About Me

As the title of this site suggests I am an aspiring coastal geomorphologist currently pursuing my PhD at Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR, USA). Now before I really get into who I am let me answer some basic questions in case you have no idea what coastal geomorphology is (e.g., my whole family):

What is coastal geomorphology?

Coastal geomorphology is the study of how the small strip of land which sits at the intersection of the ocean and the continents evolves with time. This coastal zone  includes  beaches, dunes, headlands, sea cliffs, inlets, marshes, and estuaries, of which each of these environments changes at different temporal spatial scales based on the governing processes (e.g., waves, tides, winds), magnitude of energy in the system, sediment supply, antecedent geology, and a host of other factors. By definition coastal geomorphology is an interdisciplinary field drawing on research from geology, oceanography, physics, engineering, ecology, and related sciences

Why are coastlines important to study?

Despite the importance of the coastal zone as a recreational and economic resource, as a scientific community we are highly limited in our ability to predict coastal hazards such as erosion and flooding on both short (<weeks) and long time scales (centuries<). Research on nearshore processes did not start in earnest until WWII and although the community has made great strides in the past 70 years there is still  a lot we do not understand about basic coastal processes regarding wave propagation, nearshore circulation, and sediment transport. Our inability to understand/model these mechanisms puts valuable infrastructural/ecological resources at risk especially in the context of sea level rise and climate change.

The question every coastal geomorphologist is most commonly asked: Is my house going to disspear due to sea level rise/climate change?

That is a complicated question …….. If your house is this one then probably yes.


Otherwise I am probably not the right person to ask. Instead check out some of the cool visualizations that NOAA has been working on to assess potential regions of inundation:


Or read the latest IPCC report on climate change:


Now back to me. I first got involved in coastal research while getting by BA in Earth Sciences at Boston University. I worked for a number of years in a coastal sedimentology lab with Dr. Duncan FitzGerald, a role which primarily included collecting and analyzing sediment cores and analyzing geophysical properties of sediment sourced from various marshes and barrier islands around New England. This data was used to understand:

  • Barrier island rollover in response to sea level rise during the Holocene (since the last ice age)
  • Ability of low-lying marshes to keep pace with modern rates of accelerated sea level rise
  • Using overwash deposits to better constrain storms of record in northern New England (there have been bigger magnitude events than Hurricane Sandy……)

Subsequently I worked for two years in the private sector at Applied Science Associates (now part of the RPS Group), a small private environmental consultancy. This job primarily entailed applying a wide range of numerical models to understand pollutant sediment transport in coastal and marine environments and really opened up my eyes to the value of processed based modelling in characterizing complex morphodynamics. Although I had great experiences in the private sector that position also made me realize how little we really do know concerning hydrodynamics and sediment transport in coastal environments……..which brings me to were I am now.

I started my PhD in Geology at Oregon State University working with Dr. Peter Ruggiero in 2012. Currently my research interests are focused on better understanding physical processes  in the nearshore ocean (from the shoreface to the dunes) in order to improve our quantitative forecasting/predictive capabilities of coastal evolution and related coastal hazards. See the “Research” tab for more information on the particulars of my recent work. If you have questions or just find this work interesting feel free to email me at cohnn@geo.oregonstate.edu.

Lastly, I’m not a social media fanatic and am typically a bit of an introvert – but I feel that it is particularly important to communicate science to the greater community through a suitable medium. This is my attempt to highlight some of the research that I am involved in that I am particularly excited about. I hope you find some of these “adventures” interesting as well!