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  • Shell Center for Sustainability
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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 Shell Center for Sustainability seeks to create a multidisciplinary program of research, education, and outreach to identify and address potential threats to the sustainable development of living standards. These standards are interpreted broadly to encompass all factors affecting quality of life, including the continued availability of environmental resources and their human impact in support of transdisciplinary outcomes.

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2018 Postdoctoral Research Associate Project Updates

Georgio Balomenos - Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering  

My current research examines the impacts of natural hazards and climate change on coastal infrastructure with the aim to improve infrastructure resiliency. So far I have examined port facilities, bridges, and bridge-roadway networks, with case studies including also the Houston Ship Channel region. The work on port facilities addresses a current gap in risk modeling of ports in hurricane prone regions by proposing an analytical framework for the fragility analysis of pile-supported wharves/piers subjected to storm surge and wave actions (Balomenos and Padgett 2018a). This framework is adopted to provide an initial exploration into the sensitivity of the fragility estimate to epistemic uncertainties in the wave load model (Balomenos and Padgett 2018b). The developed models can also be coupled with alternative storm scenarios under current or future climate projections to assess port safety and functionality. The work on bridges, performed in collaboration with the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) center, evaluates damage risks for alternative storm and sea level projections (Fig. 1). This study develops improved fragility models for a range of different bridge configurations, with the aim to examine the effects of climate change on bridge vulnerability (Balomenos et al. 2018a). The work on bridge-roadway networks, performed in collaboration with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, combines infrastructure vulnerability modeling and spatial accessibility modeling for areas prone to storm surge and waves caused by hurricanes. This study investigates how both short term functionality loss and long term damage affect access to critical services after a hazard (Balomenos et al. 2018b). The study also couples post-hazard spatial accessibility (Fig. 2) with sociodemographic analyses, with the aim to explore which populations are mostly effected by a hurricane. Overall, my current research aims to provide solutions that can shape decisions about future mitigation and planning efforts, and to offer a multi-disciplinary framework that can be effectively applied to other natural hazard-prone areas.


Balomenos, G.P., Padgett, J.E. (2018a). Fragility analysis of pile-supported wharves and piers exposed to storm surge and waves. Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal, and Ocean Engineering, 144(2), 04017046. DOI:10.1061/(ASCE)WW.1943-5460.0000436.

Balomenos, G.P., Padgett, J.E. (2018b). Vulnerability assessment of port structures subjected to storm surge and waves. ASCE-SEI Structures Congress, Fort Worth, Texas, April 19-21, 2018. 

Balomenos, G.P., et al. (2018a). Vulnerability of bridges exposed to coastal hazards and climate change. 9th International Conference on Bridge Maintenance, Safety and Management, Melbourne, Australia, July 9-13, 2018. 

Balomenos, G.P., et al. (2018b). Impact of coastal hazards on resident’s spatial accessibility to health services. Journal of Infrastructure Systems, in review. 

Travis Swanson - Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences 

Spanning just under 600 km, the Texas Gulf Coast is dominantly composed of a system of barrier islands and peninsulas that shelter and protect bay environments and numerous landward communities from damaging storm surge and waves. Presently, this coastal barrier system is evolving at an unprecedented rate, as sediment that comprises these protective barriers is being depleted while sea-level rise is accelerating, reducing the resilience of coastal communities. Therefore, accurate forecasting of the coastal barriers response to anticipated sea-level rise represents a fundamental scientific challenge of geomorphology and a priority for both global efforts toward coastal community planning and resilience, and the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice University.

Recently, significant theoretical advances have been made in predicting geomorphic response of coastal barriers to relative sea-level rise as a function of morphodynamic interaction operating between surface processes, such as sediment transport, and dynamic barrier morphology (Fig. 1). In prior work, this coastal barrier modelling strategy has been evaluated within the limiting view of numerical experiments, which explore the range of possible coastal barrier behaviors, however, as such are not compared to observations collected from natural coastal systems. Hence, their applicability in terms of quantitatively predicting coastal change and addressing coastal management issues remains limited. Therefore, a key need is to apply these theoretical representations of coastal system sedimentary dynamics to a modern coastal environment where wave climate, shoreface and barrier morphology, and geology are well constrained, such as the Texas Gulf Coast.

