Faculty Focus: Alex Manda

Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
Professor of geological sciences

Alex Manda is seeking the source of saltwater intrusion in eastern North Carolina farmland.

A hydrogeologist and associate professor of geological sciences at East Carolina University, Manda wanted to know how hurricanes may have impacted farmers in the region. They were reporting increased salt in the soil that led to patches where crops wouldn’t grow. So two years ago, with the assistance of a $45,000 National Science Foundation RAPID grant, Manda and his students took field samples to identify the source of the salinity.

After his grant ended, Manda continued evaluating the saltwater intrusion with Stephen Moysey, geological sciences professor and director of the ECU Water Resources Center. To better understand the dynamics of the intrusion, they are mapping the extent of saltwater beneath a field in Hyde County.

Alex Manda

“Saltwater intrusion is commonly mapped and monitored using a collection of wells outfitted with groundwater monitoring instrumentation like water level and salinity sensors. While this data is critical for saltwater intrusion studies, well measurements represent point data and can fail to capture the full complexity in subsurface salinity conditions,” Manda said.

To compensate, Manda and his team used electrical and electromagnetic tools to detect and delineate saltwater-intruded regions. These tools are “sensitive to changes in subsurface conductivity, often caused by changes in groundwater salinity,” he said.

Saltwater intrusion has been linked to sea level rise caused by climate change, but scientists aren’t sure how the salt winds up in fields. There are a few hypotheses, including wind pushing salt water from the area’s canals and ditches into farmland or storm surge events dumping salty water on agricultural land.

As a Fulbright scholar, in 2019 Manda spent eight months in his native Zambia studying the potential contamination of groundwater in the suburbs around the capital of Lusaka and was there again earlier this year.

-Lacey Gray

Stanley R. Riggs, Harriot College Distinguished Professor and emeritus professor of geological sciences, has been awarded the Francis P. Shepard Medal for Marine Geology by the Society for Sedimentary Geology. The medal recognizes excellence in marine geology. Nominees have a sustained record of outstanding research contributions to marine geology or to other significant aspects of the field, such as geophysics, geobiology and geochemistry.

George Wang, professor and chair of the Department of Construction Management, has been named the first Gregory Poole Equipment Company Distinguished Professor at ECU. This is the first year Poole has bestowed the honor.

Ron Mitchelson, who navigated ECU through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, received the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award for 2020.

Angela Lamson, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, received the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s Outstanding Contribution to Marriage and Family Therapy Award for 2020. Lamson is program director for the ECU medical family therapy doctoral program and the marriage and family therapy master’s program.

Dr. Ogugua Ndili Obi, a pulmonologist, critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine at the Brody School of Medicine, was one of 26 recipients in 2020 to receive the Dogwood Award from N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein. The award recognizes North Carolinians who are dedicated to keeping people safe, healthy and happy in their communities.

Dr. Chelley Alexander, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine, has been elected president of the Association of Departments of Family Medicine. She was elected during the group’s 2021 national meeting in February and previously served as treasurer and program chair for the ADFM board of directors. She will serve on the executive council in 2021 and then as past president for a year.