Christian Schwarz, Ph.D. 

Assistant Professor
School of Marine Science and Policy
College of Earth, Ocean & Environment | University of Delaware
Phone: 302-831-2558
Address: Smith Lab 155, 700 Pilottown Rd., Lewes, DE  19958, USA
Google Scholar Curriculum Vitae

I am an environmental scientist with broad interests in Coastal Ecology and Bio-morphodynamics. I study bio-physical interactions between organisms (e.g. plants or worms) and their environment (e.g. tides, waves, sediment transport), linking the field of hydrodynamics, geomorphology and ecology. I’m interested in obtaining a better understanding of how bio-physical interactions influence ecosystem functioning by altering resource fluxes, biodiversity, landscape evolution and ecosystem resilience.

Congratulations Muriel Brückner, PhD !

I want to congratulate, Muriel, a PhD student I supervised together with Prof. Maarten Kleinhans at Utrecht University, on successfully defending her PhD thesis titled “Modeling estuaries as eco-engineered landscapes. How species shape the morphology of past, present and future estuaries“. Well done !

Here thesis can be accessed through this link.

Here is a short essay Muriel wrote reflecting on experiences gathered during her PhD studies:

Bake-oming a PhD

When I started my PhD, I heard countless times that being a PhD candidate will be tough, especially once I realized the mismatch between my own expectation for achievements and reality.

“I personally found that becoming a scientist follows the process of baking a cake: When opening the cookbook for the first time, you see the picture of a gorgeous-looking, tasty and 100% edible masterpiece of a cake, which you will certainly be able to reproduce if you simply follow the recipe, easy-peasy. In reality, you will discover that the first 42 trials result in something either lacking two or all of the promised qualities, depending on your personal flavour preferences and taste flexibility. Then, finally, by persevering through many attempts, you will be able to succeed to present to your friends a good-looking cake in a coffee and cake garden party on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This analogue applies surprisingly well to doing research: As a young and innocent PhD candidate, you start off thinking of the many possibilities to discover new things, understand the world, and write up countless papers by only following the recipe. What many forget is that you have never had a look at the recipe, let alone tried it before, and that mixing the ingredients does not necessarily lead to something tasty.”

“During my PhD, I experienced these 42 times in a mix of pain, enthusiasm and dry cakes on rainy Sundays. The constant adjustment of expectations and reality were both important as a learning process and a motivation. I alternated between setting too high goals, followed by setbacks reminding me of what was actually possible to achieve, and the occasional successes that again motivated me to keep setting these high goals. Full of enthusiasm I studied how plants, worms and biofilms alter estuarine morphology by capturing sediment, protecting mud and reworking the sediment bed of our coasts. I set out to understand how these small animals determine the evolution of large coastal landscapes, for which I needed to put them into numerical models. As there were no existing models combining these organisms with estuarine morphology, I wrote my own numerical code of which I am very proud even if it has also resulted in many burned cakes over the past four years. It took me a tedious amount of time and effort to make the model work, but by remaking the cake over and over again the final result was becoming all the sweeter. Fortunately after the struggle, it is even more exciting when things finally work. I found interesting trends between estuarine morphology and the presence of the organisms that have the potential to shape our landscapes. These exciting insights motivated me to keep going and to start crafting my own research line. And because patience pays off, in my last year I went to spend several months working in New Zealand, where I compared my models to the local ecosystems, met many inspiring people and learned about new exciting research opportunities. This is also when I realized how much I had learned, what an independent researcher feels like, and what becoming a PhD is about. A PhD is not about numbly following the recipe (which is probably not going to work anyway) and making as many cakes as possible. It is rather about learning to master the recipe, adjust it to get to the goal and keep going when the outcome does not match your expectations. In other words, it is purely about learning how to do science. With this in mind I will now continue doing research as a Postdoc and learn more about coastal morphology and modelling. I am looking forward to tackle new recipes to broaden my pallet for my future research path. Hopefully only with a burned cake once in a while.”

Thanks for the essay Muriel and all the best for your upcoming PostDoc !

Field visit Bombay Hook

I had the privilege to explore a salt marsh field site with the Wildlife Biologist, Susan Guiteras, from the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. We were looking at the channel system and some ponds in the salt marsh interior.

We were accessing the salt marsh through the Leipsic River

Our goal for the day was to visit some ponds in the salt marsh interior; ponds are open-water or mudflats within the salt marsh caused by vegetation die-off