Bret M. Webb, Ph.D., P.E., D.CE
University of South Alabama
150 Jaguar Drive, SH3142
Mobile, AL 36688 USA
Phone: (251) 460-6174
Fax: (251) 461-1400

Research Positions

Currently seeking multiple graduate students to fill positions at the MS, PhD, and Postdoc levels. Research topics include: living shorelines, beach and tidal inlet dynamics, barrier island response to extreme events, groundwater impacts to coastal lagoons, and infrastructure resilience. Research assistantships are available. Click here for more information.

Current Research Assistants

PhD Students
Garland Pennison


MS Students
Kelsey Carpenter
Sean McQuagge
Elizabeth Winter
Jackie Wittmann


Undergraduate Students
Ian Cox

Former Students

MSCE Students
Patrick Hautau (2018)
Marshall Hayden (2018)
Kate Haynes (2018)
Justin Lowlavar (2017)
Bryan Groza (2016)
Kari Servold (2015)
Chris Marr (2013)
Richard Allen (2013)
Miyuki Matthews (2012)


Post Docs
Jon Risinger
Jungwoo Lee

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We have two new research projects starting soon and both provide funding for research assistants at various academic levels. One of the projects, funded through the RESTORE Act, will focus on the hydrodynamics and water quality within a coastal lagoon. That project will involve fieldwork and hydrodynamic modeling and will support one MSCE student and one postdoc position. The other project, funded by the US Coastal Research Program, aims to develop systems engineering approaches that improve community resilience to coastal hazards. That project will support two PhD students in our Systems Engineering program. Position requirements are summarized below. Those interested in the positions below should send me a cover letter and resume/CV by email ( Please be sure to state in your cover letter which position you are seeking.

  • Postdoc Position (1): The ideal candidate will possess a PhD in coastal engineering, oceanography, marine science, or a closely related field. Candidates should have a strong background in programming (e.g., MATLAB, R, Python, etc.), GIS, spatio-temporal data analysis, and the ability to prepare and apply hydrodynamic models. Familiarity with Delft3D is preferred but not required. This position will be expected to assist with fieldwork (in/on water).
  • PhD Positions (2): The ideal candidate will possess a MS degree in coastal engineering or a closely related field. Acceptable candidates will have some knowledge of contemporary coastal resilience issues, extreme events, climate change, and civil engineering infrastructure. Experience with programming (e.g., MATLAB, R, Python, etc.), familiarity with GIS, and a strong background in probability and statistics are required. Some experience applying hydrodynamic models is preferred but not required. Students should understand that their PhD will be in Systems Engineering with an emphasis on the natural and built coastal environments. These positions are limited to US citizens only.
  • MSCE Position (1): The ideal candidate will possess a BS degree in civil engineering, environmental engineering, marine science, or closely related field. A complete understanding of probability and statistics is necessary. The ability to perform fieldwork (in/on the water) is required for this project. Familiarity with programming, GIS, modeling, data analysis, and research experience are preferred but not required.

Active overwashing event on N.C. Highway 12 following Hurricane Dorian. (NCDOT)

Garland Pennison, PE recently defended his doctoral dissertation research related to coastal road reliability. Garland’s dissertation, “Assessing Coastal Road Reliability Using Celerity Dispersion Functions,” presents new methods for characterizing the vulnerability of coastal highways to extreme events. Garland’s work uses the outputs from high fidelity numerical model simulations of extreme events, which are integrated over the duration of the event to create cumulative intensity measures that describe road damage locations and damage severity. Garland’s work has uncovered a very interesting correlation between cumulative wave celerity dispersion predicted by either water surface elevation or peak wave period, with the answers being extremely similar to one another. Furthermore, development and application of a cumulative pseudo-Froude number does an excellent job predicting not only the road locations that are most likely to fail, but also the severity of damage. Some of Garland’s dissertation products are listed and linked below and a forthcoming manuscript is in preparation for a peer-reviewed journal. Once available, Garland’s final approved dissertation will be linked in the list of materials below. In the meantime, please consider watching Garland’s dissertation defense recording below.

