New interdisciplinary research teams tackle South Florida’s resilience

Ten new U-LINK teams of faculty and staff members from across the University will explore how South Florida can anticipate and prepare for the impact of climate change.

Brian Haus and Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos led a team that developed and refined SEAHIVE, the hexagonal porous modular structure located above them, to help mitigate waves and storm surge along Florida's coastline. The structures will be deployed as part of a new U-LINK project. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami.

With sea levels rising, temperatures heating up, and more extreme weather predicted in the future, 10 new teams of researchers at the University of Miami are looking to find ways that South Floridians can safely navigate the effects of climate change and simultaneously prepare for its challenges. 

The idea of fostering resilience amid the impact of global warming is the focus for a new group of research grants awarded through the University’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge (U-LINK) this year. These projects, which aim to connect faculty members from a range of academic disciplines across the University, share the goal of finding solutions to large societal problems. 

This year’s U-LINK projects also aim to forge relationships with other local institutions, government agencies, and community partner organizations. Many also have an educational component, said Eva Olivares, senior manager of research support. 

“These 10 teams represent the very best of our University’s interdisciplinary depth in resilience and sustainability,” said Erin Kobetz, vice provost for research and scholarship, as well as a professor in the Miller School of Medicine departments of medicine, public health sciences, and obstetrics and gynecology. “We look forward to the solutions that these novel partnerships will inspire, and as always, to learning how we can work effectively across disciplinary and University-community boundaries for effective impact.” 

Throughout 2022, the teams will focus on a host of issues related to how our local communities can persevere and support all residents equitably, despite the inevitable impacts of climate change. Some will examine Miami-Dade County’s coastal resilience by developing an updated metric that collects real-time data about temperature and sea level. Another will work to understand the impacts of the region’s intense heat on the health, housing, and income of the local population. Others will look at a key local infrastructure, such as the Port of Miami, and gauge its ability to weather sea level rise and potential storms. 

The following are the 10 projects. 

“Training in Heat Related Equity and Disparities (THREAD) Research Collaborative” (sponsored by the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center)

As one of the deadliest weather hazards, the effects of extreme heat on individuals and communities are not evenly distributed and often reflect existing socioeconomic inequalities. This group aims to determine the demographics and regions of South Florida that are most vulnerable to extreme heat and to detail some of the largest challenges these people face. By collaborating with Florida International University, local community organizations, and government, the team hopes to find viable solutions to help those most affected by extreme heat. 

Team members include Amy Clement, professor of atmospheric sciences; Kilan Ashad-Bishop, post-doctoral researcher in the School of Education and Human Development; Scotney Evans, associate professor of educational and psychological studies; Zinzi Bailey, research assistant professor of medical oncology; and Katharine Mach, associate professor of environmental science and policy. 

“Climate Change, Natural and Man-Made Disasters: Impacts on the Environment and Human Health” (sponsored by the Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute) 

This group aims to discover whether natural disasters—like hurricanes, flooding, and tornadoes accelerated by climate change—redistribute environmental toxins into the land, water, and air, and contribute to the spread, transmission, and severity of emerging viruses. In particular, this group will focus on whether flooding and heavy rainfall associated with major storms would impact Florida’s Superfund sites. 

Team members include Michal Toborek, professor of biochemistry; Sylvia Daunert, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Sapna Deo, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Natasha Schaefer-Solle, research assistant professor of medical oncology; Brian Haus, professor of ocean sciences; Marc Knecht, professor of chemistry; Mitsunori Ogihara, professor of computer science; Alberto Caban-Martínez, professor of public health sciences; Dushyantha Jayaweera, professor of clinical medicine in the division of infectious diseases; Ali Habashi, assistant professor of professional practice in cinematic arts; and Bryan Page, professor of anthropology.

“Multidimensional Resilience of Port Miami: Collaborative Engagement, Interdisciplinary Assessment, and an Educational ‘Port Hub’” 

As one of Miami’s main access points for shipping and travel, the Port of Miami is a vital part of the local economy and helps the city flourish daily. However, since it also lies on the outskirts of a coastal metropolis, the port is vulnerable to flooding and storms. This team will work to understand the port’s resilience to disruption from natural disasters, while also looking at its plans to withstand rising seas and storms in the future. 

Team members include Richard Grant, professor of international studies, geography, and sustainable development; Shouraseni Sen Roy, professor of geography and sustainable development; and Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, assistant professor of civil and architectural engineering. 

“Developing resiliency tools and metrics and co-designing an expert and stakeholder coalition to sustain predictions on the health of South Florida's Biome through a human, urban, and environmental transect” 

Because the impacts of climate change will ultimately influence the human, societal, and urban well-being of areas, this team plans to create tools and metrics that can help assess these environmental, economic, urban, and human aspects of coastal resilience. They will first focus on South Florida, and then expand to the Caribbean. Some local partners include the Miami-Dade County office of Resilience and The Key Clubhouse of South Florida, a mental health organization. 

