Researchers Investigate Estuary Sustainability, Corrosion Management and Underwater Vehicles for Scientific Study
Engineering and science are often housed in different schools; separated like church and state, but some of the best research is possible when the two disciplines come together. Florida Tech’s department of Ocean Engineering and Sciences embraces both under one roof to not only better to understand our oceans and estuaries, but help them too.
“There’s a lot of crossover in our disciplines, so it makes sense that we are together as a unit and we can really do a lot of good research and produce great scholars by combining our expertise,” says Stephen Wood, interim department head of
Ocean Engineering and Sciences.
“I believe science and engineering have to work together to solve any problems,” Wood continues. “Removing muck from the Indian River Lagoon, our estuary here in our backyard is a good example of that. Yes, you need to study the ocean or the estuary, but you also need an engineer involved to help solve some problems facing that environment. That’s what our department is all about.”
Recognizing the department as an academic and research engine that can, Florida Tech’s President T. Dwayne McCay recently deemed specific areas within Ocean Engineering and Science as “Pillars of Excellence,” which means the university is dedicated to boosting faculty research and academic rigor in key areas of study. The honor is also testament that some of the Florida Tech’s biggest research stars are ocean engineers and scientists who receive millions of dollars in grants from both government and industry every year.
Here’s a look at the key research and scholarship areas inside OES today:
Estuary Ecology and Sustainability
Currently, several OES faculty have grants that focus on both scientific research and engineering solutions to solving ecological problems in the Indian River Lagoon. Their findings with the local estuary could be used by communities with similar ecosystems that have been damaged by man-made influences such as nitrogen rich waters and shore erosion. Chemical Oceanography professor John Trefry leads the way with his study of muck, a nitrogen-rich sediment that contributes to fish kills.
Florida Tech’s Indian River Lagoon Research host events for both academics and the public throughout the year to help the ailing estuary thrive such as yearly technical conferences on water quality solutions and oyster mat workshops for the community. Recent funded projects include the Living Docks program, led by associate professor Robert Weaver and research assistant professor Kelli Hunsucker to bring back habitat for oysters lost to costal construction, seawalls and pollution in the IRL.
Over the last several years, Kevin Johnson, Program Chair of Oceanography and Environmental Science and co-director for the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute, has received more than a million dollars in research funds to study biological and ecosystem effects muck has on infauna such as clams, worms, oysters as well as native seagrasses and harmful algal blooms.
Biofouling and Corrosion Management
Professor Geoffrey Swain is one of the world’s most respected anti-fouling scientists. For 30 years, he and his team of Florida Tech researchers have made a global impact by improving the fuel efficiency and lessening the environmental impact of huge, ocean-going ships like the one moored across the water.
Applying anti-fouling coatings to a vessel makes it difficult for plant and animal life to stick to the boat. Smooth, streamlined progress is key to a ship’s performance, and less resistance from barnacles and other marine life means better fuel economy and fewer greenhouse gasses. Swain has received more than $8 million in funding for this work, much of it from the Office of Naval Research. He also contracts with industry leaders such as Dow Corning Corp., DuPont Canada, General Electric, International Paint, Pittsburg Paint and Glass and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Underwater Systems and Autonomous Vehicles
“Not many in the country do what we do, “ says Wood, whose research includes ocean energy system development and underwater vehicle technology. “We’re funded by industry and students lead the projects. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors are doing fantastic work in designing vehicles.”
The research of Prasanta Sahoo, associate professor of ocean engineering who specializes in naval architecture, focuses on improving vessel design and performance by using computational fluid dynamics software. The simulation tool can also be used to design novel sea-going vehicles such as a hydrofoil that can dive like a submarine.
Remote sensing and computer modeling, a specialty of associate professor Charles Bostater, can be used to monitor the environmental impact of transporting chemicals and oil through estuaries and coastal communities common in Florida and the Gulf states. Bostater’s ocean science research concerns mathematical and computer modeling of transporting of chemicals in estuaries and remote sensing using aircraft and shipboard high-resolution optical signatures for detecting suspended sediments in coastal waters.
Coastal Zone Management
Man-made channels for shipping and seas walls have changed the landscape of costal coastal communities, often hastening erosion of our beaches and estuaries. Professor Gary Zarillo has receives research grants to model predictions of how sediment moves in shallow marine and estuarine environments and studies the response of barrier islands and the coast with sea-level rise. Zarillo and his team of researchers perform surveys up and down the Florida Coast taking core samples and monitoring coastal erosion for various research projects including modeling the effect of removing muck and it’s impact on water quality in the Indian River Lagoon here in Brevard County.