BU’s Magaly Koch and Mira Kelly-Fair Studied Coastal Erosion in Brittany, France

in Global Matters
March 13th, 2024

International Seminar Brings Together Experts in Physical Sciences   

As part of her National Science Foundation-funded research, Dr. Magaly Koch, geologist and research associate professor, co-led an international seminar and workshop in South Brittany, France. For this opportunity, Koch and her U.S. and French collaborators, who are experts in a range of disciplines, including marine geology and geospatial technology, selected nearly a dozen master’s and PhD students from across the U.S., including Puerto Rico, after a competitive selection process, to work on international research and learn from one another.

One of the PhD students who was selected for the seminar is two-time BU student Mira Kelly-Fair (MA ’22), who studies coral ecosystems. Specifically, Kelly-Fair is working on an NSF project based on mangroves in Belize. “This fellowship that I went on [with Professor Koch] is in line with this idea of studying coastal erosion,” says Kelly-Fair. “Obviously, the coastal erosion that we see in Northern France is going to be significantly different from what we’re looking at in Belize, but it was a great way to connect with a lot of other people in the field…and it was cool to learn more about radar aspects of remote sensing.”

Professor Koch specializes in the application of remote sensing and geographic information systems in the study of groundwater resources and environmental change of arid lands. She has traveled to numerous countries studying environmental change and coastal zone challenges in the face of a changing climate and was thrilled to co-lead this opportunity.

“This opportunity was meant for advanced graduate students, where they spent two weeks in a seminar style workshop,” says Koch. “It’s completely interdisciplinary… everyone had different backgrounds, and we wanted it that way. The emphasis was on the physical sciences; we had students with backgrounds in structural geology, tectonics, oceanography, and one student from Puerto Rico who specializes in investigating algae blooms.”

Professors on the trip included experts in satellite remote sensing, data sciences, computer sciences, among other specialties. “The students all learned from each other and from us,” says Koch. “And that was the purpose: to have them give a sort of overview of all these techniques and methods that can be used in many disciplines, with the main focus being the interface between the land and the ocean.”

Kelly-Fair agrees that it was interesting and valuable to have a wide range of specialties represented. “It was great to get such a wide diversity; people really had a range of what they were studying, from people who were more strictly in the area of remote sensing to people to were much more biology-focused,” she says. “I think we really covered the spectrum.”

They also used the opportunity to emphasize the importance of effectively communicating science, and students had time to present their work so everyone learned what members of the group are studying.

Kelly-Fair says the big takeaway for her was around the connections she made in France and that she has since participated in industry conferences where other participants and Professors from the seminar were in attendance. “Some of the people who were instructing us [in France], I have run into at conferences, and they’ve been able to connect me with even more folks, and I’ve gone to their talks.”

She also enjoyed the field trips they went on, which included a visit to one of the islands where they examined different elements of wind erosion and tidal erosion.

“When you are doing remote sensing research, a lot of what you’re doing, in addition to using the satellite imagery, is what we call ground truthing,” Kelly-Fair explains. “Seeing how those things are working on the ground. We have a lot of non-satellites and outputs by things like NASA and the European Space Agency that can map out potentially how wind is moving. We’re seeing a lot of changes with climate change. Being able to understand how those dynamics are shifting is really important, and we can get that information from the sky, but then going there and validating what we’re mapping out is accurate is really crucial.”

In addition to field trips, they went on a cultural excursion to Sous-Marin Flore Et Son Musée, a museum that showcases submarine building dating back to WWII and how the development of military and maritime infrastructure shaped the area.

“I’ve worked on boats for a very long time, so I really enjoyed that aspect of learning more about marine culture,” Kelly-Fair recalled.

This coming summer, Professor Koch is headed to Japan, where earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis are major coastal hazards. They have selected 12 PhD students from various universities across the U.S. This time, Professor Koch is working with Dr. Shunichi Koshimura, a Professor at International Research Institute of Disaster Science, Tohoku University, and the founding deputy director of the Co-creation Center for Disaster Resilience, Tohoku University.