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Environmental Scientist Wins Fellowship at Eagleton Institute of Politics

Research studies connections between beach protection and Jersey Shore economy

Posted in: Awards & Recognition, CSAM Alumni, Earth & Environmental Studies, Environmental Science & Management PhD

Jesse Kolodin '21 preparing a drone for launch
Jesse Kolodin ’11 MS, ’21 PhD, pilots a drone to collect data along the coast. (Photo by Ori Klein)

As coastal communities brace for another active Atlantic hurricane season, Montclair State researchers continue to watch the New Jersey shoreline, including the storms’ environmental and economic impact on towns protected by man-made dunes.

The research includes birds’ eye views of shoreline erosion and human efforts to replace lost sediments in berms and dunes, using pictures taken with highly precise unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs or drones) by a team in Montclair State’s Coastal UAV/Drone Research Lab.

The research is led by Jesse Kolodin ’11 MS, ’21 PhD, who successfully defended his dissertation on July 9 for his doctorate in Environmental Science and Management. He is studying the interplay between the coastal mitigation projects being installed in New Jersey since Superstorm Sandy, including beach nourishment and engineered dune construction, and the economic impacts on the local coastal communities.

The work has led to a one-year fellowship with the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics, where he will be working to educate and inform state officials on the science behind some of New Jersey’s major coastal challenges.

Kolodin is an adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Studies. He earned his Master of Science in Geosciences from Montclair State and performed his doctoral research under the advisement of Associate Professor Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba. The research was partially funded through the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program.

Kolodin recently began projects leveraging important new survey technologies to perform hedonic regression analysis for New Jersey beachfront communities and the impact these artificial dunes have on local property values.

“One goal moving forward is to establish a user-friendly tool that local, county and state managers can use to assess their future costs, thus, planning and budgeting for better resiliency in the long term. The tool incorporates a component of erosion monitoring, using drones or UAVs,” Kolodin says.

At a coastal test site in Long Branch, New Jersey, Kolodin pilots the Earth and Environmental Studies department’s drones that fly multispectral, thermal and light detection sensors. The flights demonstrate the methodology and potential advantages of using this high-precision equipment, especially when compared to lower-resolution/higher-cost alternatives, like satellites or planes, Kolodin explains.

The Coastal UAV/Drone Research Lab is led by Lorenzo-Trueba. In addition to Kolodin, student researchers include Shane Daiek, Environmental Science and Management PhD candidate; and Shane Nichols-O’Neill, Earth and Environmental Studies graduate student.

Summer undergrad collaborators from the Computer Science Department include Jakub Pecak and Britnie Gonzalez-Moodie, who are both co-advised by Lorenzo-Trueba and Associate Computer Science Professor Aparna Varde. Professor Danlin Yu, whose research interests include Geographic Information Science, and Professor Mark Chopping, remote sensing expert, also assist.

“Some coastal homeowners – specifically beachfront homeowners – are reluctant to have these large-engineered dunes installed because they may block their views, or that their access will become restricted, or that their once private beach is now public,” Kolodin says. “Given the aggregate trends in real estate, we can discretely measure the increase in property value that the ‘whole’ town receives, which ultimately may translate into certain towns identifying the needs for a more substantial future budget to offset increasing rates of erosion due to growing rates of storm activity, a by-product of anthropogenically-induced sea-level rise and global warming.”

Kolodin will begin the Eagleton Science and Politics Fellowship this summer, joining a small and select group of PhD scientists in pursuit of bringing their scientific expertise and knowledge to the forefront of New Jersey policy.

“I find this to be an opportunistic time for myself and my research, as New Jersey is currently embarking on their ambitious Climate Change Resilience Strategy, including additional coastal projects where my background may serve the state well,” Kolodin says.

The program begins with an intensive summer training seminar focused on New Jersey politics and government, covering topics such as effective communication strategies, power structures and political processes. Throughout the year, Science Fellows participate in professional development and networking sessions organized by the Institute.

Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren