Project Quick Links by Principal Investigator (PI)/Author

Dr. Samuel D. Brody

Dr. William Merrell

Dr. Patrick Louchouarn

Dr. Wesley Highfield

Dr. Jens Figlus



If We Lose Folletts Island, We Lose Coastal Communities and Christmas Bay: A Geological Framework and Numerical Model Study of the Sustainability of Folletts Island
Duration: January 2014-December 2015
Sponser: Texas Sea Grant/NOAA
Funding Amount: $261,793
PI: Jens Figlus 
Co-PI: Timothy Dellapenna
Folletts Island (FI) is the most culnerable section of the Texas Coast and experience alarming rates of erosion, with shoreline retreat ranging from 30-320m since 1978. As the main goal of this study we propose to modify and calibrate a process-based numerical model to predict cross-shore morphology changes of entire barrier island systems. We intend to quantify historic morphology changes of FI as well as hypothetical future changes based on numerical model simulations. This will be accomplished using an existing cross-shore morphology change model in combination with the collection and evaluation of high-resolution bathymetry, topography, hydrodynamic, and sediment concentration data. One of the main results from this study will be the provision of a decision-making tool for coastal managers and stakeholders to assess local risk vulnerability of a barrier island system and aid in long-term planning for development and beach nourishment, as well as dune and marsh restoration efforts that will keep the entire system at a healthy balance to protect the Texas coast and preserve the barrier island-bay ecosystem.


Innovative Technology Seaweed Prototype Dunes
Duration: February 2014-August 2015
Sponser: Texas General Land Office and Galveston Park Board of Trustees
Funding Amount: $148,775
PI: Jens Figlus
Co-PI: Tom Linton and Robert Webster
A healthy beach-dune syste is the economical and the most aesthetically pleasing natural coastal protection against storm surge and wave attack. Unfortunately, large stretches of Galveston Island lack a proper dune system. At the same timeTexas beaches experience frequent seaweed (Sargassum) landings that can be up to 2 feet in height for a single landing, practically blocking access to the water for beach users. The intent of this project is to utilize the seaweed wrack material of heavy landings to build and reinforce coastal dunes in a sustainable fashioon without disturbing the upper beach template. The whole project includes several components: prototype construction, monitoring, development of a seaweed baler, and wave flume testing. Two prototype dunes will be constructed at the high tide line, one on the western part (Spanish Grant) and one on the eastern part (Apffel Park) of Galveston Island. Each of those dunes will be comprised of two sections-one with new seaweed reinforcement, one without. The seaweed reinforcement will be in the form of compacted Sargassum, i.e. "seabales" which will be incorporated into the berm of the dune and covered with sand. The evolution of these test dunes (seabale composition, spurred vegetation growth, erosion due to storms, etc.) will be monitored throughout the project lifetime. The hypothesis to be put to the test is whehter the seabale reinforced dunes provide more resilience against storm surge and wave attack due to the added strength of the compressed Sargassum material in the short term and the enhanced growth of dune vegetation in the long term. Additionally, continued application of the process could help to sustain and grow healthy dune systems over time. In order to prepare seabales from Sargassum wrack landings a specialized machine will be developed based on modified hay baling and beach cleaning equipment. Laboratory tests will be conducted to determine the mechanical properties of the Sargassum material in its natural and compressed states. Furthermore, wave flume tests of model dunes will aid in finding the optimal configuration of the fortified dunes. After successful completion of this pilot project the concept could be extended to large stretches of the Texas coast potentially improving currently employed coastal maintenance strategies and providing an answer to the question many Texas beach goers have: "What to do with the  Sargassum?"


Collaborative Research: Ridge-Runnel Post-Storm Beach Recovery-Hydrodynamics, Sediment Transport and Morphodynamics
Duration: 2013-2016
Sponsor: Ocean Sciences OCE-Marine Geology and Geophysics (NSF)
Funding Amount: $110,641
PI: Jens Figlus
The research objectives of this proposal will significantly advance understanding of hydrodynamics and sediment transport processes associated with ridge and runnel (RR) systems. RR systems are common on many beaches throughout the world and represent one of the key mechanisms for post-storm beach recovery. Despite their importance they remain poorly understood, primarily because of a lack of detailed dield observations. To redress this, we propose a thorough field experimental campaign and data analysis effort to quantify the detailes hydrodynamics and sediment transport processes that drive morphologic evolution associated with these features.


