Julia Hopkins is Lead Scientist on New NSF Grant for ‘Emerald Tutu’

aerial view of city on the coast

Julia Hopkins was named the lead scientist on a new Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant funds the research and development of a nearshore solution for coastal flooding.

As climate change worsens, coastal flooding from extreme storms pose an increasing threat. Novel solutions are needed to serve coastal communities. Boston is one such threatened city, and the grant will fund the development of a wave mitigation system originally conceived for the Massachusetts Bay area and referred to as “Emerald Tutu”.

What is an “Emerald Tutu”?

Intended to be easily deployed and expanded in any city with need, the “Emerald Tutu” is an interconnected system of floating wetland and walkways that hug the shoreline in half-ring formations. The floating wetlands will be populated using local flora varieties and will consist of marsh grass above and seaweed below. The long roots of the seaweed disrupt and mitigate wave movement while also providing habitat for nutrient-regulating zooplankton. On the outskirts of the system will be a series of walkways, providing a community recreation resource for walking and biking, while remaining navigable for boats and small craft.

illustration of floating wetland and walkway

“The basic idea takes some of the theory we have about how nature is supposed to be protecting shore and applying that to something we can use in urban environments,” said Hopkins. The project will “test network properties and different ways in which this technology can serve the shoreline behind it.”

The name Emerald Tutu was chosen to mimic Boston’s existing Emerald Necklace, a famous park system that comprises much of Boston’s green space. The project was developed by Hopkins and collaborators, including Tutu CEO Gabriel Cira. To learn more about the Emerald Tutu and see some concept art, check out this informational video.

The project joins others under development by Northeastern faculty, students, and alumni to address coastal and water system issues using biomimicry and environmental engineering. Other projects include the Charles River Floating Wetland and the Biomime wave-scour mitigation proposal.

Julia Hopkins joined Northeastern University as an Assistant Professor in 2020. Her research focuses on coastal engineering, with an emphasis on extreme storm events. Prospective students interested in this area of research should consider our MS in Civil Engineering with a Concentration in Water, Environmental, and Coastal Systems, or our PhD programs.

Abstract Source: NSF

The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is to provide a nearshore (just offshore of inhabited coastal land, in shallow water) solution to reduce coastal flooding. The proposed project addresses a need to lessen heavy flood protection solutions based on carbon-intensive concrete in the form of seawalls and other barriers. This project will prototype an interconnected network of floating growth mats, made to seed marsh grass above the water and seaweed below. The heavy biomass of these mats and their network properties as a large interconnected group provides wave and storm surge reduction. A proposed turnkey kit offers a low-cost system, readily deployable and expandable over time. Additionally, as a floating park-like marine landscape, it has many co-benefits to the surrounding communities. As plant-based infrastructure, it serves as a site for native marsh grasses and local seaweeds to populate, providing new habitats and improving water quality.

This SBIR Phase I project is a natural coastal resilience technology designed to be pre-fabricated, modular, and easy to implement for a variety of coastal environments and communities. The technology consists of robust vegetated mats linked in a network and deployed in the nearshore. The mats are colonized by local varieties of semi-aquatic marsh flora above the water line, and aquatic seaweeds below. Research objectives to validate this approach include comparing mat network performance in a range of flow conditions, including extreme waves, to inform mat design. A second research thrust will measure biomass accumulation and ecological performance through in situ deployments of mat structures.

Related News: ‘Emerald tutu’ of floating wetlands

Related Faculty: Julia Hopkins

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering