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UAH coastal resiliency researcher named gulf research fellow

HUNTSVILLE – University of Alabama in Huntsville coastal resiliency researcher Dr. Abdullahi Salman has been named to the 2022 cohort of Early-Career Research Fellows in the Environmental Protection and Stewardship track by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Dr. Abdullahi Salman (Michael Mercier/UAH).

The fellowship includes a $76,000 award for Salman, an assistant professor of civil engineering at UAH.

He is one of seven fellows selected to spend the next two years advancing scientific knowledge and its applications to predict and prepare for ecosystem changes in the Gulf of
Mexico and its coastal zones as the region navigates a changing climate and energy transition.

“I was delighted to receive support for my work on protecting coastal ecosystems,” Salman said. “Conducting research that will help to protect the ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico has been one of my goals since I joined UAH. The GRP fellowship will go a long way in helping me to advance the research and contribute to preserving and protecting our precious ecosystems.”

Mentoring support is provided to fellows to support them with independence, flexibility
and a built-in network as they take risks on untested research ideas and pursue unique
collaborations. In the application process, Salman chose Dr. Judith Schneider, a UAH
professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, as his mentor.

“I selected Dr. Schneider because of our existing fruitful research collaborations,” Salman said. “I am grateful that Dr. Schneider has agreed to serve as my mentor, and I look forward to learning from her.

“The fellowship will facilitate my research on the resilience of coastal ecosystems to natural hazards and a changing climate. Coastal ecosystems – including estuaries, barrier islands and coastal rivers – face increasing risk from hurricanes and climate change-related stressors.”

Extreme winds from hurricanes can damage ecosystems through the influx of organic
material, he said, and hurricane-induced storm surges can lead to scour of estuarine
habitats and inundate terrestrial and freshwater habitats with salt water.

“The GRP fellowship will enable me to investigate the impact of increasing hurricane
activity and sea level rise on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico,” Salman said. “Two questions will drive the research: How do we predict changes to ecosystems due to
increasing hurricane activities because of climate change? How do we make decisions on
protecting the ecosystems considering the deep uncertainty involved in modeling climate-
change-related hurricane hazard changes?”

He plans to leverage the extensive research documenting the impact of hurricanes on
ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico to develop methods to understand and predict the
responses of ecosystems using meta-analysis.

“The outcome will help us to identify the factors that impact the response of ecosystems to
increasing hurricane activity, improve our understanding of responses to different levels of
hurricane-induced stressors and provide predictive models for quantifying impacts, which
will inform resilience improvement decisions,” Salman said.

The work also involves developing models for ecosystem protection decisions. Environmental protection decisions considering climate change are challenging because of
the presence of deep uncertainties that cannot be quantified or eliminated.

“Such uncertainties are ripe in climate-change-related decisions,” Salman said. “Hence,
traditional decision models will not be appropriate.”

In September, Salman received a five-year, $505,000 National Science Foundation CAREER grant to research improving overall hurricane and severe weather resilience of
coastal communities. He is also the faculty adviser of the UAH chapter of Engineers Without
Borders and is involved in planning the chapter’s clean water-related projects overseas.

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