Notes from the Field

Announcing the Recipients of the 2023 Undergraduate Student Awards

Congratulations to all of our 2023 Undergraduate Student Award recipients! The department of Earth and Planetary Science is celebrating its many talented students. We are super proud of all of their accomplishments, and are excited to announce this year’s award winners.

Students Bryce Troncone, Micheal di Maio, and Journey Berry have been awarded the Vinton Gwinn scholarship for their outstanding research.

Students Bryce Troncone, Micheal di Maio, and Journey Berry have been awarded the Vinton Gwinn scholarship for their outstanding research. Bryce’s research focuses on exoplanets. Micheal’s research studying the isotope geochemistry of magnetite deposits in the New Jersey highlands has provided great insight into the development of the deposits’ formations. Journey’s research on glacial lakes in Alaska has proven her constant hard work as she continues to discover her passions in geological science.





Lakshman Prabhakar has been awarded the George Rowe Award for his independent research project under Dr. Ben Black. Lakshman’s impressive work investigates the petrology of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province basalts, developing novel independent constraints on  pre-eruptive water concentrations in the magmas. His research could carry important implications for the magma storage and eruption in this region.






 The George Cook Award was presented to Julianna Cannato to recognize her consistent work with the RUGeo club. This club studies drone footage of various geological sites, putting together comprehensive images of rock formations and deposits for geological analyses. Julianna has formed a community within the geology department by organizing many events for students and faculty to attend. We want to commemorate her willingness to help others across the department.







Mike Pinnella has been awarded the EPS Chairs Award for his willingness to go above and beyond. Mike is always the first to volunteer in any departmental events. We all know we can depend on Mike whenever we need a helping hand, which is why Departmental Chair Dr. Jim Wright has presented him with this award.







Jason Kawalec has been honored for completing his senior honors thesis focusing on creating 3D models and high-res digital maps of volcanic features in Costa Rica under Dr. Adamo. Jason earned the Henry Rutgers Scholar award for his thesis, as well as the Paul Robeson award for completing thesis.




sixthpicMultiple students have also been honored with field camp scholarships to contribute to their field research in the upcoming months. The George O’Scott Scholarship has been presented to Caitlin La Duca. This scholarship will go towards Caitlin’s upcoming field camp experience at the State Field Camp in Montana. Bryan Lee has been awarded the Larry and Norma Gordon Award to go towards his research experience at Salem State Field Camp in Montana. The William and Grace Sparks Undergraduate Field/Travel Award has been presented to Julianna Cannato, who will be attending the Salem State Field Camp in Montana. Robert Witkowski and Peter Bellocq have been awarded the Steven K. Fox Award, and they will also both be attending the Salem State Field Camp in Montana.

Rutgers-led study indicates future changes, including a reduction to Earth’s ability to store carbon

Originally published by Rutgers Today on August 29, 2023.

Written by Kitta MacPherson

RainforestA portion of Amazonian lowland rainforest – areas critical to absorbing carbon dioxide and buffering climate change – may morph over time into dry, grassy savannas, according to a Rutgers-led study.

The report, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, described a new understanding of how alternating flooding in the wet season and drought in the dry season, called double-stress, can limit forest establishment and favor short-lived grass species.

“Because predictions of future climate indicate a drier climate for the tropics, knowing where and how today’s forests will become savannas will help us predict how the carbon cycle may change, exacerbating warming,” said Caio Mattos, a lead author who conducted the research as a doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. “We showed that several areas of the Amazonian rainforest, which were previously thought to be protected, will be at risk of undergoing a change towards a savanna-like state.”

The Amazon region helps stabilize the global climate, storing about 123 billion tons of carbon above and below ground, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Losing trees to a process the study described as “savannization” means the Amazon’s ability to store carbon could be impacted.

The findings help explain why forests and savannas can coexist side by side under the same climate today, with forests occupying stably flooded areas, such as the vast swamp forests in interior Amazonia, or stably droughted, such as the forests on well-drained upland.

This implies that, under a future climate that is projected to be drier, some of the permanently flooded lowland Amazon will start to “feel” a dry period, subjecting the forests to double-stress or savanna conditions in the heart of the Amazonia.

“This study demonstrates the power of hydrology in explaining the structure and function of vegetation ecosystems,” said Ying Fan Reinfelder, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences and a co-author of the study. “We argue that global change research can benefit from a sharpened focus on hydrological change.”

These findings, Reinfelder said, contrast with the conclusions of most studies on the future of the Amazon, which have concluded that this forest-savanna conversion is likely to be confined to one area of the Amazon – its drier southern portion.

rainforestA forest is defined as an area of land dominated by trees and characterized by its thick canopy. A savanna is a mixed woodland-grassland system with trees sufficiently spaced to allow sunlight to promote grass growth.

Oceans and forests represent the two largest natural carbon “sinks,” or absorbers, on earth. Trees pull carbon out of the air during photosynthesis. Savannas, while vital sources of biodiversity, store far less carbon per acre.

Scientists have known for decades that the edges of the Amazon are threatened by deforestation brought about by population pressures and climate change. The study revealed insight into a mechanism that is likely to affect the interior Amazon.

“We found that flooding is key,” said Mattos, now a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University. “In some parts of the landscape, groundwater fluctuates between being too shallow – drowning tree roots – and too deep – depriving roots of water. This double stress is only tolerated by savanna plant species. Forests only thrive when situated in stable upland, which is never flooded, or in stable lowland, where it is always flooded.”

To reach their findings, the scientists looked to the science of hydrology, the study of the properties of the earth’s water on land. To simulate the Amazon region’s water cycles in the present, they employed a complex computer model, essentially a series of equations representing various hydrological conditions – including river heights, soil moisture levels and evaporation rates. Next, they ran the computer model using climate projections for 2090-2100 using data provided by scientists from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the Hadley Center Model) to map the areas that may be changed from permanent flooding to double stress.

A comparison between present representations and future simulations of hydrological stress showed effects on several ecologically critical areas. Floodplain forests in interior areas of the Amazon region, such as within the state of Amazonas and along the Madeira and Upper Negro rivers – regarded as some of the most biologically rich floodplain forests in the world – likely will be affected. Large areas of peatlands in Peru, another area that efficiently absorbs carbon, may also be altered, leading to decomposition and consequent release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating warming.

Other researchers on the study included Marina Hirota and Bernardo Flores of the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, Rafael Oliveira of the University of Campinas in Brazil, Gonzalo Miguez-Macho of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Yadu Pokhrel of Michigan State University.

From Apollo to Artemis: Unraveling Mysteries in Moon Rocks!

Written by Dr. Juliane Gross


Screen_Shot_2023-06-28_at_11.35.10_PM.pngThe Apollo Program returned 381 kg of samples from the lunar surface which have provided fundamental insights into the origin and history of the Earth-Moon system and our solar system. During Apollo, some samples were collected or preserved in unique containers or environments and have remained unexamined until recently. From 2019-2022 Rutgers EPS professor Dr. Juliane Gross was on loan to the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science (ARES) Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX. Here she opened two of the last unopened samples: the Apollo 17 double drive tube 73001 and 73002. In this work she was part of Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) Program that was designed to function as a sample return mission. Dr. Gross led the opening, processing, basic characterization, and preliminary examination of these unique samples. The resulting sample catalog (link here) is a critical document that is utilized by scientists across the world to select and request the best samples to conduct their individual scientific studies.

Screen_Shot_2023-06-22_at_9.36.03_PM.pngThe work Dr. Gross carried out will help prepare future explorers for lunar missions such as the upcoming Artemis mission returning to the Moon within the next five years and beyond. Her work under the ANGSA Program links the first generation of lunar explorers (Apollo) with future explorers of the Moon (Artemis). As a next generation lunar explorer, Alissa Madera (PhD student at Rutgers EPS) came to visit Dr. Gross in 2022, where she used the instruments available at JSC to conduct sample analyses on a young basaltic lunar Screen_Shot_2023-06-22_at_9.38.04_PM.pngmeteorite for her PhD (advisor: Dr. Juliane Gross). Unlike Apollo samples that come from a small and geologically unique region of the Moon, lunar meteorites represent a random sampling of the lunar surface, and thus, are critical for our understanding of lunar evolution through space and time. However, the launch location of most meteorites remains unknown, making it difficult to fully interpret their geologic history and the geology of the region of the Moon from which they originated. Alissa’s work will utilize remote sensing observations in combination with meteoritical geochemical data to provide potential source location(s) for meteorites. Furthermore, understanding the potential provenance and possible relationships between young basaltic meteorites from the Moon will provide insights into the timing, duration, and location of late-stage lunar volcanism, and provide insights into the thermal history of the Moon. In addition to carrying out her research, Alissa was also able to assist in daily curation tasks while at NASA JSC, such as pulling samples from the pristine lunar sample vault for sample allocations, assist in filming in the lunar lab, and visiting mission control during the Artemis 1 fly-by of the Moon that was annotated by Dr. Gross during a live interview. We had a blast! Here is to the Moon and beyond!" 


How Rutgers Is Forging the Next Generation of Climate Change Problem Solvers

PRMO C2R2 banding birds 0

One of EPS's Ph.D. students, Fatematus Nishi, and faculty members, Prof. Bob Kopp, featured in the Rutgers Today article as members of the EPS Department actively contribute to solving real-world climate issues. 


Kitta MacPherson

Training program created in wake of Superstorm Sandy brings graduate students from varied disciplines together to solve real-world climate problems

As a child, Dan Blanco watched low-income neighborhoods in his native Chicago flood during storms while the more affluent enclaves did not. Now, he is pursuing a doctoral degree in atmospheric sciences at Rutgers so he can further explore – and find ways to diminish – the often inequitable ravages of climate change.

Fatematuz Zohora Nishi, who grew up in a disaster-prone coastal area in Bangladesh, is also at Rutgers because of her concerns about changing climate. She is earning a doctoral degree in earth and planetary sciences so she can better understand sea level rise and inform endangered communities with her research.

Josephine O’Grady, a first-year graduate student at Rutgers, has set her sights on earning a degree in the master of public policy program at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. A native of Bay Head in Ocean County, O’Grady studied marine life in nearby Barnegat Bay from the time she was a girl and wants her professional work to intersect with the many community environmental organizations she grew up with.

Blanco, Nishi and O’Grady are part of a cadre of Rutgers graduate students in a special initiative at Rutgers that is one of the first in the nation. They are among the newest participants in the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) graduate certificate program, where top students from a variety of scientific, engineering, public policy and urban planning backgrounds are trained and work together and then placed into partnerships with local municipalities confronting real-time issues brought about by climate change.

“If we want to have a real-world impact on finding solutions to climate change, we are going to need people who can talk both to other researchers and also talk to the people who are actually having the problems,” said Robert Kopp, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. Kopp, who also serves as director of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub, a new 13-institution, National Science Foundation-funded partnership led by Rutgers, founded C2R2 with several Rutgers colleagues following the impact of Superstorm Sandy. “Our goal is to produce next-generation researchers whose science is deeply guided by those conversations, and also to produce the critically important leaders who foster those conversations and help link climate research to real-world climate action. Many of our students want to do science that is useful in the near-term, not just the long-term.”

Lisa Auermuller

Doctoral students Fatematuz Zohora Nishi and Dan Blanco discuss their coastal climate resilience models built during a recent class led by Lisa Auermuller (right). [Lucia Mostello/Rutgers University]


Started with support from the National Science Foundation and hosted at the  Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS), the C2R2 certificate program is a collaboration between EOAS, the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the Rutgers School of Engineering and the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies.

“The professionals who will solve the climate problems of tomorrow are our students,” said Jeanne Herb, another founder of the program and associate director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at the Bloustein School. “Through C2R2, our students acquire the knowledge and practical skills needed to become leading researchers and practitioners tackling the critical challenges of coastal resilience.”

Herb said the program is deliberately designed to force students to take on unfamiliar subjects, including a course on science communications, and become familiar with novel environments. During a two-week boot camp, students and professors travel to coastal communities in six different New Jersey counties, conducting scientific fieldwork and meeting with community officials.

Students in the program have served several coastal communities in New Jersey, preparing detailed analyses addressing climate challenges for Atlantic Highlands, Keansburg  and Perth Amboy.

The plan drafted for Perth Amboy involved elements of oceanography, biology, landscape architecture, urban planning and public policy that would address the natural hazards and climate change effects threatening the city. Students recommended taking a “green infrastructure” approach such as retrofitting existing buildings to be more resilient and sustainable.


"The professionals who will solve the climate problems of tomorrow are our students."

Jeanne Herb

Rutgers Environmental Analysis and Communications Group


Lisa Auermuller, the assistant manager for the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve in Tuckerton who teaches a course on climate risk and resilience, said she would like students to look at resilience as more than just the ability to bounce back from adversity. She wants students to come up with ideas that will leave citizens and their communities in a stronger position than before.

Robert Kopp

Rutgers professor Robert Kopp (at upper left) leads his students in the C2R2 program on a visit with police and municipal leaders at Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island.  [Lucia Mostello/Rutgers University]


“In this program, I also want them to consider multiple perspectives,” Auermuller said. “What does it mean to communicate science? What does it mean to work with a municipality or with stakeholders? And how can our work benefit more than just our own learning but really be put into use in the community?”

During a recent class, more than a dozen students peppered a virtual visitor, Angela Andersen, the sustainability coordinator for Long Beach Township on Long Beach Island with questions about her experiences post-Sandy as well as present efforts to protect shorelines from erosion.

Ben Goldberg, a student in Auermuller’s class who is in his second year of a master’s program in city and regional planning at the Bloustein School, said he plans to help cities implement resilient designs.

His journey in the years after college – where he worked as an organic farmer, managed a farmers market, formally studied agroecology and worked as a cook in sustainably minded restaurant kitchens – led him to be in the right place and program, he said.

“Climate change is the defining issue of my generation,” said the Washington, D.C. native as he looked soberly around the classroom at his peers. “I believe there are changes coming that people are not ready for. This program gives me inspiration that I will be able to help.”

Other founding faculty of C2R2 include Clint Andrews, a professor and associate dean for research at the Bloustein School; Carrie Ferraro, who originally served as administrative director for the program and is now assistant professor of professional practice in the Math & Science Learning Center at the School of Arts and Sciences; Jie Gong, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the School of Engineering; and Rebecca Jordan, now a professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University.

