As Tropical Storm Isaias swept through the mid-Atlantic coast, doctoral candidate Arye Janoff was watching the sea in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. An experienced surfer, he paid close attention to the waves, but also to the wind direction and tidal stage, searching for just the right time to paddle out. But in his role as a research assistant in the Environmental Science and Management program at Montclair State, the long-term effects of climate change along the coast were of greater concern than the size of the waves he would ride that day.
Janoff is a coastal geomorphologist researching the connection between natural coastal change and human intervention. His research blends geology, economics and policy, recently earning Janoff a prestigious John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship as he completes his graduate studies in the coming months.
The storm that hit the New Jersey coast on August 4 highlights the broader impacts of Janoff’s work, especially the challenges connected with coastal protection in the face of a changing climate.
“On average, our beaches can withstand storm impacts and rejuvenate themselves naturally. The keyword here, however, is ‘naturally.’ We have significantly engineered our beaches, especially in New Jersey, which could exacerbate short-term storm impacts in specific locations along the coast, but also induce enduring geomorphic and socioeconomic consequences,” he says.
Janoff will take what he has learned at Montclair State University to shape U.S. marine and coastal policy development when he begins the Knauss fellowship in February 2021. The highly competitive Sea Grant program administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) places graduate students in coastal and marine science fields either in an executive or legislative host office in Washington, D.C. Each host office provides professional development opportunities and the chance to apply academic research to public policy in a tangible way.
“In a legislative role, it’s all about how science informs policy development, while an executive role focuses on how best to implement those science-informed policies into practice,” Janoff says. “Much like our Constitution’s Separation of Powers doctrine, science incorporation across different branches of government serves as a check and balance toward more effective, evidence-based public policy.”
While a graduate student, Janoff has been part of a team of researchers working with Associate Professor Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba and the Coastal Dynamics Lab, examining the effects of future sea-level rise, wave climate and resource economic conditions on coastal behaviors.
“Arye’s research includes how a system that is heavily modified by humans is going to evolve through time,” explains Lorenzo-Trueba. The National Science Foundation supports this work through its Dynamics of Coupled Natural-Human Systems program.
“Instead of being concerned with what is going to happen in the next couple of years, we are trying to predict what could happen moving forward a decade, or more,” Lorenzo-Trueba says. “We are interested in the interplay between natural processes and socioeconomics because the way that the coast evolves really depends on these feedbacks.”
Humans play an important role in what the shoreline will look like over time, he says.
Janoff is concerned with how beach communities choose to maintain their beaches for property protection and recreation in coordination with their neighboring communities versus independently, and how the resultant economic consequences of these decisions differ by management scheme.
“I look at beach nourishment, which is the dredging of sand from either off-shore deposits or tidal inlets to widen beaches. This effectively creates a buffer against damaging storm surges to protect properties and allow for more recreational space for beach users,” Janoff says.
He also examines groin fields, the shore-perpendicular rock structures prevalent along the New Jersey coast. “Their purpose is to stop the flow of sand along the coast in order to widen the beach, producing the same effect in order to protect the properties and maintain recreation, though they often have adverse down-coast consequences,” he says.
To explore the behavior of these heavily developed coastlines, Janoff and Lorenzo-Trueba built a modeling framework that couples natural shoreline evolution with changes in beachfront property values and beach recreational values. For example, looking at certain communities and their level of wealth or the revenues generated by their beaches can help explain how they have formulated management policies in the past, and how their plans might change when faced with rapidly rising seas and increased maintenance costs, Janoff says.
“Our first stab at understanding how communities make decisions is to look at New Jersey because, historically, a lot of communities have made decisions on their own, rather than working together. Plus, it is always good to start in your own research backyard,” he says.
Janoff lives in Bradley Beach, where he is the secretary of the Environmental Commission, has volunteered on the Oceanfront Development Task Force, works on science outreach initiatives with local school students, and is an avid surfer and ocean lover.
“I am passionate about applying the knowledge I’ve gained through research and primary experiences to effect real change because, after all, that’s why I pursued a career in science,” he says. Janoff will use these skills he has developed at the local government scale in his role as a Knauss Fellow and looks forward to learning how science can be implemented at the federal level.
Coastal management policy needs to take into account the future effects of climate change, he says. “We must internalize these more frequent, large magnitude erosion events as the new normal, and find ways to adapt by moving the most vulnerable infrastructure out of harm’s way rather than continuing possibly inefficient management programs.” The Knauss Fellowship serves as Janoff’s next career step toward these broader management goals by including science at the public policy table.
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren
Learn more about the Environmental Science and Management PhD program.