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New Faculty Member Wins ODU Summer Research Fellowship to Study Sediment Suspension

gma-gangfeng-maGangfeng Ma

As he grew up in Zhejiang Province in his native China, severe storms coming ashore from the Pacific Ocean were a fact of life for Gangfeng Ma.

"We called them typhoons; they call them hurricanes here. I remember seeing damage from them in Zhejiang Province my whole life," he said.

That experience led Ma to focus his engineering studies on the effect such storms can have on coastal areas. And ultimately, it has led him to Old Dominion University's Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI). Hired in 2012 as an assistant professor in ODU's Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Ma is applying his research skills in coastal engineering to look at the effect such storms, and rising sea levels, have on sediment.

"Our beaches are assets. Every year, the country spends millions of dollars to prevent erosion of our beaches," Ma said. "If we can understand more about sediment processes, we can better prioritize our efforts."

Ma has been awarded a $7,000 summer research fellowship from Old Dominion University's Office of Research to study the mechanism of sediment suspension on the coast. He is also co-principal investigator on two collaborative research grant proposals submitted in February to the National Science Foundation, one a $1.4 million proposal submitted with former colleagues at the University of Florida, to better understand how waves and tides impact the beach groundwater flow and sediment transport in the beaches.

Ma is also excited to collaborate with his new colleagues at CCSLRI. "I am very fortunate to come here. There is a very strong program in coastal oceanography, and a lot of multidisciplinary researchers into sea level rise. It's going to have a lot of impact on coastal areas," he said.

CCSLRI director Larry Atkinson, Eminent Scholar and Slover Professor of Oceanography at ODU, said the initiative recognized the need for additional coastal engineers when it started in late 2010.

"Now it is indeed gratifying to have Dr. Gangfeng Ma on our faculty," Atkinson said. "His expertise in flooding models will integrate nicely with the interdisciplinary thrust of the initiative. I encourage faculty and students to seek him out for collaborations."

Hampton Roads' particular vulnerability to sea level rise was cited by ODU President John R. Broderick when he created CCSLRI in 2010 and appointed Atkinson to lead it. The initiative's mission from the start has been to tap expertise in all six of ODU's colleges to assess the climate-related threats that an urban coastal region will face this century and propose ways to mitigate the damages. Broderick has challenged ODU faculty members to work together with other scientists, engineers, economists and environmentalists in the state to study effects on the local economy, housing, ports and infrastructure.