[Coral-List] USGS post-doc opportunity: sea-level rise and climate change impacts to atolls

Curt Storlazzi cstorlazzi at usgs.gov
Fri Jan 6 15:16:07 EST 2012

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce a USGS Mendenhall Post-doctoral Program (http://geology.usgs.gov/postdoc/) opportunity to investigate sea-level rise and climate change impacts to low-lying U.S. atolls.


This USGS-funded competitive 2-year research program provides a US federal GS-12 base salary of more than $60,000 per year plus up to $30,000 per year in operational funds (e.g., fieldwork, instrumentation, meetings, publications). The application deadline for this program is 21 February 2012.


Some background information and the position description are attached below. We would greatly appreciate it if you could forward this to any graduating PhD students or recently-awarded PhDs (in the last 5 years). Please direct any questions or comments any of the potential co-advisors. Have a wonderful start to 2012!




USGS Mendenhall Post-doctoral Researcher Opportunity #19:


The Impact Sea-Level Rise and Climate Change on Low-lying US Atolls


Observations (e.g., Church and White, 2006; Merrifield et al., 2009) show that global sea level is rising at a rate almost double the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2001 report and recent estimates (e.g., Pfeffer and others, 2008) that include rise due to thermal expansion and ice melting show a most likely sea level increase by the end of the century of up to 2.0 m. Sea-level rise is particularly critical for unconsolidated low-lying coral atoll islets, many of which have maximum elevations of less than 4 m above present sea level. Subaerial atoll islets are Holocene features that support 2000 year-old cultures, yet the amount of land and water available for human habitation, water and food sources, and ecosystems is limited and extremely vulnerable to inundation from sea-level rise. While large changes in sea level relative to the elevation of the atoll islets threatens terrestrial ecosystems and infrastructure by storm wave-induced overwash and inundation, even modest increases in sea level may contaminate the thin freshwater lens underlying islets with saltwater, making the islands unsuitable for agriculture and/or habitation. Changes in sea level may also affect the sustainability of tidewater ecosystems, and rising sea levels may exacerbate the impacts of storms and wave action on adjacent coral reefs that buffer the atoll islets from waves. For example, wave-driven overwash events on US-managed Pacific atolls in 2008, 2009, and 2011 ruined freshwater drinking supplies, killed crops, destroyed infrastructure, and killed hundreds of thousands of federally-protected species.


The goal of this research is to determine the impact accelerated sea-level rise on the critical geologic and hydrologic processes that affect atoll islets. The postdoctoral fellow will develop and test innovative means for measuring and predicting rates of change to atolls using state-of-the-art process-response models and assimilations of disparate data types such as lidar- and satellite-derived high-resolution topography and bathymetry, coastal geomorphology and hydrogeology, and historic and real-time oceanographic, meteorologic, and hydrologic measurements. We envision this research could be accomplished using a number of different approaches. One potential approach could be analysis of existing remote sensing, geologic, and tectonic data on all US atolls to feed a global geographic information system (GIS) model. Another approach could be fieldwork on an atoll with a logistical base (e.g., Midway, Johnston, and Palmyra NWRs; DOD installations on Kwajalein and Diego Garcia) to acquire topographic, bathymetric, and geologic information for a process-based numerical model to be tested on different atoll islet configurations (islet cross-sectional area, islet proximity to atoll rim, windward or leeward islet location on atoll, etc). Specific tools that could be employed include digital grain-size imaging systems, geophysical subsurface mapping tools, and high-resolution acoustic and laser mapping systems to understand current geologic and hydrologic processes and coupled oceanographic-geomorphic and/or hydrogeologic numerical models for the longer-term goal of predicting how future climate change and sea level rise may impact atoll systems. These predictions will form the basis for determining which DOI- or DOD-managed atolls are most at risk and provide the foundation for quantifying the impact of sea-level rise on specific atolls under US jurisdiction.


The postdoctoral fellow will have ample opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations in geology, oceanography, physics, hydrology, statistics, spatial data analyses, numerical modeling, remote sensing, and engineering.  She/he will be able to develop partnerships with researchers from different USGS science areas, other federal agencies (USDA, USFWS, NOAA, USACE), and academia. The postdoctoral researcher will be at the forefront of interdisciplinary research and will participate in significantly improving our understanding of the impact of climate change and sea level rise on the sustainability of atoll systems.



Church JA, White NJ (2006) A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise. Geophysical Research Letters, v. 33, L01602, 4 p.


Merrifield MA, Merrifield ST, Mitchum GT (2009) An anomalous recent acceleration of global sea-level rise. Journal of Climate, v. 22, p. 5772-5781.


Pfeffer WT, Harper JT, O’Neel SO (2008) Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st-century sea-level rise. Science v. 321(5894), p. 1340-1343

Proposed Duty Station: Santa Cruz, CA

Areas of Ph.D.: Geology, oceanography, hydrology, remote sensing, computer science, civil engineering, coastal engineering (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines but with knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications: Research Geologist, Research Oceanographer, Research Hydrologist, Research Geographer, or Civil Engineer  (This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)


Research Advisor(s):  

Curt Storlazzi, (831) 427-4721, cstorlazzi at usgs.gov

Peter Swarzenski, (831) 427-4729, pswarzen at usgs.gov

Delwyn Oki, (808) 587-2433, dsoki at usgs.gov

Steve Gingerich, (808) 587-2411, sbginger at usgs.gov

Tony Kimmit (USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service), (817) 509-3434, tony.kimmet at ftw.usda.gov


Human Resources Office Contact: Candace Azevedo, (916) 278-9393, caazevedo at usgs.gov



Curt Storlazzi, Ph.D.
U.S. Geological Survey
Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
400 Natural Bridges Drive
Santa Cruz, CA  95060
(831) 427-4721 phone
(831) 427-4748 fax

Staff web page:

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