Rutgers led the pursuit of climate solutions after Superstorm Sandy. Visit "In Sandy's Wake" to learn how.

Celebrating Mosasaurs at the Rutgers Geology Museum


The unveiling of the restored painting in the background.
From Left to Right: Artist Jeanne Filler Scott, Former Geology Museum Director Bill Selden, Graduate Student Amelia Zietlow from the American Museum of Natural History, and Current Geology Museum Director Lauren Adamo

April 17, 2023

By Carol Peters, EOAS Communications

At the 150th anniversary of the Rutgers Geology Museum, Mosasaurs, giant lizards who lived at the time of the dinosaurs, were explored and celebrated.

Mosasaurs were enormous lizards and apex predators who ruled the Earth’s waters at the time of the dinosaurs, at the very end of the cretaceous period ~95-66 million years ago. The same asteroid that blasted the dinosaurs into extinction also ended the reign of Mosasaurs. However, they live on in the fossils they left, and their remains are providing scientists with a key means of understanding evolutionary processes. 

What stories do Mosasaur fossils tell? What were these giant, terrifying, sea-faring creatures like? At a celebration held in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Rutgers Geology Museum, Amelia Zietlow, a Ph.D. candidate at Richard Gilder Graduate School at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, described her research exploring Mosasaurs in her lecture, “When Serpents Encircled the Earth.”

In addition to Zietlow’s presentation, the event also celebrated Mosasaurs by hosting the unveiling of a Mosasaur painting housed at the museum. Originally painted by Rutgers alumna Jeanne Filler Scott, ’77, Scott recently restored it and was present for its unveiling.  

The restored Mosasaur painting.

Zietlow, who studies mosasaur growth and evolution, described mosasaurs as, “the world’s lizards.” She said, “Their fossils have been found on every continent, including Antarctica, in both salt and freshwater environments. They were crossing the Atlantic Ocean just like today’s aquatic predatory animals such as great white sharks. They were apex predators, top of the food chain in whatever environments they found themselves in. Their teeth and/or stomach contents show they were eating anything and everything that came near them. We also know they were not kind animals. In every other animal that lived at the time we find Mosasaur bite marks, including on the fossils of other Mosasaurs.”

While there is a great deal of variety among species of Mosasaurs, Zietlow said, scientists know they all descended from a species of land-living lizard with legs that evolved adaptations to enable it to live in the water. Once adapted to the water, Mosasaurs never left it (females even gave live birth in the water).

Zietlow said a major outstanding question for Mosasaur researchers is, “How many times did the lizard ancestor evolve into Mosasaurs?”

“There are three primary branches/groups/kinds of Mosasaurs,” she said, “and the question is: Did these three groups evolve from a single ancestor that evolved fins and then diversified into different mosasaurs or were there a bunch of leggy things that all separately or independently evolved flippers and tail flukes and massive size and everything else — which wouldn’t be entirely out of character as a thing for lizards to do.”

The question Mosasaurs help scientists think about in a broader context, Zietlow said, is how animals evolved to be aquatic. Mosasaurs evolved from living on the land to living in the water, but she said they weren’t the only creatures to evolve this way. Whales, crocodiles, sloths, and seals also did. She said if scientists can understand this evolutionary process in Mosasaurs, they can compare it to how this transition happened more broadly with other kinds of animals to better understand evolution.

Questions about this transition that scientists are currently asking, she said, are, did the transition from land to water happen the same way every time?” Did creatures go through the same sequence of changes in the same order or were there differences?

Zietlow said there are three main reasons she chose to study Mosasaurs: there were a lot of them; they have close living relatives; and they were “charismatic.”

“I’ve studied at least 70 Tylosaurus, which is a type of Mosasaur,” Zietlow said. “That’s 70 individuals that belonged to a single species, and there are at least another 100 Tylosaurus I have not seen. By contrast, there are only 20 T Rex known on the entire planet. When we have evolutionary questions, we need to have a significant sample size, which most dinosaurs don’t have, but Mosasaurs do.”

That they have close living relatives also makes understanding them easier, she said.  “Something like T Rex we have no living analog to that – there is nothing alive today that comes anywhere close to what that animal was doing, whereas a Mosasaur was a big lizard anatomically not that far removed from its living relatives – monitor lizards. In terms of making comparisons and understanding these big picture evolutionary questions, this makes it so much easier.”

Explaining why their nature, which she describes as “charismatic” interests her, Zietlow said, “What this means is they are very cool, very interesting to work on, and very good for getting people into science and excited about biology and paleontology and evolution. Because how can you look at that Mosasaur face and not fall in love with it, and want to know everything about it, and most of importantly, how it came to be?”

