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Villanova Professor is Lead Co-Principal Investigator on $665,000 National Science Foundation Grant

Project aimed at understanding how coastal marshes respond to climate change

Nat Weston

VILLANOVA, Pa. –  Nathaniel Weston, PhD, associate professor of Geography and the Environment in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been named lead co-principal investigator on a project that has been funded by a $665,660 grant from the National Science Foundation. The project is titled “Human Alteration of Sediment Delivery to the Coast—Legacies of Land Use, Coastal Wetland Accretion, and Future Vulnerability to Sea Level Rise.”

Tidal marshes are productive ecosystems that provide key services to society such as carbon sequestration, storm surge buffering and water-quality mitigation.  The long-term stability of coastal wetlands is explained by interactions between sea level, plant growth, sediment supply and wetland accretion, but it is threatened by land use change and accelerating rates of sea-level rise.

The goal of the project is to understand how past and current land use in watersheds that drain to the East Coast of the U.S. has altered sediment concentration in rivers; to determine how changes in sediment supply influences sediment accretion rates in coastal wetlands; and to project future wetland vulnerability along the East Coast under various scenarios of sea level rise and sediment supply.

“We are trying to understand how coastal marshes are going to respond to climate change,” Dr. Weston said. “This funding from the National Science Foundation enables us to take an additional and very critical look at how land use change plays into that.”

The project includes co-principal investigators from three other institutions: James Morris, PhD of the University of South Carolina; Scott Neubauer, PhD of Virginia Commonwealth University; and Chris Craft, PhD of Indiana University.

The collaborative project includes a strong commitment to integrate research and undergraduate education.  It will allow Dr. Weston to involve both Environmental Science and Environmental Studies undergraduate students and graduate students in Environmental Science in key on-site research.

Villanova University’s Department of Geography and the Environment is known for its strengths in the study of wetlands and coastal zones.  The department’s faculty are teacher-scholars who are involved with impactful environmental research which includes significant learning opportunities for students. In June 2015, the University announced the launch of a new master’s degree program in Environmental Science. The program will welcome its first students in the fall of 2016.

“This award from the National Science Foundation recognizes the importance of Dr. Weston’s research and its potential long-term implications for the environment,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean, Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It also supports the commitment of our teacher-scholar faculty to providing outstanding collaborative research and learning opportunities for both our undergraduate and graduate students.”

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences:  Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world.  With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit