DMS at Ocean Science Meeting 2024

Thirty people from DMS attended the Ocean Science Meeting in New Orleans this February. Check out what we presented to the ocean science community.

by Mengyang Zhou

Every two years, the Ocean Science Meeting (OSM) brings together the ocean community around the world. This gathering serves as a platform for sharing latest discoveries and discussing the far-reaching impact of ocean science. This February, thirty DMS members attended OSM24 in New Orleans. The full list of presentations from DMS can be found at the end of this article. Here are some highlights of our departments’ participation at OSM24 that include student presentation highlights, DMS booth and reflections from first timers at OSM.

We delivered presentations that covered diverse fields in ocean sciences, especially those by talented students. Here are some great examples. Ph.D. student Halle Berger presented her poster on the effects of ocean acidification and warming on the vulnerability of the U.S. Atlantic sea scallop. Her study will help fisheries management by identifying candidate areas for future fishing zones. Bernard Akaawase, also a Ph.D. student, gave an oral presentation on the directional wave-breaking kinematics and the energy spectrum from 3-D stereo-image observations of ocean waves. Undergraduate student Vicki You presented a poster on using DNA metabarcoding of fish diets to understand fish’s prey preference and selectivity, and the contributions of fish predators to the food web dynamics of the pelagic ecosystem.

Halle Berger, photo credit: Hung NguyenBernard Akaawase (Photo credit: Halle Berger) Vicki You (Photo credit: Paola Batta-Lona)

Our department left a mark at OSM24 with an engaging booth that attracted visitors with its lively displays and interactive demonstration. We showcased our laboratories, ongoing scientific projects and educational programs spanning un dergraduate and graduate levels, as well as opportunities for postdocs and faculties. It served as a hub for building connections with fellow researchers and potential collaborators. Notably, many DMS alumni dropped by the booth and shared updates on career trajectories.

DMS booth at OSM24 (Photo credit: Mike Whitney)

For many students attending OSM for the first time, it was an unforgettable experience filled with excitement as well as some challenges. Second year Ph.D. student Catherine Crowley shared her experience at OSM as a first-timer: “OSM was a great opportunity for me to learn more about my field of study and meet collaborators who are working on similar niche questions. This was the first conference I attended where there were so many people interested in isotopes and the marine nitrogen cycle. I really enjoyed attending the talks and I learned a lot while at the conference. However, there were times when the conference felt overwhelming due to my schedule being planned to the minute, and I had to run from one end of the building to another to get to another interesting talk. Having a UConn booth at OSM was an interesting way to connect with prospective students and faculty members. I believe that UConn has a lot to offer as a program, and this was a unique way to showcase how cool our program is and highlight the research of various colleagues.” Paban Bhuyan, also a Ph.D. student, said: “Attending OSM for the first time felt like stepping into a grand fair, where oceanographers from across the globe gather to exchange groundbreaking ideas and state-of-the-art technology. It presented itself as the monumental opportunity I had long anticipated, allowing me to finally meet the esteemed researchers whose work I have diligently followed and admired. The chance to engage with them directly, to listen to their presentation in person, was an invaluable experience. Equally striking was the realization of being part of a vast community dedicated to similar research interests. Discovering so many scientists attending my session, engaging with my poster, and posing questions that delve into the core of my research inquiries was both surprising and reaffirming. Their questions opened new avenues of thought, highlighting aspects I had yet to consider but now recognize as essential. This interaction has inspired my research journey with a newfound sense of direction and purpose.”

OSM24 was a celebration of ocean sciences. Our department’s presence at OSM24 was both impactful and memorable. We showcased our commitment to advancing ocean science and education through engaging presentations and interactive booth displays. Looking forward to the next OSM in 2026!

Table of all DMS participants at OSM2024 and what their presentation title was

Summary of Spring 2024 Department Achievements

Check out a summary of some of the achievements in our department in spring of 2024 below!


*identify students


Professor Hannes Baumann and Professor Catherine Matassa: 

The study reports on a long-term experiment in the Rankin Lab, where small Black sea bass were raised under different temperature and food conditions during fall and winter.

Zavell, M. D.*, Mouland, M. E. P., Matassa, C. M., Schultz, E. T., & Baumann, H. (2024). Temperature- and ration-dependent winter growth in northern-stock Black Sea Bass juveniles. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 153, 163–1. https://doi.org/10.1002/tafs.10452


Professor Hans Dam:

Future climate scenarios, under warmer and more acidic conditions, will increase the negative effects of the toxic phytoplankton Alexandrium catenella on non-toxic phytoplankton.