  • Pennison, G.P. 2018. Predicting Coastal Roadway Damage using Modified Dispersion Functions. Center of Excellence for Risk-Based Community Resiliency Planning, First Place Award in the Graduate and Post-Doctoral Competition; Awarded 4 May 2018. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., Cloutier, R.J., and Webb, B.M. 2018. Local Coastal Roads—Next Generation. Proceedings of the 2018 Industrial and Systems Engineering Conference. K. Baker, D. Berry, C. Rainwater, eds. 6 pp. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., and Webb, B.M. 2018. Coastal Roads: Using Failure to Strengthen Resiliency. 2018 National Coastal Conference, American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA 2018) Resilient Shorelines for Rising Tides, Galveston, TX. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., Webb, B.M., Padgett, J., and Gidaris, I. 2018 . Predicting Coastal Roadway Damage using Modified Dispersion Functions; Pennison. 36th International Conference on Coastal Engineering (ICCE 2018), Baltimore, MD. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., and Webb, B.M. 2019. Using Coastal Road Failures to Improve Resiliency. 2nd International Conference on Transportation System Resilience to Natural Hazards and Extreme Weather (Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine), Washington, DC. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., and Webb, B.M. 2020. Coastal Road System Failures: Cause and Effect. Proceedings of the 2020 Industrial and Systems Engineering Conference. L. Cromarty, R. Shirwaiker, P. Wang, eds. 6 pp. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P., and Webb, B.M. 2020. Transdisciplinary Systems Thinking: Sustainability of Coastal Systems. Proceedings of the 2020 Industrial and Systems Engineering Conference. L. Cromarty, R. Shirwaiker, P. Wang, eds. 6 pp. (link)
  • Pennison, G.P. 2020. A Systems Approach for Evaluating Coastal Road System Reliability Using Cumulative Celerity Dispersion Functions. Dissertation, University of South Alabama. (link)
  • Darestani, Y.M., Padgett, J.E., Webb, B.M., Pennison, G.P., and Fereshtehnejad, E. Fragility Analysis of Coastal Roadways and Performance Assessment of Coastal Transportation Systems subjected to Flood Hazards. J. Performance Constructed Facilities (in review).
  • Pennison, G.P., Webb, B.M., Cloutier, R., Smallegan, S.M., and Steward, E. Assessing Coastal Road System Reliability using Celerity Dispersion Functions. Coastal Engineering Journal, Special Issue (in preparation).

*Garland’s work was conducted as part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center of Excellence for Risk-Based Community Resilience Planning under Cooperative Agreement 70NANB15H044 and 70NANB20H008 between the NIST and Colorado State University. The content expressed in these works are the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of NIST.

We recently completed a two-year collaboration with the USDOT Federal Highway Administration during which we developed a new resource that explains how transportation professionals can implement nature-based solutions to enhance the resilience of coastal highways. The complete implementation guide is available on the FHWA project website (or click on cover image at right). A brief summary is provided below. Additional project resources and reports are also described and linked from the project website, as are the reports from a number of pilot projects conducted around the US.

A webinar is scheduled for October 23, 2019 to assist in the rollout of this new resource. The webinar agenda includes presentations on the new Implementation Guide by Tina Hodges of USDOT FHWA and Bret Webb of the University of South Alabama; an overview of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering With Nature(R) initiative by Jeff King; and a summary of NOAA resources for nature-based solutions by Kim Penn. Click on this link for more information and to register for the webinar (required).

This Implementation Guide is designed to help transportation practitioners understand how and where nature-based and hybrid solutions can be used to improve the resilience of coastal roads and bridges. Upfront, it summarizes the potential flood-reduction benefits and co-benefits of these strategies. From there, the guide follows the steps in the project delivery process, providing guidance on how to consider nature-based solutions in the planning process, how to conduct a site assessment to determine whether nature-based solutions are appropriate, key engineering and ecological design considerations, permitting approaches, construction considerations, and monitoring and maintenance strategies. The guide also includes appendices with site characterization tools, decision support for selecting nature-based solutions, suggested performance metrics, and links to additional tools and resources.