The stress nexus of coastlines: Population development, infrastructure security, and morphological dynamics of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast
Duration: 2013-2016
Sponser: Rice University Shell Center for Sustainability
Funding Amount: $207,000
PI: Jeffery Nittrouer
Co-PI: Sam Brody, Jaimie Padgett, Philip Bedient
With this proposal, we will conduct a one-year study that assesses environmental, developmental, and infrastructure sustainability of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. Coastal regions are arguably the most dynamic landscapes on Earth's surface that, under natural conditions, are subject to continuous growth and destruction of land. Coastal regions also offer extraordinary natural resources and are therefore relied upon for societal welfare; consequently, coastlines are inhabited >60% of the world's population (Vorosmarty, et al., 2009). We emphasize that single-discipline studies are insufficient to address the complex environmental and social issues that will be encountered along coastal landscapes in the coming decades. Infrastructure development and population growth of coastal landscapes continues to grow, despite estimates that global sea-level rise and severe storm frequency and magnitude associated with climate change will increasingly impact coastal geomorphology. With this study, we will demonstrate that with integrative studies, "the whole of the research group is greater than sum of the individual components", and thereby we seek to provide a template for coastal sustainability research that will be used to help guide additional research that will be used to help guide additional research and appropriate development planning for 5-10 decades.


Survey of Preferences for Wave-Based Flood Risk Reduction Strategies in Harris County, TX
Duration: 2013-2014
Sponser: Houston Advanced Research Center/United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Funding Amount: $132,146
PI: Sam Brody
Co PI: Wesley Highfield
The Center for Texas Beaches and Shores and the Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities at Texas A&M University at Galveston will conduct a public opinion survey of Harris County residents on wave height and storm surge impact reduction strategies. We will select a scientific sample of 2,000 residents and administer a mail survey to identify risk perceptions and stated flood mitigation preferences associated with wave impacts caused by coastal storms. Results of the study will help identify public perceptions of flood risk and preferences among a range of mitigiation techniques to reduce wave heights during storm events.


Flood Risk Reduction Colloquium with Delft University, Netherlands
Duration: July 2013
Sponser: National Science Foundation
Funding Amount: $27,230
PI: Sam Brody
In recognition of this lack of knowledge and systematic evaluation of coastal vulnerabilities, Texas A&M University at Galveston and Delft University partnered to hold a colloquium on flood risk reduction in the Netherlands during the summer of 2013. This event brought together graduate students and faculty members from both institutions representing a diversity of disciplines, including coastal engineering, hydrology, marine science, economics, and planning. Participants came together for four days to share their ongoing research and develop a joint future research agenda on coastal flood risk reduction within the two countries. 
Exchange information on probabilistic modeling, geospatial analysis, and structural and nonstructural mitigation techniques as applied to the Gulf of Mexico 
Application of Dutch flood risk reduction research methods, policies, and mitigation techniques to the Gulf Coast region
Acquiring and sharing on risk reduction approaches in coastal areas
Facilitating research experiences and learning for students at Texas A&M University
Pursuing joint peer-reviewed publications on flood risk reduction in comparable coastal areas in the Netherlands and Gulf of Mexico coastlines.


