Student created images

Students contribute to AI Research

Changing Beaches Research Challenge, Monterey, CA

At the core of the Junior Researcher program is the Changing Beaches Research Challenge that provides middle and high school (grades 8–12) students an opportunity to engage deeply with scientist Dr. Mara Orescanin of the Naval Postgraduate School and contribute in a meaningful way to her research program.

This challenge aims to develop an artificial intelligence (AI) method to detect coastal change using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a neural network (deep learning) method for image classification. To test these methods, and to train the neural net through machine learning, Junior Researcher students in grades 8 - 12 will contribute data on water quality, sediment, vegetation, and river location at the Carmel River State Beach, that is known to breach seasonally (in winter months), drastically changing the morphology and water quality.


Student-centered teaching

Year 1 Cohort

We appreciate the dedication of these engaged teachers in our first field season:
Rebecca Taylor - Evergreen Valley High School
Carolyn Laymon - Seaside High School
Alex Hofsteen - International School of Monterey
Polly Ficken - East Union High School - Manteca USD
Geoffrey von Saltza - Monterey Academy of Ocean Sciences
Elevate Engagement


Scoutlier is used for collection of a comprehensive, high quality data set in the field. Junior Researchers Monterey assignments will be available in the Shared library and linked here in our 2019-2020 field season.

Share and Collaborate

Scientific Progress!

Over 200 students from 5 schools conducted scientific field work to support Machine Learning research. Dr. Orescanin shared initial results and research context in a virtual conference summarized in the video below.

Spring Virtual Conference

Thanks to Ms. Laymon's class at Seaside High School and Alex Hofsteen from International School of Monterey for joining us with Dr. Orescanin to wrap up the field season and see some initial results. Thanks so much to participating teachers and students (listed below), to Professor Mara Orescanin of NPS, and her field assistants Paul Jessen, LCDR Ka Xiong, and LCDR Jason Dawson for a great experience. Here is a 14 minute "best of" clip of field results and context:



Challenge Motivation

With the imminent threat of rising sea levels, more frequent storms, and increased population close to the coast, understanding and monitoring coastal change is critical. Change at coastal environments and their surrounding waters is notoriously difficult to predict during extreme events owing to the inherent dependence on prediction uncertainty of the extreme event (location, intensity). Specifically, extreme events on littoral systems have the possibility of creating unexpected cuts across the barrier beach system, called beach breaching. Breaching immediately alters the circulation of water, as well as parameters contained within the water such as sediment, salt, oil, and other pollutants. In addition, breaching can affect coastal infrastructure near the breach site.


Changing Beaches Challenge will contribute to an active research project that seeks to develop generally applicable AI methods that can detect coastal change based on imagery obtained by UAVs. The focus of studies will be on the Carmel River State Beach to develop and test these methods and train a neural net to quantify changes during the breach process. Prior to the breach (expected in the Fall / Winter), GPS surveys of the beach topography and lagoon bathymetry will be collected, in conjunction with aerial surveys. The river will be frequently monitored to catch the breach event and catalog morphological changes. Each survey will generate a digital elevation model (DEM) – a 3D representation of the area – one before and one after breach, that will used to quantify these changes.


Junior Researchers Role

Junior Researcher students will play a critical role in this project by validating (ground truthing) and enriching the remote imagery and GPS data obtained through frequent on-site monitoring of the Carmel River State Beach and lagoon areas, as well as analysis of water samples. Students will also assist in tagging data elements, such as vegetation type and sediment levels in land and aerial images.

Research Scientist

Dr. Mara Orescanin

Mara is a Coastal Oceanographer at the Naval Postgraduate School where she advises students, teaches courses, and conducts oceanography research. Her research focuses on coastal physical oceanography relating to exchange between land and sea through rivers, inlets, marshes, and estuaries. She believes in an hands-on approach to teaching and mentoring geared at stimulating active learning and has mentored students at all levels from middle school through graduate school. For more about Mara visit Jason Learning: STEM Role Model and her website This project will be run by faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School.


Dr. Orescanin
This project will be run by faculty at the Naval Postgraduate School.

This project is funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research

ONR Grant funding