window, a period of minimal wind and calm seas.
Despite so many things needing to be done and aligned, the deployment was a huge success from start to finish, and the team was able to accomplish the main goals for the project by demonstrating a safe and effective device deployment and retrieval, as well as a strong anchoring system to hold the buoy in place for an extended period. In fact, we were successful in spite of our “weather window” including a short period with winds in excess of 40 mph whipping up the ocean in the area!
“The excitement that Jennette's Pier and CSI were selected by NREL and DOE to host the Waves to Water Prize in 2022 continues! It was thrilling to see the plans our team has discussed and carefully made successfully play out in real life last week. We are proud to apply our coastal expertise and skills to the exploration of solutions to clean energy and drinking water challenges.”, shared NCROEP Associate Director Dr. Lindsay Dubbs.
The excitement Dubbs mentioned was not only palpable across the team, with members of the public feeling it too.
“It was great to witness the level of interest from the pier guests who just happened to be visiting on the deployment and retrieval days. Many asked great questions that allowed us the opportunity to start a conversation about the Waves to Water Prize and, ultimately, marine renewable energy devices, the partnership between the Coastal Studies institute and Jennette’s Pier, and the work of the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program.”, said Jennette’s Pier Director Mike Remige.
In the coming months, CSI and Jennette’s Pier team members will continue to meet with DOE and NREL to further map logistics in preparation for the upcoming DRINK phase, and the organizations will also schedule another test deployment in December. For the most up-to-date information about Jennette’s Pier and CSI’s role in the Waves to Water Prize, be sure to follow CSI on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
ENERGY TRANSITIONS INITIATIVE PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
Supporting Energy Resilience on the Outer Banks
In the Fall issue of Coastlines, we announced that CSI and the NCROEP, in conjunction with the Energy Production & Infrastructure Center (EPIC) at UNC-Charlotte, had been chosen as a regional partner for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Program, also known as ETIPP. Through the program, DOE and its national and regional partners seek to provide remote and island communities with technical assistance to expand their energy solutions by reducing costs and power disruptions. Over the last several months, communities from all over the U.S. applied for the program, and in late April, eleven of those communities were selected.
Among the eleven chosen for the first round of technical assistance were the Town of Nags Head and Ocracoke Island! Nags Head hopes to explore renewable energy options to help secure 48-72 hours of back-up power source for first-responder facilities during natural disasters, while Ocracoke will begin to prepare for a future that could include an electrified ferry fleet.
"As a community partner in the Department of Energy's Energy Transition Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP), we are excited about the opportunities to assist coastal communities in accelerating clean energy solutions and enhancing grid resiliency. In addressing Nags Head's and Ocracoke Island's unique challenges, there will be valuable lessons learned in building resilient solutions for other islands and remote communities.", states George Bonner, Director of the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program.
In the months to come, both communities will each meet with CSI and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) team members to identify community needs and establish a path toward becoming more energy resilient. The final product will come in 2022 and will be tailored to each ETIPP community.
NC State CORE Lab
Let's go fly a kite.
NCROEP promotes collaborative research across its partner institutions, and there is currently a lot of excitement surrounding an ongoing project in the Control and Optimization for Renewables and Energy Efficiency (CORE) Lab at NC State University. The lab, which is led by Dr. Chris Vermillion, is researching, among other things, tethered marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy devices.
In the CORE lab, one of these devices comes in the form of an underwater “kite”. The kite is tethered to a floating platform and is designed to gather and store energy produced by currents coming from multiple directions. This spring, the lab team is testing a kite prototype in the NC State pool, and if all goes well, they plan to begin open water testing in Fall 2021.
Vermillion explains, "Owing to their ability to execute high-speed cross-current motions, underwater kites can generate substantially more power per unit mass -- often an order of magnitude more -- than traditional fixed devices. Energy is harvested either through on-board rotors or cyclic spooling motion. This makes kites an attractive techno-economic solution for many applications, including Blue Economy applications such as autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) recharging, along with harvesting ocean current energy from resources such as the Gulf Stream."
"The underwater kite design, control, and experimental validation work is a truly multidisciplinary study spanning device design optimization, advanced control, hydrodynamic analysis, resource and techno-economic assessment, fabrication, instrumentation, and testing. This sort of research, which brings together critical expertise from such a diverse range of domains in order to realize impactful ocean energy research, lies at the heart of the NCROEP mission."
The kite projects being led by NCSU have so far been supported by NCROEP, NSF, DOE, & DARPA, and included collaborations with CSI, University of Maryland, Florida Atlantic University, and Martin Defense Group. The kite system represents only one technology out of a portfolio of tethered energy system technologies being developed at NCSU.