From Boyhood Passion to Ph.D.: One GMU professor’s lifelong fondness for geology and oceanography provides insight into Northern Virginia’s coastal erosion woes

By Mohammed Michael Harfoush

Dr. Randy McBride, an associate professor of geology and oceanography at George Mason University, grew up land-locked in western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburg, in what McBride describes as “Steelers territory.”

Growing up, McBride’s day-to-day activities were confined to his immediate surroundings, in what many consider to be western Pennsylvania’s ‘coal country,’ but a latent interest in what McBride would later learn were the topics of geology and oceanography was sparked while vacationing with his parents along Georgia’s coastline.

“My mother exposed me to coastal Georgia … I did a lot of exploration with [her],” says McBride.

Curiosity took hold of young McBride. Numerous questions concerning Georgia’s barrier islands began to rise to the forefront of McBride’s mind.

“I wanted to understand why the islands were there, how they operated and what the processes were that caused them to be there,” says McBride.

Randy McBride, COS

Dr. Randy McBride, associate professor of geology and oceanography at George Mason University. (GMU Staff)

An interest in geology and oceanography stayed with McBride through his college years. McBride found himself taking courses in environmental geology, where he was surprised to stumble upon a section in the curriculum devoted to coastal erosion. McBride immediately thought fondly back to his days vacationing with his parents along the Georgia coastline, and the idea of making a career out of his enduring appreciation for, and interest in, things happening along and around the coast, seemed like a calling McBride could no longer resist.

“I spent a year abroad in London, England … and got exposed to more coastlines … and then … applied to Graduate school and went … to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and did my Master’s degree at Louisiana State University (LSU), and then ended up doing my Ph.D. there,” says McBride.

During his time at George Mason University, McBride has conducted research along the northern Gulf of Mexico, as well as coastal Louisiana. McBride has also had his graduate students look into barrier island systems along the outer banks of North Carolina and the Delmarva peninsula.

“I’ve had a number of Master’s students and Ph.D. students who have done detailed coastal geomorphology, coastal geology, theses and dissertations [concerning the northern Gulf of Mexico coast line and the US Atlantic coastline],” says McBride.

McBride warns, even though Northern Virginians may not feel like they’re at a particularly high risk for experiencing the effects of coastal erosion, there’s still reason for concern, and warning signs that indicate Northern Virginians are still ‘fair game’ when it comes to coastal erosion and its byproducts.

“The rise in sea level is already impacting … tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, … the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., the Occoquan River — a number of places … right here in Northern Virginia … [and] overall, right now, [global warming, brought on by] human activity is the biggest driver of sea level rise and coastal erosion. So, the most important thing is to decrease our carbon footprint, become more efficient with our use of fossil fuels and decrease the amount of fossil fuels that we burn and release into the atmosphere,” says McBride.


Highlights from the 2018 W.E.B. Du Bois College Men’s Conference

By Mohammed Michael Harfoush

This video is a showcase of some of the highlights from the 2018 W.E.B. Du Bois College Men’s Conference, where George Mason University staff, faculty, and other state and community leaders came together to share lessons on personal health, societal health, and general well-being.