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Ocean and Coastal Research Experiences for Undergraduates

OCEANUS is an exciting interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (Award Number: 1560242) that invites talented students from diverse backgrounds to participate in a 10-week immersive experience to conduct semi-independent, research that will address the complexities and challenges related to our world’s oceans and coastal environments.

Program Description

May 28th - August 7th, 2019

GOAL OF OCEANUS:

To expose diverse students to an empowering learning and research experience that will enhance leadership and communication skills, foster retention towards baccalaureate completion, encourage graduate school matriculation and the pursuit of ocean and coastal-oriented STEM careers.

BROADER IMPACTS:

Students will participate in scientific discussions and communication, laboratory tours, research field trips, interactive workshops, social activities, and two end-of- summer undergraduate research symposia at TAMUG (oral session) and the LAUNCH Summer 2018 Undergraduate Research Poster Session at Texas A&M University, in College Station, TX. Students will leaving a lasting ‘footprint’ of their summer experience with a 3-minute video abstract to highlight undergraduate student contributions in STEM research and establish a medium for outreach to local high school students, future REU recruits and potential graduate student recruits interested in ocean and coastal STEM fields.

BENEFITS TO THE STUDENT

  • $5,560 summer stipend (plus fringe)
  • Airfare and travel costs to and from Houston/TAMUG covered (to $600)
  • Summer housing and meal plan covered
  • Engage in high impact learning experiences through hands-on training to enhance research, leadership, communication and transferable skills
  • Enhance research, leadership and communication skills
  • Build a professional network through TAMUG Faculty sponsorship
  • Receive tools for success to navigate the academic pipeline
    Participate in scientific seminar luncheons and workshops in scientific research and communication, leadership, professional development for diverse STEM careers, ethics, diversity and inclusion and applying to graduate school
  • Field trips to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico aboard R/V Trident to learn oceanographic data and sample collection techniques
  • Enjoy organized outdoor recreational activities around the Galveston/Houston area and behind the scenes tours of Moody Gardens and NOAA Southeast Fisheries Lab

Program Requirements

MAJORS:

Open to all biology, physics, chemistry, environmental science, geosciences, maritime industry/commerce, computer science and engineering majors.

GRADUATION:

December 2019 or later.

EXPERIENCE:

Previous research experience not necessary.

ELIGIBILITY AND SELECTION:

Selection will be based on a variety of factors including current academic standing, major grade point average (GPA; 2.6 or better), letter of recommendation from a Faculty Member and a personal statement. GPA is not a strict minimum to be eligible to apply. Previous research experience is not necessary. Students affiliated with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), enrolled in minority serving institutions or community colleges are strongly encouraged to apply. Eligible to U.S. Citizens, U.S. Nationals, and Permanent Residents.

How to apply

  1. Complete Application via  http://apply2.tamu.edu/apps/OCEANUS
  2. Submit:
    Completed application packet
    Unofficial Academic Transcripts
    Personal Statement
    Education Statement
    Two Letters of Recommendation from a Faculty Member
  3. Applications will be accepted until February 15th, 2019. Late or incomplete applications will not be reviewed.
  4. Applicants will be notified by March 15th, 2019.

Research Areas

Marine Biology

The Effects of Mangroves on Coastal Wetland Food Webs

Anna Armitage

The Coastal and Wetlands Ecology Lab is currently investigating the effects of mangrove encroachment into salt marshes.  The REU intern will help determine how basal consumers respond to the introduction of mangrove trees as a food source.  The project will involve field collections of basal consumers (specifically fiddler crabs and periwinkle snails), raising the animals in the lab, and dissecting the crabs and snails to measure their physiological responses to different diets.  This information will help determine if salt marsh basal consumers can survive on a diet of mangrove plants, and if mangrove encroachment has bottom-up effects on coastal wetland food webs.

Phage Isolation and Virus-Host Interactions in Galveston Bay

Jessica Labonte

Phages (viruses infecting bacteria) are considered the most abundant biological entities on our planet, surpassing their host abundance by at least one order of magnitude. Every second, approximately 10^23 bacteria are infected by phages in the world’s ocean, causing the lysis of bacteria and release of dissolved organic matter. This phenomenon, called the viral shunt, makes phages major players in the ocean. The goal of this project is to study the impact of phage infections on the environment by isolating new phages on ubiquitous marine bacteria. The REU student will isolate phages from Galveston Bay on various marine strains, measure the parameters of phage infections (latent period, burst size, etc.) to characterize their dynamics with their host, as well as sequence the full genomes of the phages to understand their evolution. Preference will be given to student with strong interests in phage biology, genomics, and bioinformatics. 