Leitão, E.*, Castellanos, D. F., Park, G., & Dam, H. G. (2024). Antagonistic interactions of the dinoflagellate Alexandrium catenella under simultaneous warming and acidification. Harmful Algae, 102625. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1568988324000593


Professor Heidi Dierssen:

Contrary to global model predictions, satellite data reveal that the timing of the spring start date and summer peak date of phytoplankton blooms have shifted later over the last two decades in the marginal ice zone west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Jessie Turner, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Marine Sciences led this effort. 

Turner JS, Dierssen H, Schofield O, Kim HH, Stammerjohn S, Munro DR, Kavanaugh M (2024) Changing phytoplankton phenology in the marginal ice zone west of the Antarctic Peninsula. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 734:1-21. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps14567


Professor Senjie Lin and Research Faculty Huan Zhang: 

This commentary highlights the recent development in research using cryo-electron microscopy, a cutting-edge technology, to characterize the architecture of photosystem I in dinoflagellates revealing previously unknown components. The piece then raises questions for future research to completely reconstruct the system and understand how dinoflagellates adapt to variable light conditions, thriving to form harmful algal blooms or supporting the highly biodiverse and productive coral reefs.  

Lin, S., Wu, S., He, J. et al. Shining light on dinoflagellate photosystem I. Nat Commun 15, 3337 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-47797-1


Graduate students in the Molecular Approaches to Oceanography course taught by Lin and Huan analyzed samples collected from the Long Island Sound Water Quality Monitoring Program. The work revealed a spatial and temporal distribution of the proton pump rhodopsin in Long Island Sound inversely related to phosphate concentration, suggesting the potential of this “novel” energy harvesting system to help dinoflagellates cope with phosphate limitation. 

Zhang, H.; Nulick, K.J.; Burris, Z.; Pierce, M.; Ma, M.; Lin, S. Dinoflagellate Proton-Pump Rhodopsin Genes in Long Island Sound: Diversity and Spatiotemporal Distribution. Microorganisms 2024, 12, 628. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms12030628


Professor David Lund: 

The paper by Shub et al. shows that deep ocean stratification in the Atlantic is not a primary control on atmospheric CO2 over long timescales, which was one of the primary hypotheses to explain glacial-interglacial CO2 cycles.  Instead, factors such as changes in biological productivity, sea ice extent, and ventilation of the Pacific must play predominant roles. 

Shub, A. B.*, Lund, D. C., Oppo, D. W., & Garity, M. L.* (2024). Brazil Margin stable isotope profiles for the last glacial cycle: Implications for watermass geometry and oceanic carbon storage. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, 39, e2023PA004635. https://doi.org/10.1029/2023PA004635


Professor Rob Mason:

Sediment cores were spiked with mercury isotopes to examine mercury methylation in sediments and its transfer into the water column and phytoplankton. The lead author, Kati Gosnell, was a former student, and the work was from her thesis.

Gosnell, K.*, Mazrui, N., Mason, R.P. 2024. Properties Influencing Algae Uptake of Mercury and Methylmercury from Estuarine Sediments. Environ. Poll. 346: Art. # 123604. 


Professor Rob Mason, Research Faculty Sandy Shumway and Zofia Baumann:

Hansen, G.*, Shumway, S.E., Mason, R.P., & Z. Baumann. A Comparative Study of Mercury Bioaccumulation in Bivalve Molluscs from a Shallow Estuarine Embayment. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 86, 262–273 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-024-01058-w


Professor Samantha Siedlecki and Research Scientist Zhuomin Chen: 

Combining ocean predictions with a physiological understanding through the metabolic index yields the ability to forecast habitat multiple years into the future for a wide variety of marine organisms. In addition, widespread subsurface predictability for temperature and oxygen is also identified.

Chen, Z., Siedlecki, S., Long, M., Petrik, C.M., Stock, C.A., and C.A. Deutsch. Skillful multiyear prediction of marine habitat shifts jointly constrained by ocean temperature and dissolved oxygen. Nat Commun 15, 900 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-45016-5

Professor Pieter Visscher:

Viruses are generally associated with health issues, but actually play an important role in natural systems, where they regulate population sizes of their hosts and are involved in nutrient and element cycling. The size of most viruses ranges from 40 to 100 nanometer, which makes them difficult to detect. Consequently, their role in many ecosystems remains elusive. In the Bellanger et al. paper, we describe a novel method that makes enumeration of viruses in aquatic environments straightforward and inexpensive. With this, their ecological role can be easily assessed in freshwater, marine and hypersaline systems. As an example, we found that the viruses in Great Salt Lake, Utah, weigh about five pounds and fit in a gallon container.

