Saving the seaside

Saving the seaside

A Halifax researcher is making sure coastal construction projects don't come at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems
June 3, 2009
Dr. van Proosdij and Ikonos and Landsat satellite
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Dr. van Proosdij and Ikonos and Landsat satellite images of the Bay of Fundy and Avon River estuary.
Saint Mary's University

With major infrastructure projects cropping up across the country to help boost the economy, one Nova Scotia researcher is ensuring that the flood of new construction along her coast doesn’t bring with it a flood of problems.

Danika van Proosdij, an associate professor of geography and director of the Inter-tidal Coastal Sediment Transport research unit (In_CoaST) at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, is shedding light on how bridges and roadwork can be engineered to protect the Bay of Fundy.

In_CoaST, established last year, comprises a series of instruments used by van Proosdij’s group to study interactions between tides and sediments and the response of intertidal environments to development and climate change. As construction booms, so does van Proosdij’s work.

Dr. van Proosdij and student Casey O
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Dr. van Proosdij and student Casey O'Laughlin testing the ADV (acoustic Doppler velocimeter) in our wave tank in the In_CoaST unit
Saint Mary's University

“The response has been significant in terms of requests for collaborations,” says van Proosdij. “I would not be able to do the research I do without this new infrastructure. I would not be able to do my job at all.”

Van Proosdij recently consulted on a $17.5 million project to widen Nova Scotia’s Highway 101. Part of the Trans-Canada Highway that runs from Halifax to Yarmouth through the Annapolis Valley, it was once known as the province’s deadliest road. Her recommendations took into consideration the area’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. In_CoaST models and GIS analysis allowed van Proosdij to predict where and how much the area might flood in response to tides, rising sea levels and increased precipitation, while satellite imagery and LIDAR elevation surveys helped determine the ideal elevation required to prevent the road from being washed out.

The provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal also enlisted van Proosdij’s group to help restore several salt marshes and upstream fish habitats. Her work has provided the science behind the construction plans.

Testing survey equipment.
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Testing survey equipment.
Saint Mary's University

“Danika is by far the best person for assessing these ocean and climate change issues,” says Bob Pett, an environmental analyst for the department who has worked with van Proosdij for five years. “We’re getting to the point where we know where we’re going with the roads, and it’s essential that we understand the potential impacts of sea level rise, erosion and sedimentation.”

The provincial Department of Agriculture signed a research agreement with van Proosdij to stimulate new marsh growth along agricultural fields to help prevent erosion, which is more cost-effective than building rock walls. And she is also studying the implications of tidal-power systems in the Bay of Fundy for a range of private organizations interested in the alternative energy source.

“As people become more knowledgeable about the impact of climate change and alternative energies, they are building more along the coast, and they are going to have to make decisions to ensure the long-term viability of the ecosystem,” says van Proosdij. “As people become more aware of the risks, there is more demand for the work that I do.”