Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • LATE PLEISTOCENE TO HOLOCENE EVOLUTION, SEDIMENTATION PROCESSES, AND ANTHROPOGENIC IMPACT OF A COASTAL SYSTEM: RARITAN AND SANDY HOOK BAYS, NEW JERSEY

    Author:
    Elana Klein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Cecilia McHugh
    Abstract:

    The objectives of this study were: 1) to decipher the late Pleistocene to modern- day evolution of a coastal system; 2) determine the impact of natural processes such as longshore currents and storms on its sedimentary patterns; and 3) assess the impact of anthropogenic activities due to the proximity of a large metropolitan region. An ultimate goal was to assess the health of the ecosystems within the coastal environment. The study area included the Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays, New Jersey, located just south of the terminus of the maximum extent of the Laurentide ice sheet. The area has long been affected by the growth of a spit, storms, and anthropogenic pollution. Seismic reflection profiles provided a framework for the evolution of this simple-fill estuary since the Last Glacial Maximum. Studies of Vibracores from Sandy Hook Bay revealed that the latest Holocene sediment in the bay is dominated by low energy deposition in a back- barrier environment created by the development of the Sandy Hook Spit, interrupted by storm events (e.g., storm surge, fluvial flooding) which have either left unconformities due to erosion, or mass-wasting deposits. Radiocarbon ages of two shallow marine (i.e., low tide- 10 m) mollusks (Anomia simplex; Anadara transversa) suggest sea level entered the Sandy Hook Bay at ~6.1 cal. ka BP, similar to estimates by Fairbanks (1989), Siddall et al. (2003), and Wright et al. (2009) that sea level reached its present day height ~ 6.0 ka BP. This suggests the land was not affected as greatly by the forebulge than areas previously depressed under the glacial ice. Five mass-wasting deposits were dated (from 970 AD, 1399 AD, 1525 AD, 1591 AD, and 1778 AD; mean ages) with radiocarbon ages of shells retrieved from the cores and correlated with storm deposits identified in previous studies of Long Island, NY, and the New Jersey coast. These findings show that large areas of a coastline need to be studied to characterize a long-term prehistoric record of storms. Results from X- ray fluorescence, magnetic susceptibility, loss on ignition, and short-lived radioisotopes, revealed that metal concentrations were greater in the upper sediments of the bay, primarily in the backbarrier sections and proximal to the beaches. Coarser-grained sediments near the tip of the spit were associated with less contaminants in the upper sediments, most likely related to dredging, or the higher energy related to tidal currents and waves. Initial results from wet chemistry (ICP Spectrometer) tests conducted by an independent laboratory showed Pb was present at levels determined by Long et al. (1995) to have adverse effects on organisms. Future research is necessary to identify and designate sections of the bay where fish and shellfish should not be harvested from, due to metal concentrations that may adversely affect the health of organisms that inhabit the substrate.

  • ELECTRICAL RESISTIVITY IMAGING STUDY OF NEAR-SURFACE INFILTRATION

    Author:
    Angelos Lampousis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Patricia Kenyon
    Abstract:

    High resolution electrical resistivity images (ERI method) were obtained during vadose zone infiltration experiments on agricultural soils in cooperation with Cornell University's Agricultural Stewardship Program, Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Extension Education Center, Riverhead, New York [as well as Cornell University's Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center (LIHREC) in Riverhead, New York]. One natural soil was also studied. Infiltration was monitored by means of image analysis of two-dimensional array resistivity generated by a Syscal Kid Switch resistivity system (Griffiths et al, 1990). The data was inverted with the computer program RES2DINV (Loke, 2004). The agricultural soils considered were Riverhead sandy loam (RdA), Haven loam (HaA), and Bridgehampton silt loam (BgA). The natural site was located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The soils there are classified as Schoharie silty clay loam. The electrical images of the three sites were compared against established soil properties, including particle size distribution, available water capacity, and soluble salts (from the literature), as well as against site-specific soil samples and penetrometer data, which were collected along with the geophysical measurements. This research evaluates the potential of acquiring high resolution, non-destructive measurements of infiltration in the uppermost 1.5 meter of the vadose zone. The results demonstrate that resistivity differences can detect infiltration in soils typical of the north-eastern United States. Temporal and spatial variations of soil water content in the upper 1.5 meters (relevant to agriculture) of the subsurface can be monitored successfully and non-destructively with ERI. The sensitivity of the method is higher in subsurface environments that demonstrate high overall apparent resistivity values (e.g. high sand content). Under conditions of increased soil heterogeneity, instead of the formation of a continuous water plume as occurred in the homogeneous agricultural soils, the location of the infiltrated water seems to be highly influenced by the soil heterogeneity, and the water front is scattered into discontinuous layers and travels in additional directions. The geophysical results during infiltration correlate well with soil compaction data. It follows that the ERI method can be used as a proxy for soil compaction and water content variations in agricultural applications. In a natural environment, ERI successfully maps the tree root zone of mature trees. Applications include continuous water content monitoring in high value cash crops, such as viticulture (precision agriculture).

