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Rip Current Awareness Week: Spotlight on North Carolina Sea Grant Extension Specialist Spencer Rogers

North Carolina Sea Grant Coastal Construction & Erosion Specialist

As the summer beach season opens, Spencer Rogers of North Carolina Sea Grant has new tools to better understand dangerous rip currents. He has built drifters that are floats about two feet tall with a data logger sheltered in a waterproof cell-phone case. Once deployed in rip currents along the coast, they will help researchers determine what percentage of rip currents circulate back shoreward. That data then can be incorporated into models used by colleagues at universities, local National Weather Service forecast offices and other NOAA programs, all with a goal of improving beach safety. Rip currents account for about 80 percent of beach rescues each year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association. Rogers will work with local lifeguards and a graduate student from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. For several weeks, international rip current expert Rob Brander, known as Dr. Rip in Australia, will join the team to share the lessons learned on his coastlines and learn about rip currents along North Carolina’s varied coastline.

It’s Rip Current Awareness Week, what is one thing everyone needs to know about rip currents?

Rip currents may happen at any time on beaches that have wave action. That includes those along oceans, gulfs and the Great Lakes. Rip currents are not tides that come in specific cycles. They are present on many beaches every day, but may only be dangerous under certain wave conditions during particular times of the day or days of the year.

What is something cool about working on rip current outreach?

I get to go to the beach and work with lifeguards. They are the best forecasting tool available to the National Weather Service. They are on the beaches and in the water every day. They know the surf zones in their communities very well and are key to alerting forecasters to daily conditions. They also are front-line forces in educating the public about ocean dynamics.

What drove you to work on coastal hazards outreach?

I was about 10 when Hurricane Donna came through Virginia in 1960, followed by the Ash Wednesday Storm in 1962. Both storms caused extensive damage in the region where I lived. We were in the house when it flooded our lowest floor level. We were able to keep water out because the doors were tight. During my graduate studies in Florida, I knew that I wanted to deal with real-world issues related to coastal dynamics in terms of geology, water currents and other factors.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension specialist?

You never know who is going to walk in the door or call on the phone. It is highly variable and seldom boring when responding to requests from the public.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

Educating the public is an endless effort. You never finish.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

When I joined NCSG in 1978, I thought it was a short-term job because all the issues would be solved in five years or so.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in coastal hazards and beach processes?

In my high school days, I stumbled upon a great book: Waves and Beaches by Willard Bascom. I was hooked. 

Do you have an outside hobby?

I am a sailor. I love the physics of airflow.


Meet other people in the Sea Grant Network that help raise awareness of Rip Currents:

Michigan Sea Grant’s Communication Director: Elizabeth LaPorte
California Sea Grant funded researcher: Bob Guza, PhD
Texas Sea Grant funded researcher: Chris Houser, PhD

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