FHWA GI Pilot title slide... click for animation

We are wrapping up a one-year collaborative project between USA, the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (USDOT FHWA).  This was one of five pilot projects funded by USDOT FHWA to evaluate the use of green infrastructure for improving the resilience of coastal transportation systems. The pilot projects are an initial step in a more comprehensive effort by USDOT FHWA to develop an implementation guide for nature-based solutions that improve resilience. More information about that project is found at the following link {click here}.


Our pilot project with MDOT was focused on improving the resilience of a coastal bridge in Mississippi to hurricane hazards and future sea level rise. More specifically, our green infrastructure approach was designed to address the vulnerability of bridge approaches and low-elevation bridge spans. The causes of damage to the bridge during Katrina were determined through the use of hydrodynamic models. A hindcast simulation of Katrina was performed using the coupled ADCIRC+SWAN models. Those results were extracted and used to force a high-resolution, two-dimensional simulation using the XBeach model. An animation of some of those results is provided below.


To that end, a pair of vegetated berms were designed in order to mitigate storm damage now and in the future during extreme events.


An overview of the entire pilot project is available in a recorded webinar at the following link {click here for webinar}. Ours is the second presentation in the webinar recording (at about the 25-minute mark). Webinar recordings for all five pilot projects, as well as other presentations in an ongoing USDOT FHWA resilience series, can be found at the following link {click here for all webinars}. A brief animation of our presentation slides is available by clicking on the title slide image in this post.


Katrina Hindcast using XBeach, forced with ADCIRC+SWAN output…

XBeach animation

Hindcast of Katrina using XBeach: Terrain elevation contour colors correspond to the lower blue-green-brown-white color scale. Selected bathymetric contours are shown as dashed white lines on the surface. The animated water surface is contoured by significant wave height using the blue-white-red scale. Vectors represent the depth-averaged flow magnitude and direction, but only at every 1/10th grid cell for clarity.


The Department of Civil Engineering at the University of South Alabama is seeking to fill a funded Graduate Research Assistantship for a student interested in pursuing a Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree, or a Doctor of Science in Systems Engineering, with concentrations in structural and/or coastal engineering. The initial appointment is for one year (1/2016 – 12/2016) and renewal will be contingent upon quarterly performance reviews (for up to three years ending 12/2018). The position will be competitively funded with a stipend and tuition. The qualified applicant should have an earned BS or MS degree in civil engineering by 12/31/2015, have an interest in coastal and/or structural engineering, and meet all admission standards of the Graduate School, and Department of Civil Engineering, at USA. Applicants should prepare the following materials and upload them to Academic Jobs using the link below: (1) brief statement of interest, (2) resume, (3) university transcripts, (4) a list of three references, (5) a technical writing sample, and (6) GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores (if applicable).

Application Submission Link: (click on the “Apply” link)




The successful candidate will be appointed to a Graduate Research Assistant position at the University of South Alabama (USA) in the Department of Civil Engineering and will be expected to pursue a Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE), or a Doctor of Science in Systems Engineering, in the specialty areas of coastal and/or structural engineering. The University of South Alabama is a public university in Mobile, Alabama and the campus is located 30 miles from the white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. The MSCE program at USA focuses on civil engineering in the coastal environment and department faculty research expertise includes the traditional areas of water resources, environmental, transportation, geotechnical and structural engineering as well as coastal engineering.




The research responsibilities of the student will be to assist in a five-year funded research project focused on improving the resiliency of the built environment to disasters and natural hazards. The project requires original research, laboratory work, numerical analysis, and interpretation of results. The student will perform physical modeling of wave-structure interactions in our new 25-meter wave channel. Additional project details will be made available at an appropriate time. The ideal candidate will:
1) Have demonstrated knowledge of common numerical analysis software (e.g., Matlab)
2) Have demonstrated experience working in a laboratory
3) Have experience or the ability to learn 3D rendering software (e.g., SolidWorks)
4) Be familiar with 3D printing (rapid prototyping) and conventional fabrication techniques
5) Be physically capable of performing their duties in the laboratory facility
6) Be able to travel to meetings and conferences
7) Be legally able to attend school in the United States without sponsorship or travel assistance