  • The Elwha Dam Removal Project and the Dematerialization of Nature

    Author:
    Enrique Lanz Oca
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Cindi Katz
    Abstract:

    Throughout the twentieth century dams have been used to bolster America's power, prestige and sense of itself as a nation capable of producing energy for all of its citizens. In the golden age of dam building, from the 1930s to the 1960s, dams' praises were sung by folksingers, Hollywood actors, and government propagandists alike. Big dams such as the Hoover or the Grand Coulee emerged as iconic features of the national landscape, symbolizing the governments' power to do everything from defeat the allies, jumpstart the economy, or control nature by converting wild rivers to natural energy reserves. However, recent data indicate the arrival of an era of dam removals, as dams across the nation have begun to be dismantled at an unprecedented rate beginning in the late1980s. It is vital to document this trend because it indicates a change in the way in which energy is being produced, consumed, and understood in this country, which is reshaping our conceptions of nature. By studying the largest dam removal project in the world and the second largest ecological restoration in the country, the Elwha Plan in Washington State, this dissertation reveals how energy is being reconceived at the local level precisely at the moment when the U.S. is reinvigorating its search for energy resources. This study examines the ways in which the government, corporations, community members, conservationists, and tribe members in Port Angeles all contribute to producing nature anew. It traces how in the wake of the dam removals, private and public interests are combining in novel ways and invoking the ideologies of restoration, bioregionalism, and renewable energy in order to further penetrate nature. Such new configurations of capital are redeveloping the electricity grid in Cascadia in ways that exploit regional identity in order to remap the region and change the way that energy is flowing throughout the nation. As dams are demolished across the nation and private renewable projects replace them, hitherto public domains, such as the electricity grid, are privatized. Once heralded as national icons, dams are disappearing from the landscape and nature is losing powerful materials.

  • Building Like Moses With Jacobs in Mind: Redevelopment Politics in the Bloomberg Administration

    Author:
    Scott Larson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Neil Smith
    Abstract:

    For decades the legacies of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses have loomed over redevelopment politics in New York City, serving as ideological opposites in ongoing struggles to influence the form of the city’s built environment. Yet recent revisionist readings have sought to reframe popular perceptions of the pair. Moses’ supporters argue that his public works have positioned the city to remain ascendant into the 21st century; opponents counter that Jacobs’ ideals continue to provide the prescription for curing contemporary urban ills. In devising its own vision of the city, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought to bridge this divide, countering that it is “building and rezoning today once again like Moses on an unprecedented scale but with Jane Jacobs firmly in mind,...” (Burden, 2006). This project aims to critique the narrowness of this debate, arguing that both Jacobs and Moses represent a class-based strategy for remaking the city. While Moses’ modernism might appear to stand in stark contrast to Jacobs’ localism, when synthesized in the Bloomberg agenda both represent a call for the building and rebuilding of the city for people of middle rather than lesser class privilege.

  • Building Like Moses With Jacobs in Mind: Redevelopment Politics in the Bloomberg Administration

    Author:
    Scott Larson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Neil Smith
    Abstract:

    For decades the legacies of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses have loomed over redevelopment politics in New York City, serving as ideological opposites in ongoing struggles to influence the form of the city’s built environment. Yet recent revisionist readings have sought to reframe popular perceptions of the pair. Moses’ supporters argue that his public works have positioned the city to remain ascendant into the 21st century; opponents counter that Jacobs’ ideals continue to provide the prescription for curing contemporary urban ills. In devising its own vision of the city, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought to bridge this divide, countering that it is “building and rezoning today once again like Moses on an unprecedented scale but with Jane Jacobs firmly in mind,...” (Burden, 2006). This project aims to critique the narrowness of this debate, arguing that both Jacobs and Moses represent a class-based strategy for remaking the city. While Moses’ modernism might appear to stand in stark contrast to Jacobs’ localism, when synthesized in the Bloomberg agenda both represent a call for the building and rebuilding of the city for people of middle rather than lesser class privilege.