Watch the full event:


From Jersey to Alaska: A Student's Epic Trek Inspires a Calling in Glacier Science

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

Journey Berry hopes to make the field more diverse 

Journey Berry

Journey Berry grew up immersed in the performing arts, playing bass and mulling a career as a jazz musician.

She never dreamed she would find her calling amid the glaciers and icy fjords of Alaska.

But through a combination of intellectual curiosity and what at times seemed like pure serendipity, this Rutgers University–New Brunswick student discovered she had a passion for glaciology, the study of ice in the environment. It all began when she was 15, with a one-off, local kayaking venture with her mom in which they happened to meet a noted scientist. That encounter led to Berry taking a big leap the following year, going off on an expedition with women and girls to Bear Glacier Lagoon in Alaska. Now a senior, she’s doing research on the impact of climate change on that region while completing a double major in geology and geography in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Journey BerryAt every turn, Berry said she encountered people who provided the inspiration, and helped her figure out what to do next.

“I had never even been kayaking before,” she said of that fateful first trip. “But beginning right then and there, I met people who quite literally changed my life.”

She intends to do the same for others. Berry is keenly aware that she, as a Black woman, is a rarity in geosciences. She wants to help bring change.

“The lack of Black and Latino students in geology and geography affects how people from the outside world see these fields,” she says. “I am hoping as I progress in my career, I can be that person that a high school or college student of color can look up to and realize that they too have a chance in this field.”

Faculty members say Berry is poised to change the field.

“Her energy and her potential to reach the next generation of scientists is inspiring to me,” says Lauren Neitzke Adamo, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and director of the Rutgers Geology Museum where Berry is a student employee and conducts public tours. “She is excelling in all these things, and already translating her experiences and knowledge to reach younger people.”

Berry grew up in the Bergen County community of Teaneck, raised by parents who are musicians and artists. She plays guitar and bass, taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Esperanza Spalding. She was 15 when she and her mom decided to try kayaking the Hackensack River. They struck up a conversation with veteran science educator Michael J. Passow, who invited Berry to attend public science workshops at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY, a 20-minute drive from her home.

She soon began attending the Saturday sessions in oceanography, geology, paleontology, enjoying the friendly mix of students and teachers.

“I was pretty much hooked,” Berry says said. “There were a lot of geology teachers, and I was able to talk with them about their work on a casual level.”

She also learned about a non-profit group, Inspiring Girls Expeditions, that leads epic summer trips for high school girls that combine science, art, and backcountry travel.

So, at the age of 16, Berry became the youngest girl to participate in the organization’s Girls in Icy Fjords program, flying out to Anchorage for a sea kayaking expedition around the Kenai Fjords National Park in south central Alaska. Accompanied by four adult instructors, Berry and eight other girls spent two momentous weeks in the frozen landscape, kayaking Bear Glacier Lagoon, watching icebergs break off from the glacier, and learning how to observe, study, and create art from the environment around them.

Team of students walking through high grass near mountains “It was a shock—there I was on the other side of the continent,” Berry said. “Everything I had seen in textbooks and maps are suddenly right before my eyes.

“It was a life changing moment. Definitely.”

Indeed, after returning home, she landed an internship at the observatory’s polar geophysics group and then headed off to Rutgers, where in addition to her double major she has a minor in marine science. She is also doing research with her mentor from Inspiring Girls, Erin Pettit, a glaciologist at Oregon State University who is studying the retreat of Bear Glacier due to climate change.

One of the hallmarks of her Rutgers geoscience experience is the presence of women mentors, including Adamo, geography professor Åsa Rennermalm, and graduate student Julie Vastano, studying paleontology in Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

“There are definitely strong women in the departments here that I look up to and have been privileged to work with,” Berry said.

She is currently deciding on a plan for graduate studies. Her focus is on glaciology, but she says the entire array of earth sciences is compelling to her.

“I think it’s the idea that there is always something new to discover,” she says. “There is so much about our planet that we have not discovered yet, whether it is below the ocean, high up in the mountains or among barren landscapes.”

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2022, Berry came full circle. She served as one of the adult instructors and guides for Girls in Icy Fjords, leading a group of girls through the two-week adventure in Alaska similar to what she experienced in 2017.

“I was so happy to do that,” she said. “To see a group of girls experience that joy and that shock—it’s just beyond words.”

Students and team kayaking

Lessons From the Cores!

Oregon CoringProfessor Jim Wright and members of his research group went to a core repository in Oregon to split, scan, and describe the cores that they collected along the Patagonian margin, offshore Argentina. This project is a continuation of their successful expedition to the southern Argentine margin in 2019. Rutgers personnel who joined Professor Wright include graduate students, Ronan Keating, Maya Stefanelli, and Aldiyar Mukhatzhanov as well as a post-doctorate researcher, José Isola. In this project, they worked alongside other colleagues from Texas A&M and international scientists from Argentina. The photo on the left shows a correlation by laying out the cores from one of their transects (left) as well as Holocene deposits to glacial transition that are heavily burrowed (right)! The red layers at the top section of the core indicate oxidized sediments.