Examining the Life Histories of Coastal and Estuarine Predators through Movement Patterns, Habitat Use, and Trophic Ecology

David Wells

Identifying habitat use and movement patterns of top predators in the estuary is critical in order to identify biodiversity hotspots that are used as nursery and/or feeding areas, particularly in the face of increasing environmental stressors. Current research is focusing on examining movement patterns and the feeding ecology of common predators (fishes and sharks) in estuarine and coastal waters. This specific project is using acoustic telemetry techniques to track fine-scale movements of predators in the estuary, while also analyzing the stomachs and tissue for stable isotope analysis in order to better understand how movement and feeding habitats are linked to the environment. Ultimately, information generated from this study will enable us to better understand habitat use and trophic interactions of top predators in the estuary, which can then be used to assist in ecosystem-based fishery management.

Environmental Impacts – Oil Spills & The Gulf of Mexico

Antonietta Quigg

ADDOMEx is a group of researchers that is funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to investigate the impacts of spilled oil and dispersants on the formation of an extracellular matrix called EPS (exopolymeric substances) formed by marine microbes that is thought to be instrumental in determining the fate of oil. EPS formed by marine microbes can aid in the formation of marine snow that is important in the self-cleansing capacity of natural waters. It does this by binding to and aggregating particulates, oil, and debris in the water, thus causing them to sink to the seafloor. Marine snow has been found to aid both in the dispersal and in the sinking of oil droplets from oil spills; marine microbes and phytoplankton can even use the hydrocarbons found in the oil as a source of food! However, it is hypothesized that the addition of dispersants (used to literally disperse the oil into the water column, much like dish soap in a greasy pan) can impede the formation of marine snow. Our consortium aims to investigate these interactions to better understand how the presence of oil can trigger the formation of EPS and subsequently aid in its degradation. Student is welcomed to participate in any aspect of this study. Preference given to student with strong chemistry and biology interests.

Marine Sciences

Small-Scale Physical Processes and Mixing in the Coastal Ocean

Ayal Anis

Our lab is interested in small-scale physical processes in the ocean, with an emphasis on turbulence and related mixing mechanisms. Turbulence and mixing are the main physical processes responsible for transport of heat and momentum in the ocean and across the air-sea interface. Furthermore, these processes also control gas transfer across the air-sea interface as well as the transport of nutrients, sediments, and other water-borne particles in the ocean. To better understand these small-scale processes, and their relation to forcing mechanisms such as tides, internal-waves, and surface forcing (heat and momentum-fluxes) we use state-of-the-art observational methods which include ocean-gliders, microtstructure profilers, and various moored instruments. Analysis of the observational data follows theoretical considerations and is aided by remotely sensed data (e.g. sea surface temperature and sea level anomalies) as well as numerical modeling. We invite REU students to contribute to the analysis and interpretation of observational data that our lab has recently collected in the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico. We expect a successful REU applicant to have a keen interest and a solid background in the exact sciences (math and physics) as well as possess good programming skills, preferably in the Matlab environment.

Climate of the Past – Hurricanes and Blueholes

Pete van Hengstum

In the last two Atlantic hurricane seasons, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Florence, and Michael provided vivid examples of the threats that hurricanes pose to coastal populations and infrastructure. As we look to the future, many models predict that the frequency of intense Atlantic hurricane strikes will increase; yet it remains a challenge to place these projections into a historical perspective given the short instrumental record of hurricane landfall in North America. Sediment records in deep coastal basins provide an opportunity to extend the instrumental record of hurricane landfall, and better understand how the ocean and climate system have controlled hurricane activity over the last several thousands of years. Blueholes and sinkholes represent a natural sediment trap on tropical carbonate landscapes, which can preserve records of hurricane and rainfall variability in their sediment layers. Our group has spent the last several years collecting sediment cores from many sinkholes and blueholes in remote locations in The Bahamas and Mexico to better understand long-term hurricane activity and rainfall patterns in the tropical North Atlantic region. Using well-established approaches from the discipline of Earth Sciences (sedimentology, radicarbon dating, etc.), an REU student will work to generate a record of hurricane activity using sediment cores from blueholes in the Bahamas.

Natural Organochlorine Compounds in Seawater

Karl Kaiser

Preliminary analyses suggest natural organochlorine compounds occur in high concentrations in seawater and represent a sink for marine chloride. The student will apply an in-house developed metabolomics platform to identify and quantify organochlorine compounds in samples collected on multiple cruises over the last 15 years spanning from pole to pole. Sample analyses will be combined with simple lab experiments to learn more about the transformation reactions from chloride to organochlorine compounds. Overall, the research will contribute to a better understanding of natural element cycling on Earth.

