“At Georgia Southern, I took the introductory courses in geology as the required science courses. I quickly became hooked and I’ve never looked back,” said Brian K. Meyer, Ph.D., a scientist and lecturer in geosciences at Georgia State University, whose career started with work on the Georgia Southern Museum’s Mosasaur, and now includes hydrogeological research on the shoreline dynamics and the nearshore wetlands of St. Catherines Island.
Meyer’s entry into the field of geology and paleontology began when the late Richard Petkewich, Ph.D., professor in the Geology and Geography Department and a paleontologist at Georgia Southern, was working on the Mosasaur. A 29-foot Tylosaurus unearthed in the black hills of South Dakota, the giant, lizard-like Mosasaur swam in Late Cretaceous seas over 60 million years ago.
The specimen that Dr. Petkewich and museum director Dr. Gale Bishop acquired in 1978 was collected in South Dakota and transported to Georgia Southern, where it was prepared by students and faculty for exhibit. The work took almost a decade. Dr. Meyer spent his spare time as an undergraduate and student assistant casting bones, rebuilding the skull and mounting the skeletal remains of “Mo.”
“I started working as a student assistant for two years and really became committed to finishing the project,” Dr. Meyer stated. “The task required a combination of skills that I was fortunate to possess. Following graduation, I was lucky to be able to get a full-time research associate position at Georgia Southern that allowed me to complete the project.
“Gale Bishop, Jim Darrell, and Dick Petkewich, my professors and mentors at Georgia Southern, invested their time in helping me to develop my geoscience skills,” said Dr. Meyer.
“I count the Georgia Southern Mosasaur among my greatest accomplishments,” said Dr. Meyer. “It is an achievement that generations and generations will be able to enjoy and learn from, a true legacy type of project.”
Dr. Meyer left Georgia Southern in 1987 and spent the next 20 years as a geologist and environmental consultant with a firm based in the Atlanta area.
“I went back to school after 20 years to the other GSU – Georgia State – to get my masters and Ph.D.,” said Dr. Meyer. “They had a lecturer position open after I graduated, so I jumped at the opportunity to teach.”
His doctoral dissertation was entitled, Shoreline Dynamics and Environmental Change Under the Modern Transgression: St. Catherines Island, Georgia. (©2013, Brian K. Meyer)
One of 12 barrier islands off of Georgia’s coast, St. Catherines is privately owned by the Edward John Noble Foundation which, since 1968, has dedicated the island’s use to education and research. Because the island hasn’t been commercially developed, it can provide information for scientists which other over-developed islands along Georgia’s coast cannot.
“St. Catherines has a great infrastructure for researchers including lodging and transportation. I’m typically using a John Deere® Gator and a GPS to map the shoreline. But the collaboration with colleagues from Georgia Southern and the American Museum of Natural History has really made it develop into a special place for me personally as a scientist,” he said.
Dr. Meyer continues to work with colleagues from Georgia Southern including Dr. Kelly Vance, Dr. Gale Bishop, Jaynie Gaskin, Dr. Jim Reichard, and Jacque Kelley. These and other scientists on the island are evaluating wildlife, ecology, geology, and hydrogeology - the study of the movement of water across, beneath, and through the island.
Dr. Meyer has been focusing on hydrogeology and two environmental processes that affect the changing shoreline of St. Catherines - the rate of sea level rise and the movement of sediment caused by the modification of land cover by humans. He uses vibracoring, the extracting of layers of beach sand and sediment, and radiocarbon data to provide insight into the development of St. Catherines’ shore.
The sediment layers he collects show environmental impact much like the rings of a tree. Two Late Holocene events that have drastically changed St. Catherines are the hurricane of 1893 and the 1993 “storm of the century.” Both events moved large amounts of water and sand, changing the landscape of the island.
In general, the interruption of the transportation of sand from north to south along the Georgia coast has been attributed to commercial land developments on other islands, dredging of shipping channels, and the damming of the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, all having an increased effect on St. Catherines’ shores, making it the most erosional of Georgia’s barrier islands.
Dr. Meyer’s research has shown that the “effects of sea level rise and shoreline retreat are evident …The shoreline retreat is actively eroding the marsh environment and is exposing relict marsh muds on the beach. The highest rates of shoreline retreat are observed on the extreme southern portion of the island where more than 400 meters of the island has been lost since 1951 at an average rate of more than six meters per year.”
The research is important in helping us to understand erosion problems and environmental concerns, but also how to better protect our coastal homes and businesses.
“We’re trying to understand how our islands are reacting to sea level rise and how the ecosystems are responding,” stated Dr. Meyer. “If we understand the timing and response, we may be better prepared to build resiliency into the ecosystems and more efficiently protect our investments in the build environment.”
The research affects not only Georgians, but countries with coastlines around the world wishing to preserve the environment and protect investments along the shore.
“We are fortunate in Georgia that the vast majority of our barrier islands have been protected from development,” said Dr. Meyer. “I hope that we can continue to conserve these valuable resources and also understand the impact that sea level change is producing in order to preserve them in a sustainable manner for future generations to enjoy.”
The spark ignited by his first geology class back in 1981 still glows.
“My greatest career success is being able to repay the investment that other teachers have made in me by mentoring our next generation of earth and environmental scientists. I am extremely proud to see my students develop as geoscientists, it is truly a rewarding experience.”