Christopher Hein


Research Summary

The development of coastal systems has resulted from the interactions of temporal shifts in the importance of sea-level changes, climate change, and sedimentary processes. My research address the complexities of Holocene coastal evolution and the importance of our ability to predict interrelated changes in each of these drivers in forecasting the impact of future climate change on coastal evolution.

Sea level in the mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere has been rising since the late Pleistocene, leading to the formation of extensive barrier-island chains. Conversely, in much of the Southern Hemisphere and low latitude regions, sea level reached a highstand in the mid-Holocene and has since fallen due to hydro-isostatic forcing. My dissertation work, conducted at Boston University, investigated the role of backbarrier infilling in barrier island formation in the Western Gulf of Maine, the effects of minor variations in the rate of sea-level fall and sediment supply on strandplain formation in southern Brazil and the evolution of an embayment located at the site of an ancient Egyptian harbor on the Red Sea in response to coupled changes in sea level and climate-driven sediment supply.

As a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, I am working with Valier Galy in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry in the investigation of the dynamics of fluvial sediment and organic-carbon export in the Ganges-Brahmaputra / Bengal Fan system. This is the depocenter of the largest erosional system on earth and one of the largest single suppliers of biospheric carbon to the world’s oceans. Specifically, I am studying (1) the modern reworking and preservation of environmental signatures encoded within terrestrial vascular-plant-derived organic carbon delivered by this river system to the Bengal shelf and (2) the use of the stable-isotopic composition of these biomarkers as a fingerprint of variability in the strength of the Indian summer monsoon since the Last Glacial Maximum. My goal is to apply what we learn about the fundamental dynamics of organic carbon in the coastal zone, as well as the tools and techniques of modern stable-isotope and organic geochemistry, to the study of how climate and sea-level change have affected the evolution of barrier islands and strandplains and the climatic forcing of fluvial sediment supply to the coastal zone.
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