Examining the 100-year Floodplain as a Metric of Risk, Loss, and Household Adjustment
Duration: 2011-2013
Funding Agency: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Funding Amount: $312,801
PI: Sam Brody; Co-PIs: Wesley E. Highfield, Michael Lindell
Research Assistants: Russell Blessing, Joshua Gunn, Tak Makino, Patrick Doty
As flood losses continue to increase in the United States, recent evidence suggests that the 100-year floodplain (the primary marker of flood risk and mitigation) is neither accurate nor sufficient in guiding communities and household decisions to mitigate the adverse impacts of floods.  The inability of the floodplain designation to effectively capture the likelihood of property loss has left potentially millions of property owners unaware of the flood risk and has made it more difficult for local decision makers to ensure community development occurs in a resilient manner.  This project examines the effectives of the 100-year floodplain in predicting property damages from floods and offers improved criteria for assessing risk of inundation in low-lying coastal areas.  First, we will spatially examine the record of insured property damage at the household level from 2000-2009 for a sample of coastal counties along the Gulf of Mexico.  Second, we will analyze statistical models to predict insured property damage from floods using proximity and built environment measures not traditionally used to determine floodplain boundaries.  Finally, we will conduct a survey of households claiming losses both in and out of the floodplain to understand the perceptions of flood risks and motivations to mitigate their potential adverse impacts. 
This research will provide important information to decision makers on how to implement more precise strategies to reduce the costs of floods at the local level.  An improved understanding of flood risk will enable localities to better protect themselves against loss of property and lives in coastal areas.  Research findings will also help individuals living outside the floodplain, but still at high risk for flood damages reduce the chances they will experience devastating losses in the future.  To this end, a major part of the research project will be to deliver findings that can be easily accessed and understood by both public officials and local residents.  First, we will integrate our data on flood loss and areas of risk an existing web-based GIS system that currently serves as a technical assistance and outreach tool.  Second, we will work with local neighborhoods that have become hotspots of flood loss to increase awareness of the problem and provide options for reducing future loss. Third, we will bring results from our study into the classroom as part of graduate and undergraduate studies across two college campuses.  Through these approaches, we will ensure our research findings assist local governments and individual households on how to better reduce the negative impacts of coastal flooding in the U.S.


Examining the Relationship Between Land Use Change, Wetland Alteration, and Carbon Sequestration in the Gulf of Mexico
Duration: 2011-2013
Funding Agency: NASA
Funding Amount: $400,000
PI: Patrick Louchouarn
Co-PI: Anna Armitage, Wesley Highfield, Samuel Brody
Students/staff Employed: TBD
Our proposed study will examine the relationship between land use change, wetland vegetation shift/loss, and carbon (C) sequestration on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). By combining field calibration with analysis of remote sensing imagery to detect land cover change, we aim to better understand the amount of carbon sequestration capacity lost from the alteration of naturally occurring estuarine wetlands over the last decade.

Debris Management After Severe Hurricanes and Storms
Duration: Spring/Summer 2011
Funding Agency: Houston Advanced Research Center
PI: Wesley Highfield
Students/staff Employed: Carland Holstead

Dickinson Bayou On-Site Sewage Facilities (OSSF) Optimization Model
Duration: Spring/Summer 2011
Funding Agency: TCEQ & Texas Coastal Watersheds Program
Funding Amount: $136,016
PI: Wesley Highfield
Co-PI: Samuel Brody
Students/staff Employed: Russell Blessing, Patrick Doty, Kevin Crosby
This project will assemble and incorporate data layers into a Geographic Information System. Specifically, we will assemble a geodatabase of pertinent spatial data for the Dickinson Bayou watershed, including by not limited to soil characteristics, hydrography, topography, wetlands, wastewater treatment plants, and current OSSF locations. We will also construct a GIS model that evaluates and prioritizes mitigation of failing OSSF locations.  This model will be based on the location, density, and age of OSSF sites.  These spatial OSSF measures will be evaluated against the risk of water quality deterioration using factors such as proximity to natural drainage and wetlands, low soil infiltration rates, and impervious surface. 

Galveston Futures: Developing a Disaster Resilient Community
Author: William Merrell
Co-Authors: Tanveerul Islam and William Seitz
Galveston futures is a cooperative venture, involving residents, architectural experts, urban planners and elected leaders, that strives to envision a resilient, sustainable and unified community on Galveston Island by encouraging civic participation in municipal planning. For Galveston’s survival, it is essential to the livability and resilience, especially to coastal disasters, into the concept of sustainability.
Link: Galveston Futures(PDF File) This Paper describes different projects that have been taken to accomplish the mission of the Galveston Futures. 

The Ike Dike: A Coastal Barrier Protecting the Houston/Galveston Region from Hurricane Storm Surge
PI: William Merrell
Link: Ike Dike Homepage

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