Measuring, communicating and mitigating negative coastal impacts

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, in concert with North Carolina State University, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and UF’s Innovation Station Sarasota County, recently convened a five-session virtual summit on “Innovating Coastal Resilience.” Thought leaders and industry experts gathered online to help envision new technologies and applications, and converse about a workforce development strategy for enhancing coastal resilience. During the summit, participants explored three specific areas pertaining to measuring, communicating, and mitigating negative coastal impacts.

Today’s state-of-the-art sensors and other data-gathering tools consist of mooring buoys, coastal monitoring stations and high-frequency radar, while newer technologies include sub-surface gliders and acoustic receivers. Experimental technology is focused on lowering costs and involve web cameras, drones, wave gliders and multi-parameter sensors attached to buoys. Tomorrow’s developments include smart watersheds connected by the Internet of Things (IoT) and deep UV sensors employing fluorescence and absorbance methods. There are even satellites equipped with remote sensors that can provide data.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and data science, which analyzes critical information harvested from these coastal sensing data resources, is an important piece in the protective and preemptive measures for sustainable coastal environment management. Alex Beavers, Ph.D., Chief Innovation Officer at Mote, described AI as being able to automate the analysis of data with great speed, discover new and more causal relationships, and create more information more effectively. Scientists and decision-makers alike rely on using AI-generated data and analysis to identify with greater precision key factors that impact past coastal water quality crises as well as forecast future hazards and their economic and public health impacts. One of the largest needs in the field of data management is a trained and qualified workforce.
Tracy Fanara, Ph.D., Manager of the Environmental Health Program at Mote, emphasized the importance of engaging the public in community and citizen science and providing a platform for reporting their observations and providing feedback in a timely manner. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web sites were cited as current-day platforms that provide information directly to the public and to stakeholders who make decisions about mitigation of hazards to coastal water quality.

The monitoring data and subsequent forecasts can be communicated to help scientists discover the causes and effects of environmental hazards and allow them to engineer solutions. Mitigation stakeholders include public health and natural resource managers. Fishery management and aquaculture processes can benefit immediately. The tourism industry, a major economic contributor in Florida, will be able to communicate more clearly and transparently to coastal visitors. A workforce with interdisciplinary training will be needed to produce reliable data and clear communications.

Christine Angelini, Ph.D., associate professor in the Engineering School for Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), and co-organizer of the summit marked the summit as the beginning of comprehensive public-private collaborations to accelerate progress in tech innovation and ensure that new technologies are rapidly deployed for measurement and mitigation. “Our ecosystem and coastal communities deserve a well-thought-out plan that ensures the long-term health of their homes,” she said. “Graduates of our research institutions will be well-trained leaders of these efforts.”