Oregon Coring Personnel

Living at the Shore After Sandy: Should Residents Stay – or Go?

Kenneth Miller

Whether to live at the Jersey shore became more complicated for Kenneth Miller, Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, after Superstorm Sandy struck NJ and his home a decade ago. "Superstorm Sandy was the fourth 100-year storm at the Jersey shore since 1991," said Miller, an expert in sea-level change and global warming. Miller and his team have published sobering findings about sea-level change, noting the state needs to plan for at least a three-foot sea level rise by 2100, findings reinforced by a 2019 New Jersey Science and Technical Advisory Panel report.

This article was originally published by Shelley Kusnetz and can be found here.


New Jersey needs to plan for at least a 3-foot sea level rise by 2100, Rutgers researchers warn

Whether to buy or build a home at the Jersey Shore has become more complicated and personal for Kenneth Miller – a Rutgers expert in sea level change and global warming – since Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey’s seaside communities a decade ago.

“Superstorm Sandy was the fourth 100-year storm we weathered at the Jersey Shore since 1991,” said Miller, a Distinguished Professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who lived in the coastal community of Waretown, New Jersey, until 2015.

“In the other storms, my house was an island in Barnegat Bay,” he said. “During Sandy, my house was in Barnegat Bay. The mark on my sheetrock testified that the surge was 19 inches above the 100-year mark. The three previous storms – in 1991, 1992 and 2005 – reached but did not exceed the 100-year mark.”

Miller and his team have published sobering findings about sea level change in New Jersey, noting that the state needs to plan for at least a 3-foot sea level rise by 2100 – three times the rise in the past 50 years.

The findings were reinforced in the 2019 New Jersey Science and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) report New Jersey’s Rising Seas and Changing Coastal Storms, and discussed in Miller’s Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences signature course, “Sea Change: The Rise and Fall of Sea Level and the Jersey Shore,” which he has offered since 2007.

“There has been a sea change – if you will – of students’ attitudes since the course was first introduced,” Miller said. “In the beginning, they were skeptical about climate change. Today, 95 percent understand this is a problem caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses and want to do something about it.”

Miller said climate change is causing global sea levels to rise at an accelerated pace while the land sinks because of the Earth’s natural movements. Meanwhile, more frequent, severe storm surges such as Sandy can cause sea levels to swell even higher, flooding communities, eroding beaches and destroying marshlands in their wake.

Ken MillerWhile the number of storms might not be increasing, they are becoming more severe, with once-in-a-lifetime storms such as Sandy that cause storm surges becoming more frequent, Miller said.

Since Sandy, shore communities have focused on replenishing the dunes and widening the beaches, which is the best defense. However, Miller – who offers a lecture “Shall I Sell My House at the Jersey Shore?” – said he is disappointed in how slow funding has been for rebuilding.

“A decade later, some areas still have not been rebuilt, and places like Seaside do not have effective dunes to protect the beach,” he said. “The general attitude has been business-as-usual. We must assess the economic benefits of preserving development and making communities more resilient.”

Although the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for rebuilding are higher than the federal level, they are still too low and don’t take into account sea level rise, Miller said.

“A 1-foot increase in elevation might make a difference: My brother-in-law’s decision to build to 11 feet – 1 foot above the required level – saved his house,” Miller said.

His findings that the sea levels off the New Jersey coast will rise 3 feet by the turn of the century are based on the assumption that we monitor and control emissions. If we continue business as usual, however, we can expect 4 feet or more, Miller said.

“There is 5 percent chance that sea levels will even rise over 6 feet by 2100,” he said. “Should that be considered the standard we apply to structures we design for the next century?” 


Assessing Inequities in Shore Communities: Who Stays and Who Leaves?

“New Jersey is trying to be forward-looking with their climate adaptation planning, but more work needs to be done on how we implement social justice in the distribution of federal resources for hazard mitigation and resiliency projects,” said Laura Geronimo, a doctoral student at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.

Geronimo, who studies how coastal communities adapt in efficient and equitable ways to climate risks like sea level rise and storm surge, has observed local variation in how federal funds are applied for property level flood mitigation strategies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP): home buyouts and property elevations appear geographically clustered, with buyouts often occurring in riverine communities and elevations occurring in coastal communities.

“When assessing communities for mitigation, FEMA is using cost-benefit analysis (CBA) as a major criterion, which tends to concentrate buyouts in communities where there are lower-value properties, which also tend to be places where there are higher proportions of socially vulnerable populations. Post-Sandy, buyouts were concentrated in places like Woodbridge and Sayreville. Meanwhile, CBA makes it more cost-effective to elevate higher value properties, concentrating elevations in wealthier communities like Toms River and Brick Township,” Geronimo said.

