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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 participated 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 29th - August 8th, 2018

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 2018 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, 2018. Late or incomplete applications will not be reviewed.
  4. Applicants will be notified by March 15th, 2018.

Research Areas

Marine Biology

Hurricane Impacts – Toxicology & Physiology

MENTOR: DR. DAVID HALA

The catastrophic flooding of Houston caused by the landfall of Hurricane Harvey led to massive urban runoff into Galveston Bay (GB).  By some estimates, approximately 30 million gallons of raw sewage was released as runoff, with most of it draining into GB.  The impacts of this catastrophic event on GB biota remain to be fully investigated.  This project will investigate the likely physiological effects in selected GB fish species sampled before and after the flooding event caused by Hurricane Harvey.  Specifically, this project will characterize hepatic enzyme activities for key (inducible) enzymes involved in contaminant biotransformation.  In addition, body-burdens of persistent organic pollutants (PAHs/PCBs) and pharmaceuticals will also be quantified in liver and muscle tissues of fish.  The student researcher involved in this project will receive mentorship in all aspects of this project, from performing hepatic enzyme assays, spectrophotometry, mass spectrometry (GCMS and LC-MS/MS) and data analysis.  This challenging project will generate novel and publishable data.

Hurricane Impacts – Zooplankton Ecosystems Dynamics

MENTOR: DR. HUI LIU

Zooplankton play a critical role in marine ecosystems and consist of major grazers on phytoplankton and principal conduits for energy transfer from primary producers to higher trophic levels.  So far, limited zooplankton studies have been conducted in the Gulf estuaries.  The National Science Foundation recently funded us a research project to study the effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey on pelagic communities in Galveston Bay, Texas.  The project seeks to examine the near-term responses of zooplankton to the extreme flooding in Galveston Bay in an effort to better assess flood-driven zooplankton dynamics in relation to hydrographic properties (salinity, temperature, Chl-a etc.) and its ecological implications for larval fish and ecosystem restorations.  The successful REU students will have opportunities to work in the PI’s lab to get hands-on experience on sampling zooplankton and environmental factors in the bay and sorting and identifying specimens using microscopes in the lab as well as data analysis and writing project report.  Weekly meetings with the PI will be available to develop research strategies and career preparations. The goal is to provide trainings to the next generation of ocean scientists who can approach environmental questions with confidence, conceptual breadth and broad skills obtained from the hands-on REU research project. 

Underwater Caves – Biodiversity & Systematics

MENTOR: DR. TOM ILIFFE

Class Remipedia and the genus Typhlatya (Atyidae) are unique crustaceans that inhabit anchialine caves throughout world. The biodiversity hotspot for both groups is found within the Caribbean region. In the Yucatán Peninsula, four species of Typhlatya are known including, T. campecheae (freshwater), T. mitchelli (freshwater), T. pearsei (freshwater/marine) and T. dzilamensis (marine). Both T. mitchelli and T. pearsei are estimated to have broad distributions. In contrast, remipedes known from inland Yucatán (Xibalbanus tulumensis and X. fuchscocksburni) have a much narrower distribution range extending along the eastern coastline. As Xibalbanus and Typhlatya are only accessible to researchers via cave diving, extensive knowledge on their ecology and life history strategies is lacking. Assessing the distribution patterns of these crustaceans may provide key insight into their population dynamics and dispersal capabilities within the Yucatán Peninsula. The objective of this study is to evaluate the a) genetic and species diversity, b) evolution and c) genetic connectivity of Xibalbanus and Typhlatya within and among caves throughout the Yucatán. 

Environmental Impacts – Fish Physiology

MENTOR: DR. LENE PETERSEN

Environmental (e.g. hypoxia, temperature, salinity) and anthropogenic (human pharmaceuticals, pollutants) factors can have significant effects on an animal’s physiology and thereby its ability to cope with changes in its environment. In particular, high usage of some human pharmaceuticals has resulted in their near ubiquitous presence in the aquatic environment, raising concerns for unintended adverse health effects in exposed fish due to comparable receptors and endocrine systems with humans. This project will assess physiological effects in fish when exposed to common human pharmaceuticals. The REU will learn how to use swim tunnel respirometers to measure changes in physiological functions such as sustained swimming and oxygen consumption to assess a fish’s aerobic capacity for growth, reproduction, foraging and escaping predators. These non-invasive and non-lethal physiological end-points are useful biomarkers for assessing fish health and provide valuable information for fisheries managers, public aquariums and conservation biologists to monitor health and physiology of commercial and recreational fish species. 

