The Plum Island Research Project is a team of academic researchers working to build a comprehensive geological and social history of Plum Island, the mouth Merrimack River and surrounding areas. Read more about the project on the About page.
Dr. Christopher Hein, Project Lead & Coastal Geologist
Chris is the project lead for the Plum Island Research study. He is a coastal geologist and assistant professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, in Gloucester Point, VA. He received his bachelors degree from Cornell University and PhD from Boston University. Chris has working on and around Plum Island since 2005. You’ll commonly find him around Plum Island covered in sand and mud and excitedly talking about the 18,000-year geologic history of this fascinating system. You can visit Chris’ research website here.
Dr. Elizabeth Canuel, Biogeochemist
Liz is a biogeochemist and her research focuses on understanding the carbon cycle in the coastal ocean. She completed her Ph.D. in Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park CA. She is currently Professor of Marine Science in the Department of Physical Sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary. Liz’s research focuses on understanding the sources and cycling of organic carbon in coastal environments with an emphasis on how human activities influence the carbon cycle. You can find out more about Liz’s research at her website here.
Dr. Ju-Chin Huang, Environmental Economist
Ju-Chin is an environmental economist specialized in non-market valuation in the Department of Economics at University of New Hampshire. Her research focuses on methodologies and applications of non-market valuation. She has worked on a wide variety of topics including economic valuation of water quality, air quality, highway noise, recreation sites, solid waste management, hydrographic surveys, and food risk perceptions. Economic valuation of beach erosion control has been her long term research interest. She has studied economic values of beach erosion control in New Hampshire and Maine. The widespread rumor is that she has been paying students to spend summer days on beaches – and it’s true. In spare time, she enjoys taking day trips to explore urban areas. She is also into Tai-Chi Chuan, a Chinese internal martial art.
Dr. Peter Rosen, Coastal Geologist
Peter is an associate professor and director of the Marine Studies Program in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences at Northeastern University. He has a masters from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Peter has expertise in coastal processes, shoreline evolution, and coastal flooding and erosion. He is particularly interested in the balance between human uses and natural processes in coastal systems across Massachusetts and has been working with, and lending his geologic expertise to, the Plum island community for many years.
Dr. Porter Hoagland, Economic Policy Analyst
Porter is a Senior Research Specialist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Marine Policy Center, specializing in the application of methods from economics and public policy analysis to problems in ocean and coastal management. He received a bachelor’s degree from Hobart College and a PhD from the College of Earth, Ocean, & Environment at the University of Delaware. Porter’s primary areas of interest in the Plum Island Research Project relate to assessing the economic costs of erosion risks and relating these to the choice of practical policies to lessen the risks. You can visit Porter’s research website here.
Dr, Gregory “Gray” Fitzsimons, Historical Consultant
Gray is serving as historian for the Plum Island project. He is researching and writing on the major human changes not only to Plum Island and the area around the mouth of the Merrimack River, but also to the larger watershed. The major purpose is to explore the extent to which coastal erosion has been influenced by the construction of dams, jetties, and other harbor and beach structures, the dredging of the river, the deforestation and reforestation of the land, and the erection of flood control structures. Fitzsimons has degrees in civil engineering and U.S. history, and is currently completing his dissertation at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on the history of urban schooling, school leadership, and community power.
Daniel Coffin, Outreach and Film Consultant
Dan is helping the project coordinate outreach efforts, including through this website and also through the production of documentary film exploring the project’s issues. His most recent project was the acclaimed documentary film, Cape Spin. Dan has a BA in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and continues to consult for] Development Guild/DDI, one of the nation’s leading consulting service firms for non-profit organizations.
Jennifer is a senior at the College of William & Mary, majoring in Geology and minoring in Marine Science. She is working in the Coastal Geology lab at VIMS with Chris Hein to better understand human impacts on marsh accretion rates on Plum Island. Jenn will be staying on at VIMS when she graduates, working on the Plum Island Research Project as a lab technician.
Justin is a first year graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He completed his honors research at the College of William & Mary based on his study of sediment deposition in the Merrimack River estuary: how have humans impacted erosion and sand and mud export from the Merrimack River to the Plum Island beach and backbarrier marshes over the last 500 years? Justin’s graduate work now focuses on barrier island evolution in Virginia, but we’re looking forward to him publishing his results from Joppa Flats soon!
Sarah is a senior at William & Mary, majoring in geology. Sarah rediscovered her love of the ocean after spending a semester studying marine science onboard a ship in the South Pacific. She is currently working on completing her senior thesis studying erosion on Plum Island Point / Reservation Terrace. Is it related to the jetties? Is it river dynamics? Is is a lack of sediment from the river? We’ll let you know what we find soon.
Andy was a Master’s student in coastal geology at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. His masters work focused on researching coastal erosion on Plum Island and the impacts on relative housing values. Andy graduated from VIMS in January 2016 and is now working for the ESS Group Inc in Waltham, MA.
Wei completed his Ph.D. in Economics at University of New Hampshire in 2016, based on his work on the Plum Island Research Project. Before that, he got his bachelor’s degree from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2008 and MA in economics from UNH in 2011. Wei’s major research interests focus at UNH was on the environmental and natural resources economics, nonmarket valuation and applied econometrics, with a focus on Plum Island.
Christin is an undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Conservation and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. Her career interests include implementing just measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Christin worked with Ju-Chin Huang as a summer research apprentice in 2014 on a grant from the UNH Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. She examined the effects of beach erosion control practices on the ecosystem services of Plum Island. In addition, she works with Ju-Chin and Wei Shi to study the economic values of erosion control on Plum Island. Christin hopes that this apprenticeship will prepare her to use economics as a tool to initiate environmental conservation.
Haley is recent graduate from the College of William & Mary, where she majored in Environmental Geology and minored in Environmental Science & Policy. For her senior research, Haley worked with Project Lead Chris Hein and Andy Fallon, mapping changes in shoreline positions of Plum Island over time, and studying possible explanations for this variability.