Bellanger, M., P.T. Visscher, R.A. White III. 2023. Viral enumeration using cost-effective wet-mount epifluorescence microscopy for aquatic ecosystems and modern microbialites. Applied Environmental Microbiology, doi:10.1128/aem.01744-23.

Professor Evan Ward:

The gene expression profile of the microbial community inhabiting the gut of the blue mussel was analyzed to reveal a dominance of energy-related genes.

Griffin, T.W., Nigro, L.M., Collins, H.I.*, Holohan, B.A., & Ward, J.E. (2024). The metatranscriptome of resident microbiota in the gut of blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, under standard laboratory conditions. Current Research in Biotechnology 7, 100208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crbiot.2024.100208


Professor Michael Whitney: 

Whitney, M. M., Spicer, P., MacDonald, D. G., Huguenard, K. D., Cole, K. L., Jia, Y., & Delatolas, N. (2024). Mixing of the Connecticut River plume during ambient flood tides: Spatial heterogeneity and contributions of bottom-generated and interfacial mixing. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 129, e2023JC020423. https://doi.org/10.1029/2023JC020423



Professor Senjie Lin  was awarded the Excellence in research and creativity career award by AAUP

Research Faculty Sandy Shumway was awarded the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award by the US Aquaculture Society and is the first female to receive the award. 

Research Faculty Sandy Shumway was appointed Fellow of the Marine Biological Association, FMBA. MBA Fellows are senior practitioners in marine biology who have contributed to the discipline at the highest level and the title of Fellow of the Marine Biological Association, FMBA, was first awarded in 2014, following granting of a Royal Charter to the Marine Biological Association. The status of Fellow of the MBA is awarded in recognition of distinguished and long-term contributions to marine biology at the highest level.  There are currently 50 MBA Fellows.  

Graduate student Hannah Collins who received the R. LeRoy Creswell Award for Outreach and Education. This award is presented to a student of the National Shellfisheries Association who has shown exceptional merit in outreach activities. 

Graduate students won awards at the recent annual meeting of the National Shellfisheries Association:

  • Gordon Gunter Outstanding Poster Presentation Award Winner: Max Zavell from the University of Connecticut for his poster entitled “An estimate of carbon storage capabilities of wild and cultured shellfish in the northwest Atlantic and their potential inclusion in a carbon economy.”
  • Joint winners of the Thurlow C. Nelson Outstanding Oral Presentation: Kayla Mladinich Poole from the University of Connecticut for her oral presentation entitled “Investigating suspension-feeding invertebrates as bioindicators of microplastics.”


Professor Hannes Baumann and Associate Research Professor Zofia Baumann

Baumann, H., Baumann Z. Wiley, D., Therkildsen, N.O., Murray, C.S. ORCC: Collaborative Research: Mechanisms underpinning the unusual, high CO2 sensitivity of sand lances, key forage fishes on the Northwest Atlantic Shelf. NSF-ORCC #2307813, 8/15/23 – 7/14/2026, $1,050,000
UConn faculty with colleagues from Woods Hole and Cornell University will use molecular techniques to further understand why sand lances are so unusually sensitive to ocean acidification.

Associate Research Professor Zofia Baumann:

Z. Baumann (UConn), H. Sosik (WHOI), C. Mouw (URI), M. Lomas (Bigelow) ”Collaborative Research: A Novel Approach to Study Monomethylmercury on Natural Phytoplankton Assemblages” NSF grant (3 years: 2024-2027; Total: $1,876.706, UConn portion: $808,280)

This UConn-led research will investigate methylmercury in phytoplankton from the shelf waters and estuaries of the North Atlantic Ocean because the entrainment of this toxic pollutant into phytoplankton drives the extremely high concentrations in apex predators such as sharks tunas in this economically important ecosystem. 

Professor David Lund:

Faculty member Dave Lund, in collaboration with scientists at USC and Oregon State, was recently awarded an NSF grant for $850,000 to understand the ocean’s role in carbon storage during the last ice age. The funded proposal, which will include a coring cruise to the Philippines, is entitled:  Collaborative Research – Resolving the LGM Ventilation Age Conundrum: New Radiocarbon Records from High Sedimentation Rate Sites in the Deep Western Pacific 

Professor Cara Manning and Professor Craig Tobias

They were awarded a $550k grant from NSF Chemical Oceanography titled “Unlocking the noble gas toolbox to quantify rates of denitrification and nitrogen fixation in marine systems.” This project will involve the application of noble gas measurements (Ne, Ar, and Kr) to quantify whether different types of coastal ecosystems are net sources or sinks of nitrogen-based nutrients. PhD student Kelsey Ward and Research Technician Peter Ruffino are working on this grant.

