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Shell Center announces fellowship awards for 2016
HOUSTON – (Dec. 21, 2016) – Three new fellowship awards from Rice
University’s Shell Center for Sustainability will allow Rice faculty and
postdoctoral research fellows to study ways to promote coastal infrastructure
sustainability, improve soil quality with the use of biochar and examine
coastal change over time.
“The Shell Center has dedicated $1 million to transdisciplinary
outcomes in sustainable development,” said John Anderson, the center’s director
and the W. Maurice Ewing Chair in Oceanography. “Over the last five years, the
Shell Center funded multidisciplinary research in Stress Nexus 2050. This
effort considers that the connection between water, food and energy is key to
Georgios Balomenos, a postdoctoral research fellow in civil and
environmental engineering, will use the award to focus on shaping
infrastructure sustainability in coastal settings, a task that is central to
the efficient exploration of strategies to promote coastal infrastructure
sustainability. The project will focus on the Houston Ship Channel and will
include infrastructure level structural solutions, regional level protective
systems (both natural as well as structural), along with policy-based actions
to allow exploration of the best way to enhance coastal sustainability.
He will be advised primarily by Jamie Padgett, an associate
professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Philip Bedient, the
Herman and George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
and will also collaborate with additional project investigator James Elliott, a
professor of sociology at Rice. Balomenos will also work with Jeffrey
Nittrouer, an assistant professor of Earth science, and Anderson to build on
the recent Stress Nexus of Coastlines project, which focuses specifically on
the environmental, social and infrastructure impact of sea-level rise on the
Texas Gulf Coast.
Yi Chen, a postdoctoral research associate in chemical and biomolecular
engineering, will use the award to lead an interdisciplinary project to model
the full dynamics of the nitrogen cycle in biochar-amended soils. (Biochar is a derivative of
organic matter that can be added to soil to improve its quality and growing
potential.) The project will include a comprehensive
computational model that will provide information on scenarios where specific
biochars are most likely to be effective in soil’s nitrogen retention, an
important mechanism for ecosystem management. Working in close collaboration
with the other members of the interdisciplinary team, Chen will explore the
dynamics of Earth’s nitrogen cycle to answer several questions: How does the
addition of biochar to degraded soils (soils with less nitrogen) affect the
nitrogen cycle? Which are the most important parts of the soil affected by the
presence of biochar? Can biochar improve soil fertility while conserving water
and reducing the use of fertilizers? What properties should biochar have to
provide these environmental benefits? How will the addition of biochar affect
nitrous oxide and NOx emissions from soils?
Chen will be advised primarily by Kyriacos Zygourakis, the A.J. Hartsook
Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Chen will also work closely
with the other principal investigators on a related Shell Center project --
Carrie Masiello, a professor of Earth science, and Ken Medlock, director of the
Center for Energy Studies at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Travis Swanson, a postdoctoral research fellow in Earth science,
will use the award to focus on prediction of coastal change over time. His concentration
will be the response of barrier islands (long, narrow, offshore deposits of
sand or sediment that run parallel to the coastline) to accelerated rising sea
levels and the impact of hurricanes when sand supply to the coastal system is
This research will provide an important scientific framework for
predicting coastal infrastructure, economic and social sustainability and
adaptation in the rapidly changing coastal environment. Swanson’s project will
complement ongoing research at Rice that is focused on producing science that
combines field research and numerical models needed to make such coastal change
forecasts. He will work under the direction of Nittrouer and Anderson.
Work on these projects began this summer and will last for two
years. Anderson said the project support will allow the researchers to make
efficient and logical connections to further impact future projects.
“By our bringing together teams to look at social, economic and
environmental issues from the perspective of multiple disciplines, teams find
broad outcomes,” he said.
More information on the Shell Center for Sustainability can be
found at http://shellcenter.rice.edu.