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Coastal researchers studying hurricane impacts on North Carolina shorelines

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 7:28 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -Marine Scientists in Eastern North Carolina study many different aspects of our coast and the creatures that inhabit it. When a hurricane is approaching, they work ahead of the storm taking measurements and collecting data on how the storm will impact various parts of the coast.

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Researchers from both the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences and East Carolina University are working on projects that required them to collect data before and now after Hurricane Isaias made its way through the state.

Jana Haddad is a PhD Student at UNC and her research focuses on waves and how they affect living shorelines and salt marshes. Using waves sensors, Haddad is able to collect data that shows how waves can erode the shoreline, and how a living shoreline can protect the coast from these waves.

“The overall project is observing, analyzing, modeling how waves are transforming or moving through a salt marsh and a living shoreline,” said Haddad.

Haddad and her team will also look at information collected during Isaias. “This allows us to look at not just how regular or everyday waves are being attenuated or reduced by these living shorelines systems but in this case how really big waves from a hurricane are reduced by a living shoreline,” she said.

Another project closely linked to Haddad’s work is the research being conducted by ECU Master’s Student Emory Wellman.

Wellman is studying oyster reefs near the Rachel Carson Reserve. Her work not only looks at which type of substrate or material oysters prefer, but also compares how those various materials can hold up.

“We are trying to test not only how these materials in terms of attracting oysters and building a healthy sustainable oyster population, but also what kind of benefits those reefs confer to the marsh that its near,” said Wellman.

It has been shown that oyster reefs can help protect living shorelines and the salt marshes they live in. Like Haddad, Wellman also spent time before Isaias mapping out the different oyster reefs, so that after the storm she can see how well they held up against the system.

“Our oyster reefs were built in may of 2018 so this is now their fourth storm which actually terrific because we’re allowed now to look at Florence, Michael, Dorian, and Isaias and take a case by case look at each storm to see what was different about this one that cause this sort of marsh loss,” said Wellman.

With the knowledge from these research projects, officials say they hope to be able to provide better information to help save and protect living shorelines.

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