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PhD student Nick Brilli during an Arctic Field Training – Small Boat Safety in Texas

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Nick recently traveled to Port Aransas, TX to take part in a small boat safety training. The course was put on by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) and was specifically tailored for researchers doing work on small craft in arctic areas. Nick will be spending two weeks on a vessel in the Beaufort Sea, near Prudhoe Bay, AK later in the summer as part of a project to study the fate of continental shelf sediments in the Arctic. Over the course of the weekend, students learned the basics of boating safety, recognizing and treating hypothermia, and useful navigation skills. Outside the classroom, they practiced flotation with different types of PFD’s, especially float coats and full body. The last day was focused on inflatable craft, and the students had the opportunity to learn how to build the boat, maintain the outboard motor, and even spend the afternoon driving the boats in the local shipping channel, practicing sea ice avoidance and man overboard techniques. It wa…

Graduate student Abby Burke will present poster at Ocean Sciences Meeting

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In February, Abby Burke will present her first conference poster at the AGU Ocean Science Meeting in San Diego. The title of her poster is "A Geotechnical Perspective on High Tide Flooding: Exploring the Relationship Between Site Characteristics and High Tide Flood Impacts," and is coauthored by Dr. Nina Stark and Dr. Adrian Rodriguez-Marek. High tide flooding, also known as "nuisance flooding" or "sunny day flooding" is minor flooding that occurs at high tide. High tide flooding is occurring more frequently due to sea level rise and can flood basements and roads (as shown in the photo below), overwhelm stormwater systems, and may lead to long-term failure of flood control structures. The poster focuses on connecting high tide flood impacts with geotechnical site characteristics. This is achieved by examining key geotechnical characteristics at six different locations along the East Coast and analyzing how these characteristics might impact the magnitude …

Graduate Student Sam Consolvo will present at the upcoming ASCE G-I Geo-Congress

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In preparation for one of the largest geotechnical engineering conferences—Geo-Congress 2020—I am currently working on my podium presentation for my paper. The title of my conference paper that was accepted into the proceedings is “Subaqueous Sediment Characterization near Oyster Colonies by Means of Side-Scan Sonar Imaging and Portable Free-Fall Penetrometer.” The co-authors are Nina Stark from Virginia Tech, Celso Castro-Bolinaga, Steven Hall, Matthew Campbell, and Melody Thomas from North Carolina State University, and Grace Massey from Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The conference will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota from February 25-28, 2020 (brrr!).
The presentation is centered around the results of a site investigation performed in the Piankatank River (which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia) back in October of 2018. The two main preliminary findings of the paper are the friction angle values of the riverbed sediments increased slightly from ~ 45° to ~ 50°…

Independent undergraduate research study by Liz Smith on seafloor seeding for improvement of scallop habitats

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During the fall 2019 semester, undergraduate Liz Smith with the assistance of graduate student Samuel Consolvo performed an investigation of how different seeding materials impacted the benthic environment of a clay. The motivation for the research is due a dredging and fine sediment overspill in Sydney harbor in Nova Scotia. The seeding materials have the potential to improve scallop habitat in the presence of soft fine seabed sediments. The hope is that one or a few of these seeding materials will increase the shear strength of the soil and by doing so, provide a stiffer substratum. All of this research is done in partnership with Cape Breton University and Dalhousie University, both in Nova Scotia, Canada.
For the experimentation, four seeding materials: small shells, large shells, slag, and gravel were dropped into different bins of four different consolidation times each. Data on shear strength, depth and orientation of each different seeding material were collected through x-rays…

Congratulations to Gabriela Nolivos Galarza for graduating with her MS degree

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Congratulations to Gabriela Novilos Galarza for graduating with her MS degree. Below Gabriela summarized some of her research performed in 2019 for our ongoing ONR project:


This research started with the analysis of color and local geology components of satellite images obtained from Google Earth Pro. The satellite images used for this investigation consisted of RGB images containing three bands: Red, Green, and Blue.  The two classes selected to become part of the classification had histograms relating RGB pixel intensity that differed significantly, these characteristics made it possible to use a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) with a basic architecture to perform image classification tasks. Pixel intensity features were extracted from the areas of interest (AOI) using Matlab codes, and this generated plots relating the R, G, and B channels intensity with the relative frequency of the regions analyzed. After performing a literature review to select the more appropriate classifier, a…

SERDP ESTCP Symposium 2019

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Nina and Dennis attended the SERDP-ESTCP symposium held in Washington, DC, 3-5 December 2019. The symposium featured a diverse group of people ranging from environmental and energy researchers, technology developers with the defense end-user to regulatory communities, all showcasing the latest environmental technologies and ideas. We were honored to be a part of this community and shared what we have been working on of late and at the same time had a chance to connect with researchers in other fields, identify gaps and engage on how may complement each other. Nina had an oral presentation at the Underwater UXO: Environmental Characterization for Burial and Mobility Modeling session. The presentation was on the improved penetrometer performance in stratified sediment for cost effective characterization, monitoring and management of submerged munition sites. This was an overview of findings of the geotechnical soil parameters obtained using the portable free fall penetrometer (PFFP) base…

Investigating changes in relative density and strength of beach sands

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During the week of the DUNEX pilot, several sets of beach surveys were performed. Over a period of 4 days, a large amount of data were collected along 3 beach transects. Nick, Nina, and Reem (with occasional help from Brandon and furry friends Balto and Leila) conducted blueDrop deployments, SoilSabre vane shear and penetrometer and Humboldt penetrometer measurements for information on sediment shear strength, while moisture content measurements, density sampling, and grain size samples provided additional sediment properties. The transects were surveyed in close proximity to an array of ADVs and buried pressure sensors, which will further supplement this data set. This large amount of data will be used as the backbone for a future publication detailing methodologies and strategies for conducting beach surveys to study sediment properties. Additionally, the density sampling will be used for research into the connections between PFFP data from the blueDrop and in-situ sediment properti…