  • CHARACTERIZING VEGETATION STRUCTURE AND BIOMASS USING LIDAR REMOTE SENSING

    Author:
    Shihyan Lee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Wenge Ni-Meister
    Abstract:

    Precise characterization of vegetation structure and biomass is significant due to current high uncertainty in estimating global terrestrial carbon sink, ranging from 10 to 60% of total fossil fuel emission. LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) remote sensing is an advanced tool developed for this purpose, and recent identified problems in this area include the need of interpreting lidar height on slopes and estimating forest above ground biomass. This research focuses on these two aspects by assessing the feasibility of analytical solutions, as well as investigating alternative physical interpretation of lidar data. A recently developed slope correction scheme based on a Geometric Optical and Radiative Transfer (GORT) model was used to quantify the topographic impact on lidar measured vegetation height. By using this scheme, data from spaceborne Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) were compared to airborne Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS) and small-footprint lidar data, where LVIS data is regarded as less affected by slope, and small-footprint lidar data is regarded as ground truth. Analyses show slope-corrected GLAS vegetation heights match well with both small-footprint lidar (R2 = 0.77, RMSE = 2.2 m) and slope-corrected LVIS heights (R2 = 0.64, RMSE = 3.7 m). Both slope-corrected GLAS and LVIS height biases are independent on slope. The investigation of the relationship between lidar data and in-situ measured vegetation structure parameters showed that it is scale- and vegetation type- dependant. For dense forest stands, vegetation biomass is more related to lidar height; while for sparse stands, lidar estimated canopy cover can be more important parameters in approximating tree density variation. To better link lidar data with vegetation structure, a lidar biomass index was developed based on height and estimated canopy cover profile to approximate vertical tree density distribution. Analyses in three different types of forests showed high correction (R2=0.75-0.83) and near stable relationships between this index and in-situ measured biomass. This index also helps to explain why some height metrics are optimal based on the vegetation structure and topography. The results presented in this dissertation suggest that the theoretical development can improve the accuracy and interpretation of lidar data, which, in turn, provide unique remote sensing datasets for studies of vegetation structure and biomass, and ultimately decrease the uncertainty in estimating terrestrial carbon sink.

  • Chronic Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter and Heart Failure in New York City: A Methodological Exploration of Environmental Justice and Health

    Author:
    Andrew Maroko
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Juliana Maantay
    Abstract:

    Increased exposure to air pollution has been connected with environmentally-linked diseases (increased morbidity), decreased lifespan (increased mortality), environmental injustices (inequitable distribution of pollution based on population characteristics), reduction of quality-of-life, and increased health care costs. The main goals of this work are to analyze and quantify the potential association between chronic fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure and heart failure hospitalization rates in New York City and to explore the possibility that specific populations (e.g. racial and ethnic minorities, less educated populations, lower income populations) suffer from increased chronic exposure to PM2.5 from local stationary sources when compared to other populations in the context of environmental justice. Fine particulate matter exposure in New York City was estimated using proximity analysis, air dispersion modeling, and land use regression modeling. The characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of each technique were compared and contrasted. A number of statistical techniques were also employed to assess and quantify these associations (odds ratios, ordinary least squares regressions, spatial autoregressive models, and geographically weighted regressions). The utility and appropriateness of each of these statistical models were examined. The results of the analyses suggested the presence of environmental injustices, although the relationships appeared complex and non-linear. The environmental health analyses found a positive association between intra-urban chronic exposure to fine particulate matter and heart failure hospitalization rates when controlling for socio-demographics in New York City.

  • In Harm's Way: How Philadelphia's Urban Renewal Practices Steered Marginal People to Marginal Land.