Environmental Impacts – Oil Spills & The Gulf of Mexico

MENTOR: DR. 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

Paleoclimatology – Hurricanes & Blue Holes

MENTOR: DR. PETE VAN HENGSTUM

Tropical blueholes and sinkholes represent a natural sediment trap in the coastal zone, which can preserve records of hurricane and rainfall variability through their archived microfossils and sediment. Our group has spent the last several years collecting sediment cores from many sinkholes and blueholes in the Bahamas and Mexico to better understand long-term hurricane activity and rainfall patterns in the tropical North Atlantic region. An REU student will work to generate a record of hurricane activity or rainfall using available sediment cores.

Climate Change – Perceptions & The Gulf Coast

MENTORS: DR. ASHLEY ROSS & DR. DAVID RETCHLESS

This project will explore hazard risk perception and communication. While there is much research on how climate change attitudes are related to ideology – political and religious – as well as age and ethnicity, there are still gaps in our understanding of how experience with disaster events may shape these perceptions. The series of hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast in 2017 provides an opportunity to better understand how disaster impact influences climate change belief and perceived risk. The student researcher would use existing survey dataset to explore correlates of climate change, as informed by relevant literature. This analysis would include the generation of descriptive statistics (i.e. frequencies, cross-tabulations) and would also entail basic regression analysis to explore the relationships among variables. The student researcher should have basic knowledge of statistics but will be taught the methods specific to survey data analysis. The findings of this project have considerable import for coastal communities who are facing issues of sea level rise as well as intense hurricanes. How communities perceive these issues – and how these perceptions connect to one another – are important to disentangle for sound policy-making and community development in the Gulf Coast region.

Oceanography – Physical Processes & Galveston Bay

MENTOR: DR. KYEONG PARK

As in many important estuarine and coastal systems in the U.S., Galveston Bay has quite extensive pre-existing data for a number of oceanographic (e.g., water level, salinity, and temperature) and meteorological (e.g., wind and precipitation) parameters.  We, however, have been under-utilizing the existing data as it has been in many other estuarine and coastal systems in the U.S.  Examples of existing data include the Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network (TCOON) and the NOAA’s Tides & Currents and Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) programs.  TCOON, a confluence of federal, state and local governmental entities in partnership with academia, is a unique network of scientific data collection platforms used to amass critical data for Texas coastal systems.  The NOAA’s Tides & Currents program maintains long-term data for oceanographic and meteorological variables for a number of stations throughout the Texas shoreline.  The NOAA’s PORTS program integrates and provides real-time environmental observations, forecasts and other geospatial information for the Houston/Galveston Bay system. The REU student will participate in the analysis of existing data to better understand the physical processes that take place in the Galveston Bay system.

Ocean Engineering

Tsunami Modeling – Gulf of Mexico & Submarine Slumps

MENTOR: DR. JUAN HORILLO

Tsunami hazard associated with submarine slumps remains poorly investigated, while generating catastrophic tsunamis. Through physically modeling of submarine slump tsunami generation, propagation and runup, the ultimate goal is to reexamine the underlying physics for better prediction and mitigation of submarine slump hazard in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). We focus on deformable submarine tsunami generation processes to obtain important physical parameters. The REU will engage in both experimental and 3D numerical modeling (Full Navier-Stokes and Volume of Fluid method) to compensate for missing parameters required for accurate calculation of submarine slump scenarios for the GoM.

Maritime Administration

Port Resilience – Infrastructure & Climate Change

MENTORS: DR. JOAN MILESKI DR. AMIR GHAREHGOZLI

This project will explore the political challenges port engineers face in the US to construct port infrastructure that is resilient to climate change. We will interview port managers and local politicians, explore various infrastructure designs and look at the various costs of addressing infrastructure now or later. Methodology will include social science type interviews, review of engineering designs and cost benefit analysis, as well as content analysis on local media. The project will result in recommendations to be published in academic journals. The results will also be disseminated in various industry meetings to port operators and managers.