Meet the 2017 Spencer Grant Recipients


Meet the 2017 Spencer Grant Recipients

Three weeks ago, The River Basin Center announced the first recipients of the annual John Spencer Research Grant Competition, Nicole Peterson and Courtney Balling, both UGA graduate students.  Each will be awarded $2000 to assist in funding their proposals.  These awards, via the RBC’s small grants program for graduate students, are funded by a generous contribution from Kathelen Amos in honor of her son, former RBC master’s student John Spencer.

We recently interviewed them to find out more about their research projects.


Image courtesy of Nicole Peterson

Nicole Peterson is a second-year Environmental Engineering Master’s student in the UGA College of Engineering.  Her project focuses on developing improved modeling tools to predict the effects of coastal armoring on salt marsh migration as sea level rises.  As sea levels rise, marshes migrate inland but begin to be eliminated when the marsh is ‘squeezed’ between rising water levels and armored shorelines.  Armoring of shorelines includes the installation of hard structures that prevent erosion and flooding, such as bulkheads and revetments.  Currently, the effects of anthropogenic armoring in habitat change and sea level rise modeling is oversimplified.  Nicole’s project aims to incorporate the complexities of armoring into these models and to produce more realistic predictions of future marsh habitat extent.  This improved modeling will allow decision-makers to better understand the future implications of armoring projects and weigh the trade-offs of salt marsh conservation and infrastructure protection, as well as identify areas that are better suited for either conservation or development.  Currently, most coastal communities do not have a realistic plan for how they will protect the shoreline as sea levels rise and this model will serve as a development tool.



Image courtesy of Courtney Balling

Courtney Balling is a second year Master’s student in the UGA Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.  She came to UGA for her Master’s degree with the hope of contributing something positive to Georgia, her home state.  Courtney is working with the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to evaluate the differences in edge effects between typical hard shoreline armoring structures, such as bulkheads or seawalls,  and living shorelines.  Typical armoring structures may negatively affect neighboring properties by transferring wave energy the edges of the wall, causing scouring.  This can lead to a domino effect of many property owners installing armoring to protect their land from erosion.  In Georgia, living shorelines are made of native marsh grasses and bagged oyster shell to encourage reef growth, and are an alternative to typical armoring practices.  While the ecological benefits of living shorelines have been studied, there is little research on the edge effects of living shorelines.  Courtney’s project will not only compare the effects of each type of structure on adjacent properties but will also test the accuracy of three-dimensional models created from drone imagery for monitoring coastal erosion. Her hope is that the accuracy assessment will be helpful to coastal resource managers, researchers, or surveyors, who hope to use the drone method in their own work. This could be beneficial because drone imagery is a much more cost-effective and less time-intensive method of collecting data than traditional ground surveying or remote sensing techniques.  



Posted: 10/20/2017     Text: Annabelle Barr