COSM

Research Themes at the ACRL

Research at the ACRL seeks to improve our basic and applied understanding of human-environment interactions along the southeastern US coastline, primarily focused on three broad themes: 1) coastal hydrology; 2) coastal geology; and 3) coastal ecosystems.

  1. Coastal hydrology.
    Water is fundamental to life and to the dynamics of materials on which life depends (sediment, nutrients, etc.). Many hydrological processes in coastal systems distinctly differ from those of the uplands. For example, as water drains from upland streams and groundwaters, into estuaries and the ocean, it interacts with saltwater flows, encounters unique man-made coastal structures, and even changes directions (with tides). These examples, and many others, present challenges for water management in coastal Georgia, especially considering the current and increasing population, climate change, and economic pressures faced by Georgia coastal counties. Research by ACRL affiliated scientists and engineers seeks to understand (a) where water in coastal systems goes, (b) when and why water moves between hydrologic compartments, (c) what controls variability in water quality, (d) how coastal water quality impact human health (e) how human interactions alter these hydrological processes.
  2. Coastal geology.
    Knowledge on the rates, controls and processes of coastal sedimentary dynamics are necessary to evaluate shoreline change, shallow stratigraphic framework, and geologic resources in the region. Research on this theme aids in identifying information gaps and significant deficiencies in our knowledge and in the prioritization of opportunities for future geologic research pertinent to management of a natural, archaeological and cultural resources in dynamic coastal zones. In particular, the ACRL focuses on Georgia’s barrier and back-barrier islands (i.e., small islands between barrier islands and the mainland, often termed “hammocks”) – exploring how they respond across spatial and temporal scales, from bedform to bay, and from individual storm events to long-term sea-level rise. Because Georgia’s coastal barrier and back-barrier islands exhibit high diversity in terms of geomorphology and geology, development of new modeling strategies and acquisition of new ground-truth datasets are central to this theme.
  3. Coastal ecosystems.
    Unique environmental conditions at land-water interfaces produce ecosystem structures, communities, and energy flows that are crucial to societal and natural functions. Salt marshes, wetlands, estuaries, bays, and elevated “upland” habitats (like barrier and back-barrier islands) have developed alongside a wide range of natural episodic disturbances, like hurricanes, and persistent changes, like sea level change. However, coastal ecosystems are very sensitive to changes in the intensity and frequency of disturbances and the rate of sea level rise (and other environmental changes). As a result, these ecosystems have been drastically impacted by coastal development and human-induced climate changes. Research on this theme examines coastal flora, fauna, and nutrient cycling, as well as their responses to human activities and environmental change.

Last updated: 8/21/2019

JAMES H. OLIVER, JR., INSTITUTE FOR COASTAL PLAIN SCIENCES