Williams Geosciences Professor Awarded NSF Grant to Study Boulder Beach Response to Storms

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Rónadh Cox, the Edward Brust professor of geology and mineralogy at Williams College, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The three-year, $340,000 grant will support her research on how boulder beaches respond to storms and how they change over time.

Boulder beaches record wave action on stormy coastlines, but surprisingly little is known about them. Cox's NSF-funded project, titled "Boulder Beaches: The Understudied Archive on High-Energy Coasts," aims to increase understanding of their dynamic evolution. The study focuses on 22 sites in Ireland, which has a wide range of boulder-beach settings, so that the results will be applicable to other locations world-wide. 

Using a combination of state-of-the-art aerial photogrammetry and hands-on field measurements, she will determine how factors such as wave energy, coastal geometry, topography, geology and boulder sizes control beach morphologies. As the first multi-parametric study of boulder beaches and how it responds to storms, Cox's project, which will engage students in every phase of the work, will be the most comprehensive examination yet undertaken of this dynamic and long-ignored environment.

"The moment is ripe, because as sea level rises and high-energy wave attack on coastal infrastructure becomes more frequent, there is a growing need for studies of high-energy coasts, both to understand coastal response to storms and coastal hazards, and also as a resource for engineers as they work to improve coastal protection approaches," Cox said. "As the main depositional record of wave action on rocky coasts, boulder beaches should be playing a central part in this conversation, but the lack of data and understanding have prevented their integration into coastal geomorphologic thinking. I’m particularly excited to involve Williams students in this work, and I have an excellent rising senior, Aria Mason, who has already begun research on the project."

Cox's research interests include sedimentology, sedimentary petrology, geochronology and planetary geomorphology. At Williams since 1996, she has taught courses on oceanography, geochemistry, planetary geology, and earth resources, among other subjects. Her work has been widely published and cited. She received her B.Sc. from University College Dublin, Ireland, and her Ph.D. from Stanford University.


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