According to Geronimo, elevations may be related to climate gentrification: Elevations tend to enhance property values, and when people elevate they also tend to build back bigger. Conversely, communities where buyouts are implemented may have difficulty finding alternative housing options. Understanding the social equity impacts of buyouts is complex, because this may be the preferred strategy among groups tired of living in the floodplain.

“There should be a continuum of care to not fracture these communities, with assistance in finding affordable alternative housing in desirable and safe locations,” she said.

It’s important to engage communities and understand what people value about a place that keeps them in the flood plain – such as proximity to the ocean or family histories – and their perception of risk, Geronimo said.

In Waretown, a working-class community on the mainland side of Barnegat Bay, Miller said he has seen residents struggle for years to rebuild – if they were even able to.

Damage to homes“The resources were not there, so many people couldn’t do anything, which was truly heartbreaking,” he said. “And the people who reside on the barrier islands live on a threatened sand of time. The community can be maintained through intense beach replenishment or nourishment and by building sea walls, but by 2100, we will be looking at a fundamentally different New Jersey shoreline. "Federal flood insurance allows people to rebuild in these hazardous zones – a policy that Miller said should be re-examined. A question emerges: Should houses in harm’s way be allowed to be rebuilt again and again at taxpayer expense? Even with federal subsidies, insurance rates continue to rise. According to FEMA, more than 12,000 New Jersey policyholders have let their flood insurance lapse, leaving them vulnerable to the next storm." Geronimo said she questions the long-term sustainability of elevating buildings if there is an uncertainty about how the supporting infrastructure will be maintained.

“What happens to communities when road networks, electrical grids and sewer lines are inundated?” she said. 

For Miller, the tipping point for selling came when he grew weary from the battle against Mother Nature for a shore home he visited infrequently. While he misses the community he left behind, Miller said he has an appreciation for those who remained.

“For many people at the shore, the fight against nature is well worth it, but they need to be financially committed, have proper insurance, elevate their house to at least 12 feet and be prepared to evacuate,” he said. “While those measures should be good for them for maybe 20 years, it won’t be enough for their grandkids. They won’t be able to inherit those homes.”

“We can’t predict the future. It’s all luck,” Miller said. “We’ve been lucky for 10 years. Will we be lucky for another 10? We are rolling loaded climate dice for more extreme weather events – and at some point, our luck will run out.”

Rutgers led the pursuit of climate solutions after Superstorm Sandy. Visit "In Sandy's Wake" to learn how.

Science on the Seas brings Lessons to K-12 Classrooms

 Rutgers climate scientists bring school teachers aboard research vessel

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

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When the research vessel Atlantis steamed out of Woods Hole, Mass. on June 2, scientists from Rutgers University and the University of Washington were on board for a 14-day deep-sea coring expedition aimed at resolving key climate science questions.

Lauren Neitzke Adamo, director of the Rutgers Geology Museum, was also aboard to make the mission come alive as a real-time learning experience for K-12 schools in three states and create an enduring lesson in science for students nationwide.

Adamo, a professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, was joined by her own crew that included four public school teachers. They spent the voyage livestreaming and blogging to students in classrooms, public libraries, and the geology museum.

For Adamo, the voyage was a major step forward for public science education. She discusses the experience below.

ALe Lauren Stacey SQQ: This research project had a public education component built in from the start. How did that come about?

A: The principal investigators—which included Chief Scientist Liz Sykes, a professor of oceanography of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences—had the idea of bringing classroom teachers along to connect with the public and explain the purpose of the research. So it was included as part of the grant. After the National Science Foundation approved the funding, we conducted a nationwide search for our On-board Educators, and eventually recruited four teachers from New York, New Jersey, and Texas.

Q: You are often busy with your own research, and this summer you also have a project to map volcanoes in Costa Rica by drone. What prompted you to take on the role as Chief Outreach Officer for this project?

A: One of the things I love most about being in science is communicating the exciting discoveries to the public, especially to K-12 classrooms. That has become a big part of my job as director of the Geology Museum, and I have extensive experience bringing current science to classrooms and aligning it with the national science teaching standards.

In 2018, I participated in a PolarTREC Expedition in the Swiss Alps, where I was the science communicator on the team. It was my responsibility to engage with the public through blogs, videos, and live-stream events in the field, as well assist with the field work- all of which providedTubesofMud excellent preparation for this project!

Q: Getting this voyage together was really involved, with teachers having to prepare their substitutes to take over while they were away, as well as figure out how to communicate the science to the public while at sea. How did things work out aboard the ship?