Professor Rob Mason:

Brandt, J. and Mason, R.P. Mercury in Eastern oysters and consumption-based risk assessment. USDA Capacity grant (Hatch). 10/1/2024-9/30/2026, $60,000

Professor Catherine Matassa and Professor Samantha Siedlecki 

Matassa lab was awarded $1,411,088 by NOAA Fisheries’ Research Set Aside Program to identify where and when biotic and abiotic stressors are most and least likely to affect the scallop resource using a combination of high-resolution climate model outputs and analysis of a spatially and temporally extensive sea scallop shell archive, in conjunction with existing predator assemblage and bottom type datasets.

Project title: Combining ocean models and historical shell archives to quantify and project spatiotemporal changes in Atlantic Sea Scallop functional traits (2-year grant)

More information here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/science-data/2024-sea-scallop-research-set-aside-projects-selected



Sip N’ Science: Ocean Sciences on Tap

We are delighted to share the success of our recent outreach event Sip N’ Science, where we brought our science projects to the local community. 

by Mengyang Zhou

This March, graduate students in DMS hosted “Sip N’ Science” at Beer’d Brewery in Stonington Connecticut. This event was featured with fun and interactive scientific presentations from 18 dedicated graduate students. These science demonstrations covered a wide range of ocean science topics, through which they showcased the diverse and impactful research we do at DMS.

We know that the ocean generates 50% of the Earth’s oxygen, and absorbs 30% of anthropogenic CO2, therefore playing a critical role in regulating climate and supporting life on the Earth. However, global warming can affect the ocean’s capability to absorb greenhouse gas. Anagha Payyambally and Kelsey Ward teammates did a very simple experiment to demonstrate this. They took a beaker with cold water and another with hot water. Following that, they dipped test tubes containing carbonated drinks in each beaker. There was rapid bubbling and degassing in the test tube that was placed in the hot water, which implies that a rise in temperature decreases the solubility of gasses in water.

Anagha Payyambally and Kelsey Ward demonstrating the temperature dependence of gas solubility in the ocean. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen

Anagha Payyambally and Kelsey Ward demonstrating the temperature dependence of gas solubility in the ocean. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen


Riley Pena, a Ph.D. student studying benthic marine ecology, put together a tank of local rocky intertidal organisms, including mussels, barnacles, and herbivorous and carnivorous snails. People were able to watch the barnacles feeding on plankton in the water and handle the snails and juvenile crabs. For a lot of people, this was their first time to see barnacles feeding.

Riley showing the tanks of benthic organisms to kids. Photo credit: Hung Nguyen

Riley showing the tanks of benthic organisms to kids. Photo credit:  Hung Nguyen


Two of our physical oceanography graduate students, Molly James and Luke Glass, showcased an engaging hands-on activity centered around ocean density and its role in shaping circulation patterns. The demonstration involved pouring salty and fresh water each dyed a different color into opposite sides of a narrow table-top tank with a removable divider down the middle. Participants were posed with intriguing questions: What happens when the divider separating the two waters is removed? Will the waters mix or remain separate? Similar to the interaction between a river plume and the ocean, and in global thermohaline circulation, the denser (saltier) water sank beneath the fresher water, resulting in the formation of two distinct layers with a slightly mixed interface between them. Both adults and children were captivated by the distinct layers that emerged during the experiment. These density-driven, or baroclinic, flows play a crucial role in various phenomena observed in both coastal and open ocean environments. Want to learn more? Check out this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/dVeAhK-PM3M?si=5RBG1l9FnU_UYRuc

 Molly James and Luke Glass showcasing the salt and fresh water mixing. Photo credits: Hung Nguyen

Molly James and Luke Glass showcasing the salt and fresh water mixing. Photo credits: Hung Nguyen


Samantha Rush and her labmates demonstrated ocean acidification to the public using a SodaStream. Just like the SodaStream adds carbon dioxide to carbonate your beverages into a soda, they added carbon dioxide to our seawater samples. By having bromothymol blue (a pH dye indicator that is blue in a base and yellow in an acid), they could track how the pH changed visibly from a base to an acid! They also showed that adding in chalk (like that of a coccolithophore shell) rapidly bubbles in acidic water which demonstrated how acidic water can be damaging to carbonate shells. The goal was showing how anthropogenic inputs are changing the carbonate system! Their whole lab enjoyed conversing with the public and getting to watch the visitors see the pH changes visibly rather than just telling them numbers!