Ongoing work at the Shell Center for Sustainability applies state of the art theoretical models of coastal barrier morphodynamics, alongshore sediment transport and time-variable ravinement depth3 to forecast the morphodynamic response of Texas’ coastal barrier system to anticipated accelerated sea-level rise1,2. Simulations are initialized using a simplified geometric depiction of Texas’ barrier system morphology (Fig. 2) obtained from regional bathymetric and topographic surveys, and sediment composition from best-available geodatabases. Simulation timesteps capture the morphodynamic response of coastal barriers to accelerated sea-level rise by tracking the motion of key geomorphic boundaries within the barrier system: shoreface toe, shoreline, and bay line (Fig. 2). The motion of these boundaries is calculated via parameterized expressions of alongshore, cross-shore, and barrier over-wash sediment transport that represent the time-integrated effect of short-term coastal processes, such as day-to-day waves and storms, and longer-term processes such as sea-level rise, dynamic barrier morphology, and barrier sediment composition. Model results1,2 are comparable with historical records and geological interpretations of regional coastal barrier change sampled over a broad range of time and spatial scales.


[1] Swanson, T., Lorenzo-Trueba, J., Nittrouer, J., Anderson, J., 2018, Exploring the morphodynamic response of coastal barriers to sea-level rise along the Texas Gulf Coast. Industry-Rice Earth Science Symposium (IRESS), Rice University, Houston, Texas.

[2] Swanson, T., Lorenzo-Trueba, J., Anarde, K., Odezulu, C., Anderson, J., Nittrouer, J., 2017, Exploring the morphodynamic response of coastal barriers to sea-level rise along the Texas Gulf Coast. Oral presentation at AGU Fall meeting. New Orleans, LA.

[3] Swanson, T., Anarde, K., Odezulu, C., Schwartz, J., Nittrouer, J., Anderson, J., 2017, Connecting morphodynamic depth of closure to shoreline change along the Texas coast. Industry-Rice Earth Science Symposium (IRESS), Rice University, Houston, Texas.


2016-2018 Fellowship Awards

Three Fellows were selected to continue the work of the Stress Nexus 2050 projects. The intent is to allow researchers to make efficient and logical connections to further impact future projects: 
Georgio Balomenos - Risk and Resilience along Houston's Ship Channel: Uncovering Links between Vital Social, Environmental and Physical Systems 
Travis Swanson - The Stress Nexus of Coastlines 

2014-2016 Awards

New Stress Nexus 2050 projects selected to receive funding:

2012-2014 Awards

Stress Nexus 2050 Projects selected to receive funding:


2011-2012 Awards

Projects selected to receive funding:

2010-2011 SCS Fellows

February 25, 2011. The Shell Center for Sustainability awards 14 fellowships to conduct research in sustainable development.
Shell Center for Sustainability (SCS) Fellowships were awarded for student research that will take place in 2011. The SCS Fellows will work under the direction of a Project Investigator (PI) and will conduct research in important areas of sustainable development as listed below. In The News.

Urbanization and Carbon In Waterways
Coastal Flood Warning System
Efficient Solar Cell
Religion and the Environment
Reduce and Fix CO2
Consequences of Climate Change on Ecosystems 

2009-2010 Awards

Projects selected to receive funding:


Previous Research

The Shell Center for Sustainability committed research funds in the Fall of 2003. The funds supported several projects conducted primarily by Rice faculty, staff and students. Work commenced in 2004 and has been completed. Research addressed several general areas of sustainability:

• Energy resources, carbon cycle and air quality
• Water
• Biodiversity
• Role of the private sector in fostering sustainability and stakeholder relationships

Gas Hydrates
Business Case for Sustainable Development
Ozone Research
Rice University-Nankai University Partnership
U.S.-China Coastal Cities Project
Case Study in Sustainability 
Nanotechnology & Energy
Energy & Conservation: Contingent Valuation Analysis
Carbon Capture and Sequestration
Water Membrane Technologies
Biolinguistic Diversity