Cecilia M. McHugh

Cecilia M. McHugh

Distinguished Professor
Marine Geology and Sedimentology

Science Building, Room E 202
Phone: 718-997-3322

Research Interests

The catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis in Sumatra, 2004; Haiti, 2010; Chile 2010 and Japan 2011 heightened public awareness to these natural hazards and of their consequence for the heavily populated coastal regions of the world. Large earthquakes and tsunamis associated to tectonic plate boundaries cause devastating loss of life and property. As part of the International Ocean Discovery Program, McHugh together with collaborators from Europe and Japan have been scheduled to drill in the Japan Trench to study earthquakes and tsunamis. Many student opportunities will occur as a result of this international expedition scheduled for 2020. We are developing new methodologies in submarine paleoseismology to document historical and prehistorical earthquakes to help improve geohazards assessment. We use high-resolution geophysical instruments (sidescan sonar, multibeam bathymetry, subbottom profiles) and sediment sampling (long piston and gravity cores, multicores, dredges) to study the seafloor and subbottom layers. Students McCain Moore and Elissa Olivera have studied the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Jessica Dutton, Adina Hakimian and Nicole Braudy studied earthquake event deposits in the North Anatolia Fault in the Marmara Sea Turkey, El Pilar Fault in Cariaco Basin, Venezuela, the floor of the Mediterranean Sea associated to the Calabrian Ridge plate boundary, and were part of an NSF RAPID RESPONSE to study the 2010 Haiti earthquake and tsunami only two weeks after it occurred. Opportunities exist to continue these studies in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas.

Other ongoing research projects investigate a paleoclimatic and paleoceanographic signal from sediments recovered in smaller basins such as the Marmara Sea and Black Sea, Turkey. The reconnections of these marginal basins to the world’s ocean after the Late Pleistocene glaciations can track global sea-level rise due to the dramatic sedimentation changes and complete replacement in the fauna and flora that occurs as these basins change from lacustrine to marine settings. Damayanti Gurung completed a Ph.D. as part of this project and opportunities are available for students in these fields.

Closer to home we are studying Long Island Sound and Sandy Hook Bay, highly urbanized estuaries that have been severely impacted by anthropogenic activities. Elana Klein (PhD), Alexandrea Bowman, Andrea Balbas, Edwige Lauture (MA), Michael Delegatti (MA) and Adam Kaiser are measuring grain size variability, heavy metals, organic matter concentrations, and interpreting the abundances in terms of coastal and estuarine processes. This program has been funded until 2019 and likely for two more years for studying Western Long Island Sound.

Long-term research includes 5 Ocean Drilling Legs, Alvin Dives, and oceanographic cruises to Western Australia, Canterbury Basin offshore New Zealand and New Jersey Continental Margins to study paleoceanography such as the initiation of monsoon in the Indian Ocean and the consequences of global sea level change. These studies have provided insights into climate change. Robert Applebaum (PhD), Corinne Hartin, Helene Gould, Jessica Bong, Prasala Tuladhar, and Jaswinder Kaur are involved in these ongoing studies.

Recent research is focusing on Bangladesh. A country where seismic risk is high, fluvial processes mighty, and where ~160 million people inhabit at or near coastal zones. An international, multinstitutional program is being implemented to study tectonics, seismic risk and fluvial processes of the mighty Ganges-Brahmaputra fluvial system. Ph.D. student Dhiman Mondal and MA Sharif Mustaque, discovered that an M8.5 earthquake and tsunami occurred in 1762 and documented coastal sedimentation in SE Bangladesh. Opportunities to become involved in this program are open to both graduate and undergraduate students. Please contact C. McHugh for this purpose.

Teaching Philosophy and Interests

Teaching at Queens College and The City University of New York is a great experience due to the diverse student population. Having immigrated to New York City from Buenos Aires, Argentina after high school and without speaking the language, the most important message I give my students is, “set a goal, something that you truly like, and go for it!” It can be done! There are many opportunities for studies in the Earth and Environmental Sciences, which is a critical and needed field given how man is affecting our planet today.