Graduate Fellow Studies Storm Damage on Assateague Island

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Graduate Fellow Studies Storm Damage on Assateague Island

During her fellowship, Stephanie will study the effects of storm damage on coastal environments.

By Katharine Sucher, Science Writing Intern 

Stephanie Smallegan. ©VASG

Stephanie Smallegan. ©Jennifer Armstrong/VASG

This June, Stephanie Smallegan began a two-year graduate research fellowship with Virginia Sea Grant (VASG). During her fellowship, Stephanie will study the effects of storm damage on coastal environments, serving VASG’s focus on sustainable and resilient coastal communities.

Specifically, Stephanie will investigate the processes that govern overwash and breaching during storms. Overwash is the landward transport of sediment from a dune toppled by storm waves and breaching is the development of a channel on a barrier island. According to Stephanie, excessive overwash and breaching have the potential to devastate coastal environments, but the processes that govern overwash and breaching are not fully understood.

Using a numerical model, Stephanie will research overwash extent and breaching locations at Assateague Island, an undeveloped island in VA, during Hurricane Sandy. She will then compare this data to similar research from a developed island. By gaining a better understanding of the processes that govern overwash and breaching, Stephanie hopes her research will lead to improved predictive tools for storm damage.

“By understanding the potential hazards of an approaching storm, policy makers can make informed decisions regarding awareness and protection of coastal infrastructure and ecosystems,” Stephanie said.

During her fellowship, Stephanie will work with a physics and earth science teacher from Radford High School to create classroom activities from her data. She will also lead discussion sessions about broader coastal environmental issues.

Stephanie graduated with highest honors from The Georgia Institute of Technology in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. In 2012 she also earned her master’s degree in civil engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She is currently pursuing a PhD in civil engineering from Virginia Polytechnic and State University. She is a member the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honor Society. One day, Stephanie hopes to become a tenured professor at an accredited research university.