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Christopher G. Smith, Ph.D.

As a coastal geologist, my research focuses on the transport, transformation, and deposition of particulate and dissolved constituents within the coastal realm and how system processes will respond to large-scale environmental forcings (e.g., climate change).

Coastal systems provide a dynamic interface between terrestrial and marine realms; anthropogenic activity and natural processes occurring within terrestrial ecosystems can have a significant impact to the coastal zone and adjacent marine system. Augmentation of coastal systems is inevitable from a human perspective as nearly half of the population of the United States reside within coastal counties. Understanding modern processes (sedimentologic, hydrologic, and geochemical) occurring along this terrestrial-marine continuum is critical in predicting the response associated with natural and anthropogenic perturbations.

My research interests generally fall into two categories: 1) fluid exchange (e.g., surface water – groundwater exchange, submarine and coastal groundwater discharge) and 2) fine-grained sediment dynamics, specifically in marsh and estuarine environments. Linking these two seemingly disparate research topics are naturally-occurring (e.g., U-Th series) and anthropogenically-introduced/spiked (e.g., 137Cs) radionuclides. Particle reactive radionuclides (e.g., 7Be, 234Th, 210Pb, 210Po, and 137Cs) provide excellent tracers to quantify sediment deposition and re-mobilization over time-scales of months to decades. Examining the final sedimentary product in the context of the temporal framework and associated transient changes also provide a breadth of knowledge to environmental conditions that persisted in recent past and the outcome that may be expected if similar conditions persist in the present or future. Alternatively, the more conservative behavior of radon and radium isotopes have proven these as excellent tracers to quantify groundwater discharge in both fresh and marine environments.

Over the last three decades, groundwater discharge to the coastal zone has received increasing recognition as a substantial material vector, influencing water quality and nutrient fluxes. Quantification of fresh and marine groundwater end-members and the processes that drive the exchange (e.g., seasonal recharge cycles, hurricanes and tropical cyclones) are critical to assess the overall importance of coastal groundwater and has been at the forefront of my research.