Team members include Vassiliki Kourafalou, research professor of ocean sciences; Sonia Chao, research associate professor of architecture; David Kelly, professor of economics; Yui Matsuda, assistant professor of nursing and health studies; Renato Molina, assistant professor of environmental science and resource economics; Josefina Olascoaga, associate professor of ocean sciences; and Shivangi Prasad, senior lecturer of geography and sustainable development. 

“Wahoo Bay SEAHIVE™: A Real-World Experiment of Green Engineering Shoreline Protection” 

This project focuses on the use of SEAHIVE—a porous hexagonal structure developed by an interdisciplinary team of UM experts—as a tool to mitigate wave action and storm surge along coastlines. As a test case of the innovation, this team will perform experiments on the SEAHIVE seawall, which will be installed near Hillsboro Inlet in Pompano Beach for a new marine park named Wahoo Bay. The SEAHIVE structures will be placed horizontally along an existing seawall, sloping down into the water with mangroves planted in them. The team hopes to evaluate SEAHIVE as a potential green-gray solution for shoreline protection, as well as a habitat for marine life. 

Team members include Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, assistant professor of  civil and architectural engineering; Brian Haus, professor of ocean sciences; Antonio Nanni, professor of civil and architectural engineering; Rafael Araujo, senior research associate in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology; Prannoy Suraneni, assistant professor of civil and architectural engineering; Arthur Gleason, research associate professor of physics; Esber Andiroglu, associate professor of practice of civil and architectural engineering; and Renee Evans, senior instructional designer of learning innovation and faculty engagement. 

“Using community-engaged research to launch climate change resilience from an inclusive design beachhead starting with Southeastern Floridians living with spinal cord injury (SCI)” 

This project will explore the needs of people living with spinal cord injuries in South Florida who must adapt to intensifying effects of climate change. In addition, they will highlight the coping and response strategies that people in this unique community are using successfully today. 

Team members include David McMillan, assistant research professor of neurological surgery; Katharine Mach, associate professor of environmental science and policy; Trevor Green, senior lecturer of journalism and media management; and Joanna Lombard, professor of architecture.  

“Engineering Corals for Climate Change Resilience” 

With much of the world’s coral cover dying at alarming rates, this project aims to learn about the influence of the environment on coral microstructure, health, and growth. Specifically, the team wants to understand how ocean acidification conditions can affect the microstructure of different types of coral, which in turn controls their health and growth. This will help the researchers develop insights into why coral growth is slowing as a result of climate change. 

Team members include Prannoy Suraneni, assistant professor of civil and architectural engineering; Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, assistant professor of civil and architectural engineering; Vivek Nagendra Prakash, assistant professor of physics; Jill Deupi, director of the Lowe Art Museum; Diego Lirman, professor of marine biology and ecology; and Ian Enochs, head of the coral health and monitoring program at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab of NOAA.  

“Climate Gentrification: Designing A Comprehensive Assessment Tool of Historical, Social, and Geographic Factors to Guide Actionable and Equitable Neighborhood Resilience” 

In a city considered ground zero for climate change, this team will examine the threat of climate gentrification. This is the link between the impacts of a warming climate—such as sea level rise, flooding, and extreme heat—and how these can contribute to housing displacement for residents of Miami’s most under-resourced neighborhoods. 

Team members include Robin Bachin, associate professor of history and director of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement; Imelda Moise, associate professor of geography and sustainable development; and Abigail Fleming, lecturer of law. 

“Space-geodetic monitoring of coastal structures”

Motivated by the tragic Surfside condo collapse, this team is exploring the use of satellite sensing technology to help monitor if land levels are sinking, which could then impact the structural integrity of buildings in Florida. The technique, called interferometric synthetic aperture radar (inSAR), allows researchers to measure the distance between the ground and the satellites at millimeter-scale accuracy, to determine if there is a decline of land levels through time. The team would also like to establish the technology as a critical tool for municipal building departments to assess a building’s structural safety. 

Team members include Falk Amelung, professor of marine geosciences; Esber Andiroglu, associate professor of practice in civil and architectural engineering; Antonio Nanni, professor of civil and architectural engineering; Amin Sarafraz, research assistant professor of data science and computing; and Imelda Moise, associate professor of geography and sustainable development. 

“Untold Stories at Risk: Coastal Heritage, Site Risk Assessment, and Educational Outreach”

A sea level rise of just one meter could submerge an estimated 13,000 recorded archaeological sites in the southeastern United States. The state of Florida stands to lose the most—with more than 4,000 sites that could be destroyed by rising seas, including the Underground “Saltwater” Railroad and internment camps on the west coast, where Indigenous people were once forced to live. By forming the Coastal Heritage at Risk Task Force (CHART), a partnership of public, private, academic, and government entities, this team hopes to increase visibility of these at-risk heritage sites and their untold stories in Florida for secondary education classrooms and the public, while also looking at future adaptation strategies for the sites. 

Team members include Meryl Shriver-Rice, director of environmental media at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Clay Ewing, associate professor of interactive media; Allison Schifani, assistant professor of modern languages and literature; William Pestle, professor of anthropology; David Scheidecker, research coordinator of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office; Sara Ayers-Rigsby, director of the southwest and southeast regions of Florida Public Archaeology Network Southeast; and Jeff Moates, regional director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network.