NJIT Professor Awarded Grant to Study Shoreline

Professor Michel Boufadel was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study the impact of the hurricane on the N.J. shoreline.

A few days after Hurricane Sandy hit, Professor Michel Boufadel was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the impact of the storm on the New Jersey shoreline. The NSF Rapid Response Research Grant immediately allowed Boufadel to take a research team to the beaches of Raritan Bay. The NJIT team – three professors and five students – fanned out over the shoreline while using automated samplers to assess the bay’s delicate ecosystems.

The team is evaluating various aspects of the econsystems, first of which is the shift and erosion of the sand. It’s also measuring the runoff of fertilizers, pesticides and other compounds into the bay. The bay area, moreover, is enveloped by wetlands and the researchers are evaulating how they held up in the storm. And closer to campus, the team is assessing how a storm-related influx of seawater affected the Passaic River, esepcially its fish population. 

The NJIT research team includes Professor Nancy Jackson, a coastal expert whose research focuses on beaches and dunes; Professor Liping Wei, a biochemist who studies water pollution and bioremediation; and undergraduate and graduate students. 

“In essence we’re evaluating the resilience of these ecosystems,” says Boufadel, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who directs the Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection at NJIT. “If any of the ecosystems were impaired by the hurricane, we’ll monitor their ability to recover.”

The National Science Foundation grant is for one year, says Boufadel, after which he’ll send a report of his research findings to the foundation. He’ll also send a report of his findings to municipal and state officials in New Jersey. It’s his hope that federal, state and local officials will use the team’s findings to “chart the best path to restore the state’s beaches and coastline.”

The NSF awards Rapid Response Grants to well-established researchers who can use their expertise to contend with national emergencies. Boufadel, one of 20 professors hired in the fall of 2012, is a nationally-known water expert with a distinguished history of publication and research. He has investigated the Exxon Valdez spill and the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and served on the National Academies Committee that evaluated the blowout’s impact on the Gulf of Mexico. 

He’s also served on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Advisory Board for natural gas extraction and shale formations and has studied floodplain delineation and contamination of urban streams for FEMA. In terms of scholarship, he has published more than 80 articles in journals such as Nature, Geoscience and Water Resources Research.   

His goal at NJIT is to continue to collaborate with fellow professors to conduct  research that furthers science and helps governmental agencies improve the environment and thus enhance the public good.  

“Our current research will help officials respond to a storm that wreaked havoc on the shoreline,” Boufadel says. “NJIT has the technological expertise to become the steward of the Jersey shoreline -- and that’s precisely what we intend to become.”   

By Robert Florida