    Author:
    Katera Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    Kenneth Gould
    Abstract:

    The dumping of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) on marginal communities has been well documented, however environmental justice scholars have rarely written about how marginal groups have come to occupy their landscapes, particularly when natural hazards lie beneath. This dissertation research focuses on a broad definition of the environment that includes the built, social, and physical. I am interested in extending Logan and Molotch's Growth Machine theory to consider how the political and economic elite guided the urban renewal process to place particular communities on particular landscapes, despite the presence of a flooding hazard. To understand this issue, I examined how this process occurred in Philadelphia from the 1950s to the 1970s by developing a historical narrative that considers how decision makers, policies, residential demographic characteristics, and land quality came together to create a renewed community. This study analyzes the residential development of three sections of Philadelphia, Eastwick (southwest), Mill Creek (west), and Chestnut Hill (northwest). The major goal of this research is to explain who is more vulnerable to the natural phenomenon of flooding and why by considering settlement patterns and terrain. Using the research question what social processes led to the distribution of flooding risk in post-industrial Philadelphia? to guide my work. More specifically, by considering social systems and power relations, I analyzed the spatial and environmental impacts of urban renewal in Philadelphia; developed a framework for analyzing the processes that produce places; and provided insight into authentic community participation around managing urban environmental concerns. In a relatively short time, cities will experience many of the environmental problems associated with climate change. As municipalities move towards sustainability, comprehensive emergency preparedness will need to be considered beyond standard best management practices. Providing citizens with meaningful involvement in land use decision-making is crucial to finding authentically sustainable solutions to environmental hazards. This work makes three important interdisciplinary contributions, all of which are linked to the racialization of space. I contribute to urban studies scholarship by demonstrating how the growth machine creates a cityscape stratified by race and class. Second, I contribute to environmental justice research by firmly highlighting flooding vulnerability as an environmental justice issue and documenting the histories of marginal people on marginal land. Finally, I make a sound contribution to critical race studies when considering the long-term implications of race and space as it relates to structural inequality and social reproduction. In this dissertation, I examine the case of how people outside of the political and economic elite are relegated to landscapes prone to flooding. Drawing upon data collected using several different methods, I analyze the morphology of these landscapes and how these residents become passive users of their place rather than active shapers equipped to mitigate the hazards underlying their communities.

  • Does Geography Matter? Neighborhood Effects on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of NYC Public School Children after 9/11

    Author:
    George Musa
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    William Solecki
    Abstract:

    An epidemiological study was conducted six months after 9/11 under the auspices of the NYC Board of Education, to evaluate the impact of the World Trade Center attacks on children's mental health. A large representative sample of public school students in grades 4-12 (N=8,236) was screened for eight psychiatric disorders including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as various types of exposures to the 9/11, health problems, family circumstances, etc. Analyses of these data have indicated that being a student at a Ground Zero Area (GZA) school was not a significant risk factor for developing PTSD. These findings were contradictory to existing literature on PTSD. In previous PTSD studies, distance was not measured in fine scale (i.e., X miles from traumatic event), instead, arbitrary distance categories were used (i.e., was in school, was at home, etc.). For this study, Euclidian distance from the students' home zip code to their GZA schools, transportation distance and travel time have been calculated to help understand this phenomenon. Additionally, neighborhood variables (including socio-economic status (SES), residential mobility, safety, quality, and location-based physical exposure measures), as well as school environment and performance, are used to observe their potential influence.

  • Temporal and Spatial Variability of Metal Distributions in Staten Island Marsh-Creek Systems: Does Connectivity to the Arthur Kill Impact Anthropogenic Enrichment, Sediment Quality and Toxicity Potential in NY/NJ HE Marsh Habitats?

    Author:
    Caitlyn Nichols
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Earth & Environmental Sciences
    Advisor:
    William Wallace
    Abstract:

    The Arthur Kill is a polluted urban waterway situated between Staten Island, New York and New Jersey. It is unknown if this tidal strait serves as a significant source of trace metals to Staten Island marsh habitats, via redistribution and exchange, and thereby contributing to the substantial metal contamination found in sediments within these areas. Although loadings into the Arthur Kill have declined in recent years, the combination of historic impacts, modern point and non-point sources, and low flushing rates make this waterbody a sink for pollutants. Contaminated sediments are susceptible to remobilization via tidal action and shipping/dredging activities. Consequently, this may transport metals bound to suspended particles to neighboring areas, with subsequent uptake and toxicity to resident biota. The primary goals of this dissertation research was to characterize spatial and temporal trends in sediment metal (Cd, Hg, Cu, and Zn) contamination in salt marshes adjoining the Arthur Kill; and examine the distribution and tidal transport of pollutants between the Arthur Kill and upland marsh habitats along the western shore of Staten Island, New York. Insight concerning temporal and spatial change within marsh habitats will aid in tracking success of current water quality initiatives targeting this severely impacted waterway. Research into the exchange of metals in polluted estuarine areas similar to this system is essential from a restoration standpoint and is a crucial step in gaining an overall understanding of metal transport and redistribution within this highly industrialized and ecologically important system.