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Protecting the Coast: Engineering the Next Generation of Coastal Structures

Billions of people living in coastal communities around the world are affected by the destructive and unremitting natural hazards caused by sea-level rise, flooding and extreme weather.

Coastal structures – such as bridges, breakwaters, causeways and seawalls – serve significant roles in mitigating the hazards facing coastal communities. These coastal developments and alterations decrease the risk of damage from severe storm events; however, they also may negatively affect coastal ecosystems and nearby property prices due to alteration of the local landscape. In particular, they replace natural vegetation and wetlands, which, as a result, increase the risk of pollutants moving from the land into the sea.

The University of Miami Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK) is providing funding to an interdisciplinary team of University of Miami (UM) researchers for their project that, one day, could change the way coastal structures are engineered.

Esber Andiroglu, an associate professor in practice at the UM College of Engineering’s (CoE) Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (CAE), and Prannoy Suraneni, an assistant professor in CAE, have been collaborating with a team of UM researchers (David Kelly, a professor at the University of Miami Business School’s Department of Economics; Joel Lamere, an assistant professor at the UM School of Architecture (SoA); Billie Lynn, an associate professor of Sculpture at the UM School of Arts and Sciences; Renato Molina, an assistant professor of environmental and resource economics at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS); Kathleen Sealey, an associate professor at the UM School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology; and James Sobczak, a UM science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) librarian) to identify key design guidelines to innovate coastal structures that are sustainable, multi-functional, and generate aesthetic value while engaging local communities within the context of regional cultural significance. The work incorporates engineering, ecology, economics, community, and aesthetics into the design of coastal structures that more closely replicate their natural environments, as well as enhance their ability to produce aesthetic value.

“With the American coast facing a growing risk in terms of exposure to storms and sea-level rise, the outcome of this project can have lasting impacts in terms of future coastal development,” said Andiroglu. “As coastal communities prepare for the growing risks of climate change with U.S. national mandates to invest in local water infrastructure needs, our results will contribute to this process by establishing guidelines that result in effective coastal protection, while at the same time accounting for important dynamics of the highly complex coastal environment,” he said.

Drawing from each member’s expertise, the team will engage the local community from multiple perspectives regarding coastal structures and their impact on resilience and the mitigation of risk.

A key purpose of research universities like the UM is to serve as centers of inquiry in which scholars from multiple disciplines can work together to pursue innovation, in areas where the world needs them most. The diversity inherent in UM’s 11 schools and colleges should provide unique advantages in exploring and addressing these types of problems.

U-LINK is a university-wide platform for incubating ideas, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and providing funding to facilitate new approaches to difficult problems. U-LINK invites interdisciplinary groups to seek funding for novel, solution-oriented projects. U-LINK seeks applications from interdisciplinary teams that may combine researchers from across UM’s three campuses. They encourage proposals that tackle problems aligning with the University’s strategic plan, such as addressing environmental challenges, engineering smart/connected cities, promoting health and wellness, cultivating a culture of belonging, and applying the potential of big data to global issues.

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