Department of Defense Grant to Fund Faculty Study of Barrier Islands

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Joseph Long, assistant professor of oceanography, received $265,594 from the Department of Defense to investigate erosion and recovery cycles of barrier islands. Andrea Hawkes, a professor in the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, serves as co-principal investigator on the project titled “Beach Berms: The Missing Link to Predicting Decadal-scale Barrier Island Trajectories and Tipping Points?”

Initially the research will focus on Masonboro Island, part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve and the longest undisturbed barrier island ecosystem in southern North Carolina. Specifically, the dramatic and abrupt changes that occur during storms and the gradual building of the beach that happens between storms will be studied.

Long says the ultimate goal is to understand how these events cause visible changes in barrier islands over the course of a decade.

“We’ll be using what we learn from our ongoing observations to build a model to predict these changes. Models that can predict how barrier islands will change over the next 10 years will provide science-based information that coastal managers need to make critical decisions,” he said.

In the third year, the research team plans to apply their findings and tools to other barrier islands, including Dauphin Island, AL. The project includes funding for graduate and undergraduate students to collect and analyze data and attend scientific conferences.

Long came to UNCW in 2018 after nine years as a research civil engineer/oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Petersburg, FL. 

“I left that position out of a desire to work with students both in the classroom and on research topics,” he said. “I was only interested in schools that emphasized and rewarded teaching and also had infrastructure and opportunities to support coastal research. UNCW has the perfect blend of these.”

Separately, Long has received $64,939 from the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association for the study “WebCOOS: Webcams for Coastal Observations and Operational Support.” 

In her eighth year at UNCW, Hawkes came to UNCW from a postdoctoral research position at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She, too, values UNCW's balance between teaching and research and its coastal location. As co-principal investigator she will lead the field sampling component of the project that will eventually inform the models. This entails the short- (pre/post storm) and long-term (post-storm recovery) instrumenting, measuring and sampling of Masonboro Island.

-- Caroline Cropp