A: During the week, we conducted up to four livestreams a day, engaging with classrooms in New Jersey, New York, and Texas, as well as families from all over the country. We spoke to classes and schools that had anywhere from 15 to several hundred students tuning in to hear us talk from the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. The kids were so excited to be able to talk to scientists actively conducting research and each groups had dozens of amazing questions. We were able to engage directly with over 1,000 students during our time at sea! It was an amazing experience not only for the people watching, but also for the educators and scientists leading the sessions.

Q: How does the education work continue now that the voyage is over?

Mrs Ortiz class A: We are asking the teachers to create two products. Those will likely be in the form of curriculum that uses the science in their classrooms. The teachers will be working with me over the next six months to develop that content, and we will be posting it on our website so it is available for all teachers to access.

Q: What was the scientific goal of the mission?

A: There is something in climate science called the Holocene Conundrum. It refers to how there are records that show that temperatures in the North Atlantic actually cooled a bit during this time, the last 10,000 years. But that does not match the global trends. So the target of this cruise was to collect sediment off the coast of Nova Scotia and New Jersey to see whether we get the same warming trend that we see globally or the cooling trend that we see in those records.

Q: What did you feel was accomplished through the public education component?

A: I think the main reason we do this is for the students who are all excited to become scientists and then they get a little older and say, “I can’t do it,” and drop out. In our livestreams, they see their own teachers doing science, and they get to see and talk with scientists doing real research. It’s all about fixing the leaking pipeline.

In addition, when you bring climate science to the classroom, not only are you trying to address the science standards, you are also trying to teach the material in a meaningful way and show them that the science is active and alive. Not everyone is going to become a scientist. But if students are learning it in an active and engaged manner, they are going to retain it better and become informed citizens.

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Exploring a Unique Landscape of the Past, Present, and Future in Costa Rica

An Undergraduate's Experience in the Field

Written by Jason Kawalec, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2023, Planetary Science Major

Date- July 12, 2022

Location- San Pedro, Costa Rica

Jason Michael Monte La CruzToday marks my twelfth day living in Costa Rica! I’ve had a wonderful time, full of memorable experiences and new opportunities. The food is delicious, the people are friendly, and the views are spectacular. This is the first time in my life I can see a volcano from my apartment window! 

I’m here in Costa Rica as part of a grant funded by the Rutgers Global Program titled “Dangerous While Asleep.” This grant is a collaboration between Rutgers EPS Professors, Dr. Lauren Neitzke Adamo and Dr. Vadim Levin, and University of Costa Rica (UCR) Professor and Rutgers EPS Alumnus, Dr. Paulo Ruiz, to conduct an in-depth examination of the Barva volcano.

Barva is a complex stratovolcano (a volcano built up by alternating layers of lava and ash), located ~25 miles North of the city of San Jose.San Pedro Sunset Barva last erupted in the 1700s and has remained dormant since then. Barva has not been extensively studied due to its long inactivity. The close proximity of a major city (i.e. population of ~340,000 people), means there is a high risk to people and property if the volcano becomes active again. Much can be learned about its eruption history and future volcanic risk by studying the current geomorphology. This project will examine several sites of interest around Barva by drone. The images collected will be developed into high-resolution 3D models and digital elevation maps. I will work with this data and interpret these models over the next academic year for my Honors Capstone for the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program (SASHP) and for my departmental Honors in Geology. 

The first few days here were especially unique for me. I was living alone in a country 4,000 miles away from my home and my last experience with Spanish was during my first semester at Rutgers. These few days gave me time to explore the city on my own, attempt (and struggle) to relearn some Spanish, and get settled into my new home, a hotel by UCR in San Pedro called the Gran Casa Universitaria. One day I went to the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum) with Dr. Ruiz and his family. It was incredible to get a sense of just how much culture and history there is behind this land of jungles and volcanoes. 

Setting Up DroneSoon, my friend and fellow Rutgers EPS major, Michael Pinnella, arrived to assist with the field work. I was very happy to see a familiar face. We started moving quickly on our project with Dr. Ruiz, spending time preparing our drones and field equipment, completing a test flight, and outlining our flight routes around several volcanic deposits. Amidst all this, I turned 21 and had my first birthday outside of the U.S.! We celebrated that evening with an Imperial and some Chifrijo – a popular Costa Rican beer and a local delicacy.

My favorite day was our first day in the field at Monte de la Cruz (translates to Mountain of the Cross), a national park located 12 miles North of San Jose. Dr. Ruiz identified two parasitic cones (a smaller cone on the flank of a larger volcano) of the Barva volcano that can be seen in the park. Using our drone, we set out to image and analyze this unexamined part of Barva. We were met with strong winds in the morning that prohibited us from flying at high altitudes. Fortunately, we found success in the afternoon when the winds died down and our drone captured some wonderful aerial photographs of the two cones. We have already started to create the higher resolution 3D models of Barva that will be the most detailed maps of these sites to date. I’m looking forward to returning to Barva and exploring more of Costa Rica once the rest of the team arrives!