Cecilia M. McHugh

My research focuses on marine geology and sedimentation processes to understand earthquake and tsunamis, sea-level changes, climate and the impact of anthropogenic activities in the local rivers and estuaries such as the Hudson and Long Island Sound. I have also studied the effects of extra-terrestrial impact events as the one that happened 35 million years ago in what is today Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. My driver for conducting research is the discovery of the unknown. Very little is known about the ocean floors in proportion to their huge coverage of the Earth 70%. Indeed there are discoveries in every expedition I participated. The beauty of studying sediments is that in the submarine environment they tend to be deposited and not disturbed as on land. So the history of events in preserved back in time for millions of years. We learn about the past to understand the future and the sediments are great sources of information. As one of the precursors of the  field of submarine paleoseismology I study earthquakes and tsunamis under the sea. This work began in Turkey in 1999 after catastrophic earthquakes caused thousands of casualties and much destruction. As Pi and CoPi, I have lead expeditions to study the M7.0 2010 and M7.2 2021 Haiti earthquakes as part of RAPID Responses, and I am studying the disastrous M 9.0, 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami as part of the International Ocean Drilling Expedition to the Japan Trench.

The burning of fossil fuels releases gases into the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect. So the Earth is getting warmer and so are the oceans. As a result, mountain glaciers and ice sheets are melting and the oceans are warming. These processes lead to a rise in sea-level that is accentuated by thermal expansion of the ocean waters. Warmer oceans lead to increased storm activity and greater storm surges that are penetrating further landwards and maintaining their energy through longer periods of time. These factors threaten our heavily populated cities. By studying the sedimentation record I learn what climate and sea-level were in the past and hope to help understand their impact in the future.