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University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School Selected for National “Reefense” Initiative Focused on Florida and the Caribbean
Initial grant of $7.5 million funds Miami’s new ‘X-REEFS’ team to develop innovative hybrid reef structures
MIAMI, Fl.– Recognizing the value of coral reefs in reducing erosion, flooding, and storm damage, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected the University of Miami (UM ) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science as the primary recipient of funding for its National Reefense Research Program. Through this program, a team of faculty from the University will help address threats to the security of US military and civilian infrastructure along the coastline.
With the initial grant of $7.5 million, with options up to $20.9 million, Rosenstiel School researchers will lead the development of innovative biological and artificial hybrid reef structures designed to accelerate the protection of vulnerable coastal regions of Florida and the Caribbean.
Andrew C. Baker, a professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology and director of the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the Rosenstiel School, will serve as the principal investigator for the DARPA project and lead a collaborative research team that includes partners from major academic institutions. from across the country.
“Our mission is to develop hybrid reefs that combine the wave-shielding benefits of man-made structures with the ecological benefits of coral reefs,” Baker said. “We will work on next-generation structural designs and concrete materials, and integrate them with new ecological engineering approaches to promote coral growth on these structures. At the same time, we will also test new adaptive biology approaches to produce faster growing corals that are more resilient to global warming.
The overall goal is to develop, test, and deploy coral reef-mimicking structures that provide immediate wave protection and are also self-building, self-repairing, and resilient to climate change.
The new Miami-based project, called X-REEFS (neXt generation Reef Engineering to Enhance Future Structures) was incubated through the University’s Integrative Knowledge Laboratory (U-LINK), a program that encourages the training of interdisciplinary teams to solve pressing societal problems. . In this case, the challenge was how to protect low-lying, heavily urbanized sections of South Florida threatened by storm surges and coastal flooding.
“Through the U-LINK program and in partnership with the City of Miami Beach, we were able to begin developing a hybrid test bed structure that includes interventions to enhance the adaptive capacity of corals,” Baker said.
“Our scientists are at the forefront of vital projects to maintain the viability of coral reefs that are increasingly threatened by climate change,” said Roni Avissar, Dean of the Rosenstiel School. “In addition, we are world leaders in research on hurricanes and the impacts of storms on our coasts. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together some of our greatest research strengths.
Brian K. Haus, professor and chair of the Department of Ocean Sciences, is the initiative’s co-principal investigator. He is also director of the Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. SUSTAIN (SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction) laboratory at the Rosenstiel School, a world-renowned facility for the study of complex air-sea interactions of wind, waves, storms and shores. Together with Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, assistant professor at the College of Engineering, Haus used the SUSTAIN facility to understand the benefits of hybrid artificial coral reefs for coastal protection.
“Our SUSTAIN lab provides an ideal platform for testing the wave attenuation characteristics of structures as well as scientific instruments, new materials and commercial products designed for marine, atmospheric and coastal environments,” Haus said. “In addition to the hybrid reef pilot site developed with the City of Miami Beach, SUSTAIN will provide a large-scale test bed to evaluate design, test materials, and develop new strategies to build resilient reefs to protect communities. coastal.”
In 2019, Baker and Diego Lirman, another Rosenstiel colleague and professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, led the creation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Restoration Hub, a consortium of six Florida institutions supported by the National Coastal Resilience Fund of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Through these grants, Rosenstiel scientists and partners developed heat-tolerant corals and tested managed relocation and selective coral breeding to build resilience in Florida’s reefs. These approaches will be integrated into X-REEFS activities.
SECORE International, Inc., a leading conservation organization for coral reef restoration, will also play an active role in the Reefense program, with Miami-based research director Margaret W. Miller, Ph.D., also serving co-principal investigator. Miller is a former research ecologist at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Virginia Key and a longtime collaborator of Rosenstiel scientists.
“We look forward to using recent innovations in materials science, hydrodynamic modeling and adaptive biology to develop optimized growing reef structures to rapidly implement coastal defenses adapted to a changing environment,” Miller said.
The Reefense research team includes experts from across the University, including professors from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as world experts in how reefs decrease ocean wave energy. University of California at Santa Cruz; structural engineers and coral genetics experts from Pennsylvania State University; materials scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Texas A&M University; experts in reef ecology, coral husbandry, and resilience from the Florida Aquarium, Florida International University, and the University of Florida; and chemical ecologists from the Smithsonian Marine Station.
Global engineering firm AECOM will provide overall project management support along with coastal engineering expertise that includes structural analysis and design of reef structures to withstand storms and sea level rise .
“Our Reefense team builds on years of successful collaboration and highlights our optimism to work towards a more resilient future, both for coral reefs and the coastal communities that depend on them,” Baker said. “Our X-REEFS team is well positioned for the early deployment of Reefense ideas and technologies, and we are committed to improving coastal resilience against the impacts of climate change, using approaches that support healthy and resilient reef ecosystems. Our future depends on the lessons we learn over the next few years, and South Florida is ground zero for testing these approaches. There is almost no other place in the world where you can see the value of this research on such a regular basis.
About the University of Miami
The University of Miami is a private research university and academic health system with a distinct geographic capability to connect institutions, individuals, and ideas across the hemisphere and around the world. The University’s vibrant and diverse academic community includes 12 schools and colleges serving more than 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students in more than 180 majors and programs. Located in one of the most dynamic and multicultural cities in the world, the University builds new bridges across geographical, cultural and intellectual boundaries, bringing a passion for academic excellence, a spirit of innovation, a respect for inclusion and elevating diverse voices, and a commitment to addressing the challenges facing our world. Founded in the 1940s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has grown to become one of the world’s leading marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary scholars, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities better understand the planet, participate in shaping environmental policy, and contribute to improving society and the quality of life. www.rsmas.miami.edu.