VASG Spearheads Coastal Storms Program Fellowship for Mid-Atlantic Region

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VASG Spearheads Coastal Storms Program Fellowship for Mid-Atlantic Region

Six students from NY, NJ, DE, and VA will spend a year working on coastal storms research.

Six students from NY, NJ, DE, and VA will spend a year working on coastal storms research

Courtesy of United States Geological Survey.

Courtesy of United States Geological Survey.

Six finalists spanning four states will become the first ever mid-Atlantic Coastal Storms Program graduate research fellows.

Through a rigorous peer-review process, 18 applications for the coastal storms fellowship were evaluated, with six finalists selected from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia.

Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) took the lead on administering the mid-Atlantic coastal storms fellowship, designing the program, recruiting applicants, and moderating the selection process. VASG modeled the fellowship on their successful graduate research fellowship, a program that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognizes as a best management practice. The fellows are funded by the Coastal Storms Program, a NOAA initiative that brings together federal, state, and local organizations to increase resiliency to, and reduce negative impacts of coastal storms, like hurricanes, nor’easters, and tropical storms.

Starting this summer, the fellows will work on a variety of coastal storms-related issues with academic advisors and outreach mentors. ­A mentor offers advice and guidance throughout the fellowship, ranging from input on framing the research question and gathering data, to outreach and communication of results to target audiences, and ensuring their research leads to broader societal impacts. In this way, fellows establish formal mentoring relationships with end-users of their science. At the end of their year-long fellowships, all of the fellows, advisors, and mentors will gather at a workshop where the students will present their results, network with NOAA, non-governmental organizations, local and state government officials, and discuss other research in the field.

“I am so impressed by the quality of these students, and excited about the societal impact their research will have with the help of their professional mentors,” said VASG Director Troy Hartley. “The coastal storms fellowship is a wonderful example of leveraging the strengths of NOAA’s Coastal Storms Program, and Sea Grant’s university network to address today’s challenges and produce tomorrow’s coastal storms scientists, managers, and leaders.”

Learn more about the fellows and their projects below.


Nasrin Alamdari. Courtesy of Nasrin Alamdari.

Nasrin Alamdari. Courtesy of Nasrin Alamdari.

Nasrin Alamdari, Virginia

Project: Modeling the effects of climate change on an urban stormwater system in coastal Virginia

 Nasrin will evaluate how climate-induced changes in storm events and sea level rise are affecting the performance of a stormwater system in Virginia Beach, VA. She will look at how climate change and sea level rise affect the runoff peak, volume, and nutrient and sediment loads delivered to the Chesapeake Bay via the stormwater system. Nasrin will be working with mentors at the City of Virginia Beach and her academic advisors at Virginia Tech.

“​I have a strong interest for continuous work in addressing the challenges in environment and water resources facing us in the future,” Nasrin says.

Nasrin is a doctoral candidate studying biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech. She received one master’s degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran in 2011, and a second master’s degree at Tennessee Technological University in 2014, both in civil and environmental engineering. She received her bachelor’s in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Tabriz in Tabriz, Iran in 2009.

Academic advisor: David Sample, Virginia Tech
Outreach mentor: Greg Johnson, City of Virginia Beach


Yi Liu picks up trash during a stream cleaning at Virginia Tech. Courtesy of Yi Liu.

Yi Liu. Courtesy of Yi Liu.

Yi Liu, Virginia

Project: Predicting time and magnitude of hurricane surge forerunners in Coastal Virginia

Yi will use numerical models to investigate how hurricane characteristics affect the timing and magnitude of storm surge forerunners in coastal Virginia. A storm surge forerunner is an early water elevation rise that happens well in advance of a hurricane’s landfall. From her model results, Yi will develop Surge Forerunner Prediction Graphs from storm characteristics. She will work with mentors at NOAA’s National Weather Service, and her academic advisors at Virginia Tech.

“I’m excited to see how surge forerunner research and predictions will grow through this project, and especially excited to see how my research results can be used in the real world by forecasters and emergency managers,” Yi says.

Yi is a doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech in the environmental and water resources program, with a focus on coastal engineering. She received her bachelors in naval architecture and ocean engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China in 2013.

Academic advisor: Jennifer Irish, Virginia Tech
Outreach mentor: Jeff Orrock, National Weather Service meteorologist in Wakefield, VA


Stephanie Dohner. ©Stephanie Dohner.

Stephanie Dohner. ©Stephanie Dohner.

Stephanie Dohner, Delaware

Project: Increasing coastal resiliency by using high density, rapid response data as inputs to coastal morphodynamical models

Stephanie will investigate the short-term effects of tropical storms and nor’easters on coastal morphology with rapid response techniques, including using unmanned aerial vehicles to look at land features and autonomous underwater vehicles to measure water depth. She will feed data collected before and after storms into models to more accurately predict local flooding and morphology change during extreme storm events for the mid-Atlantic region. Her end goal for the project is to develop a data collection method that local entities can use to monitor their own beaches.

“I can’t wait to meet more people who love working with coastal science and the communities who live there,” Stephanie says. “I’m forever grateful for this opportunity to work with the mid-Atlantic communities, the coastal science community, and the members of the Virginia Sea Grant program.” She will work with Delaware Sea Grant to ensure her findings reach coastal communities in need.

Stephanie is a doctoral candidate studying oceanography at the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. She received her master’s in physical oceanography from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2015. She received her bachelors from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2013, majoring in physical oceanography and minoring in meteorology.

Academic advisor: Art Tembanis, University of Delaware
Outreach mentor: Chris Petrone, Delaware Sea Grant


Laura Lemke. Courtesy of Laura Lemke.

Laura Lemke. Courtesy of Laura Lemke.

Laura Lemke, New Jersey

Project: Evaluation and forecasting of storm impacts based on the storm erosion index along the mid-Atlantic coast

Laura will use the storm erosion index, a scale that measures the erosion potential of a storm, to create a historical database, as well as to predict the erosion potential of approaching storms for the mid-Atlantic region, especially New Jersey. She hopes to help communities prepare for coastal storms by developing a system that alerts emergency officials when approaching storms have the potential to cause severe erosion. Laura will work with mentors from the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, and academic advisors from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

“As sea level rise and general storminess continue to increase, making sure communities are aware and properly prepared for storms will be critical,” Laura says. “This work has the opportunity to aid emergency officials as they prepare for approaching storms by better informing them on the potential for an approaching storm to cause severe beach erosion.”

This fall, Laura will start working toward her PhD in ocean engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. She has been a coastal engineer at CH2M, an engineering company, since 2014. She received her master’s in ocean engineering, and bachelors in civil engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in 2014.

Academic advisor: Jon K. Miller, Stevens Institute of Technology
Outreach mentor: Lisa Auermuller, Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve



Chellby Kilheffer. Courtesy of Chellby Kilheffer.

Chellby Kilheffer, New York

Project: Factors affecting dune and vegetation recovery from Superstorm Sandy in the Otis Pike High Dune Wilderness Area on Fire Island National Seashore, New York

Chellby will investigate how white-tailed deer affect dune and vegetation recovery on Fire Island National Seashore, a barrier island, after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“Barrier islands are naturally dynamic ecosystems, capable of recovering over time after storms of Sandy’s magnitude,” she says, “but Fire Island’s dense deer population may influence the recovery process by browsing the sand-trapping vegetation responsible for building protective primary dunes.”

Chellby is currently a doctoral candidate studying fish and wildlife biology, and management at State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry (SUNY ESF). She received her master’s in conservation biology at SUNY ESF in 2014, and her bachelors in general biology at Penn State Berks in 2012.

“I am excited for the networking opportunities and outreach experiences scheduled for the fellowship year,” she says. Chellby will work with the National Park Service.

Academic advisor: Brian Underwood and Donald Leopold, SUNY ESF
Outreach mentor: Jordan Raphael, National Park Service Ranger, and park biologist at Fire Island National Seashore


Chris Nack. Courtesy of Chris Nack.

Chris Nack. Courtesy of Chris Nack.

Chris Nack, New York

Project: Impacts of large storm events on the early life stages of American shad, and the importance of non-mainstem habitat

The one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 reduced the amount of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) along the main channel of New York’s Hudson River, which reduced the amount of prey items and habitat available for American shad. In the aftermath of this, Chris will investigate the importance of side channels and backwaters as nursery habitats for larval and juvenile American Shad, working closely with his mentor at New York Sea Grant and academic advisors at SUNY ESF.

“While growing up in a commercial fishing family on the Hudson River, I have personally seen the declines in many of the numerous fishes,” Chris says. “Increased precipitation and the intensity of storms has been predicted in the Northeast United States as a result of climate change, making this research important in understanding the potential effects on the American Shad population, and highlighting the benefits of shoreline habitat restoration.”

Chris is a doctoral candidate studying Fish and Wildlife Management at SUNY ESF. He received his master’s in the same field in 2013, and his bachelors in environmental forest biology in 2007, both from SUNY ESF.

Academic advisor: Karen Limburg, SUNY ESF
Outreach mentor: Nordica Holochuck, New York Sea Grant