The Flooded Landscape: How Development is Exacerbating Flooding in Coastal Urban Areas

Sam Brody

I would like to mentor someone to work on a project on understanding the impact of the built environment on flooding and flood losses. Specifically, the student would measure aspects of development, the loss of natural functions like wetlands, and quantitatively understand how these features affect the degree and spatial concentration of flood loss in coastal Texas. The student would contribute to a project funded by the National Academies of Sciences, FEMA, and the state of Texas.

Liberal Studies

Save the Sea Turtles, Save the World: Marine Plastic Pollution and Policy Solutions

Elizabeth Nymen

The project I propose involves working with an undergraduate to examine ongoing local and national efforts around the world to limit single-use plastic in order to prevent marine plastic pollution. We will work to identify incentive programs to prevent plastic use as well as outright bans on certain kinds of plastic using a dataset collected from Twitter. Once these have been identified, we will use that data to determine areas of the world that have aggressively pursued the reduction of plastic use. Once these have been selected, we will then consult the current literature on marine plastic pollution, focusing on the relevant areas, to determine whether the policies have shown signs of success or are likely to succeed (since many of these regulations are relatively new). We will also consider potential other policy options that may help in preventing marine plastic pollution.

Maritime Administration

Evaluating the Financial Performance of Maritime Business

Mazen H. Brho

This project intends to evaluate the financial health and the possibility of future liquidity troubles and/or bankruptcy for companies in the Maritime domain.  The project will use serval case studies of publicly traded firms on the U.S. exchange markets.  The project will assess business financial health by using well-known performance measurements to capture profitability, liquidity, leverage level, asset management efficiency, market value, risk assessment, capital structure and budgeting.  Industry practitioners can implement the results of this project to better assess and advance the financial performance of Maritime businesses.  

Minimum Requirements: (1) Experience in Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint); (2) Basic knowledge in IBM SPSS; (3) A good understanding of key financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow).

Business Analytics and AIS data

Joan Mileski

This project will explore the use of business analytics tools on AIS data for ship traffic.  The importance of the project is to develop an algorithm to determine anomalies in ship traffic around ports or inland waterways for the purpose of security and/or efficiency.  We will use the use the AIS data provided to Texas A & M University at Galveston through the NASA space station.

If We Build It, They Will Come: The Problem of Underutilization of Port Operational Capacity

Joan Mileski

Both the Port of Houston and the Port of Marseille are underutilized in containerized cargo. Both ports have sufficient infrastructure to increase cargo handling by 50%.  This project will evaluate the causes of this underutilization to better attract business to the ports.  We will work with the Kedge Business school near Marseille and the Port of Houston Authority to fully analyze and compare the capabilities of the two ports.

Creating Visibility to Enhance Port Development: The Case of Port Houston

Cassia Galvao

Globally, maritime transportation corresponds to nearly 90% of the tonnage and 80% of the value traded internationally (UNCTAD, 2017). Bulk commodities (like oil, grains and minerals) compose approximately two thirds of the volume (in tons) and the liner services (mostly container carriers) are known to transport 60% of the global value in U.S. Dollars (World Shipping Council, 2007). The liner sector is estimated to generate over 13 Million direct jobs (HIS Global Insight, 2009). According to US DoT Statistics records, Port of Houston ranks as: #1 U.S. Port by Foreign Waterborne Tonnage; #1 U.S. Port in Petroleum, Steel and Project Cargo; #7 Ranked U.S. Container Port by Total TEUs (twenty feet equivalent unit). Still, a recent economic impact study found out that the Port of Houston is responsible for $265 billion of economic value (which corresponds to 16% of state of Texas GDP – Gross Domestic Product) and $5 billion in state and local taxes (Martin Associates, 2014). The port of Houston is a 25- mile-long complex composed by a mix of public and private facilities that handle 38 million tons of cargo every year (including 2,4 million TEUs). The port is situated 50 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico and located in 7 different counties. The recent study published by ASCE (2017) considering the strategic role of ports for American Economy, has indicated four critical aspects for the ports: capacity and condition; funding; and public safety and resilience. On the same report, for the State of Texas it was said that “Texas’ infrastructure lacks funding, proper maintenance, and is poorly equipped to deal with environmental change as Texas continues to grow.”

Despite this huge economic impact, the maritime sector is often times not visible to general public, which can become a problem when additional resources are needed. This situation is acute in case, for example of port expansion or contraction in terms of land use, jobs generation or even private investment attraction. In this sense, considering the relevance of maritime transportation for US on country level and the impact on State level, this research we study the challenges associated with port development and port-city relationships applied to the Great Houston Area. Port development issues are studied at the State level for three dimensions (economic, strategic and political); while the port-city relationship issues are analyzed at local level addressing specific situations that port cities have to face as a result of interaction of their port community and neighborhoods. This research project employs an interdisciplinary approach involving areas of Business Management, Engineering, Urban Planning, Social and Political Science.