LMU Coastal Research Institute Tackles Coastal Resilience to Climate Change

Launched in the fall of 2017, the Loyola Marymount University Coastal Research Institute is making inroads into understanding how climate change is impacting the Santa Monica Bay and local coastal waters.

CRI is a collaboration between LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering and The Bay Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 1990 to restore and enhance Santa Monica Bay.

IMG 7437 Zuma Beach 225x300 - LMU Coastal Research Institute Tackles Coastal Resilience to Climate Change
Zuma Beach in Malibu, where CRI is conducting a living shoreline restoration project.

“Some of the biggest challenges we face today are how to make our communities and natural environments resilient to climate change stressors,” says Karina Johnston, CRI director of programs and science director for The Bay Foundation. “We’re facing unprecedented challenges from sea-level rise and storm events, coastal flooding, raging wildfires, water quality impacts and ocean warming.”

CRI’s research is informing ways to improve resiliency to these challenges.

Faculty work together with undergraduate and graduate students on a range of projects in the lab and in the field. Interdisciplinary efforts are strongly encouraged.

Here’s an update:

  • A project to model coastal climate stressors and adaption strategies, led by Jeremy Pal, graduate program director and professor of civil and environmental engineering, has made significant progress on analyzing how projected oceanic temperature change will affect the California halibut fishery and harmful algal blooms. Researchers hope the work, which is conducted in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Heal the Bay, will inform the California Halibut Fishery Management Plan.
  • Beach characterization studies and work on a beach restoration site suitability model, led by John Dorsey, emeritus professor of civil engineering and environmental science, are helping to inform beach management strategies and the effects of climate change impacts like sea-level rise. Modeling of site suitability is in a pilot phase in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors and California Department of Parks and Recreation and hopes to inform nature-based adaptation strategies to coastal flooding such as living shoreline projects.
  • Research on native plant microbe interaction, led by Michelle Lum, associate professor of biology, will inform habitat restoration at the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve and at the LAX Dunes. The project evaluates whether native plant seed germination and survivorship is enhanced by microbes.
  • Research into eelgrass genetics, led by Demian Willette, assistant professor of biology, will inform eelgrass restoration efforts, such as the Los Angeles Living Shoreline Project, conducted by The Bay Foundation.
  • A research program informing Harmful Algal Blooms and phytoplankton patterns in nearshore marine environments of Santa Monica Bay is led by Amber Bratcher-Covino, visiting assistant professor of biology and research. This project looks into long-term data trends as well as geographic distributions of various species throughout the Bay.
  • James Landry, co-executive director of CRI and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, leads research on intertidal microplastics, which is now finalizing protocols for optimizing microplastics extraction and quantification in sediments and coastal marine organisms. An innovative rapid assessment method to determine the type of microplastics in samples is also in the works.
  • A range of projects led by Chris Enyart, watershed program manager for The Bay Foundation, involve restoration work at sites throughout the Bay. Interns and student research assistants conduct projects planting native species, tracking and monitoring restoration efforts, and studying wildlife at beaches, dunes, and wetlands.
  • A study led by Christina Vasquez, assistant professor of biology, on marine invertebrate physiology evaluates heat as a physiological stressor on mussels. The project stalled temporarily by COVID-19 restrictions, but researchers are working on alternative directions for the project.

This work continues, while new projects to conduct engineering studies of sand movement in the nearshore environment and understand wildfire impact on water quality are beginning. Many other spin-off projects are also in the works.

“We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate and partner,” says Johnston. If you are interested in connecting with CRI, visit their website at lmu.edu/cri.

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