Student Spotlight: Matt McCormick Studies Storm Impacts to Better Protect Florida’s Coast

January 2024

Matt McCormick Studies Storm Impacts to Better Protect Florida’s Coast

As scientists are predicting increases in both hurricane magnitude and frequency in the future, it is crucial to better understand how hurricanes and their extreme wind and waves will disrupt the natural stability of our coastal systems. Second-year geoscience master’s degree student Matt McCormick is hoping that when his thesis research is completed, he will be able to help coastal communities better predict future storm-related impacts and promote improved resiliency along Florida’s coastline.

McCormick’s research is focused on the sedimentological signatures and morphologic changes resulting from Hurricane Ian along the southwest coast of Florida. To determine the sedimentological characteristics, he analyzed the physical properties of the sediment within identified storm deposits using sediment cores that were collected from different coastal environments. To determine the morphologic changes, McCormick calculated the changes in elevation within these environments using digital elevation models and elevation profiles collected both before and after the landfall of Hurricane Ian.

Thanks to additional grant funding from three external sources, McCormick was able to expand the area of his study. Originally, he only intended to focus on the changes of developed barrier islands, such as Estero Island.

“The three grants have allowed us to extend this study to also include the adjacent undeveloped regions such as Lover’s Key State Park,” stated McCormick. “This funding paid for materials, travel expenses, and costs associated with analyses for the additional environments, allowing us to document the storm-induced changes along both human-built and natural environments.”

His Hurricane Ian project has several collaborators, both from Florida Atlantic and the University of South Florida (USF). At FAU, McCormick works with his advisor Tiffany Roberts Briggs, Ph.D., chair and associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, and Leanne Hauptman, a fellow member of Briggs’ lab group, and James Gammack-Clark, a senior instructor within the Department of Geosciences. From USF, works with Ping Wang, Ph.D., USF School of Geosciences professor, and his students Kendal Jackson, Elizabeth Royer, and Sophia Gutierrez.

Matt McCormick Studies Storm Impacts to Better Protect Florida’s Coast

Every summer throughout his childhood, McCormick’s family would travel to the Florida beaches. Those trips inspired a curiosity for coastal processes and question how those landscapes were created by waves, winds, and tides.

“During my first year of college, I enrolled in an introductory geology course and slowly began answering some of these questions and learned how different natural environments are built,” McCormick shared. “Following this introductory course, I was hooked on the subject, changed my major, and prepared for a career within geosciences.”

After McCormick finishes his master’s degree at the end of this spring semester, he hopes to pursue a Ph.D. to continue conducting research related to coastal sediment transport processes.

“With several threats to our modern coasts, including an accelerating rate of sea level rise and increasing development within coastal communities, there are several unknown factors regarding how Florida’s coastlines will respond,” McCormick said. “I hope to provide explanations for these uncertainties to help coastal managers best preserve and protect our beaches for future generations.”