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The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.

The Stress Nexus of Coastlines

Population development, infrastructure security, and morphological dynamics of the Upper Texas Gulf Coast 


Jeffrey Nittrouer, Rice University, Department of Earth Science

Philip Bedient, Rice University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Jamie Padgett, Rice University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Samuel Brody, Texas A&M University, Galveston, Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning and Department of Marine Science


NittrouerJeffpicsm13abc  BedientPhilpicsm13   PadgettJaimiepicsm13  Brody Sam pic sm13 
Jeffrey Nittrouer Philip Bedient Jamie Padgett Samuel Brody


 Project Background 


Coastal landscapes are among the most dynamic environments on Earth’s surface.  These regions also offer extraordinary natural resources and are therefore relied upon for societal welfare; consequently, coastlines are inhabited by 60% of the world’s population. However, as a result of global sea-level rise and increasing severe-storm frequency and magnitude associated with climate change, coastlines are ever more vulnerable to significant geomorphological change.  Nevertheless, infrastructure development and population of coastal landscapes continues to grow.  A recent study by the Wall Street Journal has estimated that coastal neighborhoods in the U.S.A. have drawn new residents at a rate of 1.3 million per year in the past two decades, which has helped increase the coastal population by nearly 50% since 1970.  This development has fostered a 40% increase in property values since 2004, to an estimated $10.2 trillion (Gulf and Atlantic coasts combined).  Therefore, there are tremendous social, engineering, and economic incentives to evaluate the future viability of coastal settings.


Coastal sustainability is a complex issue that necessitates combining social, engineering, and geomorphology studies to address trends of increasing population, infrastructure development, and landscape dynamics.  The frontier of coastal sustainability science therefore necessitates cross-disciplinary studies, which is the prerogative for our current research effort.  We integrate specialists in the fields of coastal geomorphology, inundation modeling, population and society development, and infrastructure engineering.  The goal is to produce a comprehensive evaluation of coastal adaptation schemes that account for geomorphology and regional development.
Specifically, this research will evaluate the intersection of social and natural sciences for the upper Texas Gulf Coast.  Our study site focuses on the greater Freeport region (south of Houston), where intense development intersects a dynamic coastal landscape modified by the Brazos River delta and adjacent barrier islands.  We aim to forecast the private and public development, as well as measure and model regional coastline development.  This research will be coupled with studies that assess sustainable engineering of transportation infrastructure, and analyze regions that are at significant risk to storm-surge flooding. The broad aim is to apply these regional-scale assessments to the entire Texas Gulf Coast, especially where ecologically diverse and low-lying landscape is heavily developed and relied upon for recreation, trade, and commerce. 
Nittrouer proj pic 1sm 

August, 2013: Kick-off site visit of the Brazos River delta.  Project PI’s teamed up with Prof. John Anderson, post-doc research fellow Dr. Jorge Trueba, and nine graduate students, for a survey of the field site.  The Brazos River delta and connecting barrier islands are adjacent to the industrial port city of Freeport, TX.  This population center offers the ideal setting to examine the connections between coastal geomorphology, private and public development, infrastructure flooding vulnerability, and transportation reliability modeling.        

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