Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Rob Thieler, PhD

I work on a variety of topics including coastal change hazards, sea-level rise impacts, continental shelf sedimentation, and applications of web and smartphone technology to coastal problems.

Dr. Rob Thieler is the Center Director of the U.S. Geological Survey's Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Rob received his B.A. in political science from Dickinson College, and his M.S. degree in environmental science and Ph.D. in geology from Duke University. Rob conducts marine geologic research on the geologic framework and evolution of the coastal zone. This includes understanding relationships between geology, sediment transport, climate and sea-level change, and coastal erosion. Rob has conducted assessments of sea-level rise vulnerability for the U.S. and locations worldwide. He served as a Lead Author of a U.S. Global Change Research Program report on potential impacts of sea-level rise, and works with many federal and state agencies to develop science and policy plans for addressing coastal change hazards. Rob also studies habitat use and availability for beach-nesting and migratory shorebirds. Rob developed the widely-used DSAS software package for measuring coastal erosion and accretion and has recently developed smartphone applications for coastal science.

Research Interests

Coastal Change Assessment

I have a longstanding interest in coastal change assessment, particularly historical shoreline change. This includes developing new data, knowledge and tools (particularly the Digital Shoreline Analysis System, DSAS) that are widely used by the scientific community to document and interpret patterns of shoreline movement in response to changes in forcing, geologic constraints, and anthropogenic manipulation, as well as the coastal management community (many states use historical erosion rates as a basis for building setback laws or other policy).  Major research questions include what statistical techniques adequately address the problems of nonlinear and non-uniform shoreline movement, trend reversals, and short-term variability that increase the magnitude of error in quantitative analyses. There are also important questions regarding the spatial variability of shoreline movement at different temporal scales. All of these issues are important when developing coastal hazard forecasts and informing coastal management decisions. Much of this information is derived and applied at a nationwide scale through our National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards project, and delivered through our Coastal Change Hazards web portal.

Sea-level Rise Hazards

My colleagues and I conduct research to assess the potential impacts of sea-level rise on coastal evolution and provide tools for coastal management decision making. Historical and recent observations of coastal environments and rates of change are combined with model simulations of coastal environments such as barrier islands and coastal aquifers.

Continental Shelf Geologic Processes

Part of my research involves continental shelf processes such as modern sedimentation, and placing the geologic record preserved in

Education and Certifications

  • Ph.D., 1997, Geology, Duke University

  • M.S., 1993, Environmental Science, Duke University

  • B.A., 1987, Political Science, Certificate in Environmental Studies, Dickinson College
     

Abstracts and Presentations

  • 2021 Eos, Science News by AGU Cape Cod: Shipwrecks, Dune Shacks, and Shifting Sands

  • 2020 The Christian Science Monitor How one science hub grapples with diversifying STEM

  • 2017 College of Wooster Osgood Memorial Lecture

  • 2016 New York Times Strategic Retreat on Cape Cod

  • 2015 Cape Cod Times Cape Wearing Away
     

  • 2015 Cape Cod Times Sea-level Rise on Cape Cod Op-Ed

Science and Products