Meet the Experts — Chris Baxter

Dr. Christopher D. P. Baxter is a URI Civil & Environmental Engineering and Ocean Engineering professor as well as the Graduate Director of Ocean Engineering.

Foundations and fundamentals – both are important for understanding offshore renewable energy in the context of ocean engineering, indicates Chris Baxter, a University of Rhode Island professor within both the Ocean Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering programs. 

Foundations, for Baxter, are at the heart of his own dedication to ocean engineering. As a geotechnical engineer, he researches the nexus between the ocean floor and manmade structures, such as wind turbines. Marine geotechnics, fundamental soil behavior, and coastal resilience, for example, are among his areas of interest. “In the broadest, most basic sense, we’re working to understand how this structure, this turbine, is going to transmit its loads safely into the ground.” 

The development of the Block Island Wind Farm provided Baxter and colleagues an up-close opportunity to investigate engineering issues within the context of offshore renewable energy siting. The information gained over the decade, says Baxter, has been critical for the region. “New England has a very different geology from the rest of the United States – it’s glacial soils are stiffer than other regions – so from that perspective alone the research is valuable.” 

But the engineering data has also helped inform national and global dialogue concerning wind farm development, and Baxter expects need to increase for engineering expertise as U.S. interest in ocean renewables grows. “Definitely, since the Block Island Wind Farm, we are seeing more opportunity for engineering in this area.”

That’s exciting, Baxter says, because it points to growth within the workforce. As Graduate Director for the Ocean Engineering program, and via his role as a teacher, Baxter provides guidance to students who may very well come to find employment within the offshore renewables industry. 

And this is where the focus on fundamentals comes in. “The consistent advice I give to students considering careers in ocean engineering is to learn the fundamentals of the science well; study hard and get the basics down.” 

Doing so, says Baxter, is a key to success in a field which is growing and helping humans plan how best to make use of precious ocean resources. “Europe may have started before we did, but the United States is quickly becoming the place where some of the most important strides are going to be made, both in ocean engineering and offshore renewables,” he says. “it’s a very positive time for students to be considering these fields, and there’s lots of opportunity.”