Samantha Rush and her labmates demonstrating ocean acidification. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen

Samantha Rush and her labmates demonstrating ocean acidification. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen


Members of the Vaudrey Lab, Matthew Leason and Emily Watling showcased the distinctions between eelgrass (Zostera marina) and seaweed while shining a spotlight on the Connecticut National Estuarine Research Reserve (CT NERR). Using centrifugal tubes of suspended seaweed and seagrass, as well as a poster, they illustrated these distinctions and encouraged attendees to use the methods found on the poster to replicate an experiment at home, demonstrating photosynthesis in seaweed. The table also highlighted ongoing CT NERR projects, including invasive plant mapping, with contributions from dedicated undergraduate interns. They said they had a fantastic experience this year at Sip N’ Science and were excited to return next year!

Matthew Leason and Emily Watling with their poster and samples of eelgrass and seaweed. Photo credits: Hung Nyugen

Matthew Leason and Emily Watling with their poster and samples of eelgrass and seaweed. Photo credits: Hung Nyugen


Rowan Batts set up dissecting microscopes with samples from a plankton tow at Avery Point, for people to see tiny planktonic organisms that are otherwise invisible. Visitors gained a greater understanding of plankton diversity and abundance by observing copepods jumping around and guessing the number of cells in a laboratory phytoplankton culture.

Rowan Batts setting up the microscopy. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen

Rowan Batts setting up the microscopy. Photo credit: Hung Nyugen


We appreciate the efforts graduate students made for Sip N’ Science. This event is not just about presenting our science and findings; it is more about sparking curiosity and passion for ocean sciences among the public, especially kids. Through the interactive science demonstrations set up by graduate students at DMS, we raised awareness of marine environmental problems, such as how ocean acidification may influence marine organisms. This event also helped us build connections with the local community, through which we can work together for a more sustainable ocean.

DMS Alumni – Dr. Amin Ilia

Dr. Amin Ilia graduated from DMS with a Ph.D. degree in physical oceanography in 2021, supervised by Dr. James O’Donnell. Currently working as a civil engineer, he shared his working experience in both the industry and academia afterwards with current graduate student Mengyang Zhou.


Mengyang: Can you share your research during your PhD, and any highlights you want to share?

Amin: During my Ph.D., my research focused on analyzing the parameters influencing wave climatology in a fetch-limited environment such as Long Island Sound, I also explored the effectiveness of wave-induced turbulence in mixing within summer stratified profiles. The pivotal discovery was the significance of white capping dissipation in defining wave climatology in a large estuary like Long Island Sound. Furthermore, my investigations revealed that wave turbulence does not play a critical role in the mixing of water profiles in the western region of Long Island Sound. The outcomes of my research are encapsulated in five published papers, with three as the lead author and two as a co-author (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Amin-Ilia). These publications contribute valuable insights to the field. Beyond the academic achievements, my Ph.D. journey was enriched by memorable moments shared with the faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Marine Sciences at UConn.


Mengyang: Can you tell us your career after PhD? I know you worked for a company in California, how was that experience?

Amin: Working at CoreLogic in California was a valuable experience. While the position was a high-level position with competitive compensation, my involvement was primarily centered around one project, limiting opportunities to engage with broader topics. Desiring more diverse project contributions, I made the decision to leave the role.


Mengyang: And can you tell us about your current job, and how did your PhD prepare for it?

Amin: I am currently working as a contractor employee with NOAA, collaborating with accomplished scientists in the field. However, the job does not align entirely with my expectations, prompting me to start a new position soon. Having a Ph.D. degree presents both advantages and disadvantages for industry careers. On the positive side, it provides a technical edge, fosters innovative thinking, and enhances adaptability. However, there are drawbacks, such as the potential narrowing of expertise compared to individuals with extensive industry experience, who often possess a broader skill set sought after in certain industry roles.


Mengyang: Were there any challenges during COVID time?

Amin: Adjusting to remote work during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges. As I began my post-Ph.D. career, the shift to remote work was new for me and others, creating initial hurdles. However, the work environment has since adapted to this new norm, with improvements in remote communication. The move to remote/hybrid work arrangements also offers various benefits for both employees and employers, including time savings from eliminating commutes.


Mengyang: Do you have any advice for current students who want to pursue a career in industry or academia, based on your own experience?

Amin: Developing a robust professional network is a strategic approach to navigating and improving your career. By actively expanding your network, you not only increase your chances of discovering more favorable career opportunities but also enhance your overall professional prospects. Additionally, directing your focus towards topics with practical applications in your intended career path can serve as a proactive step in equipping yourself with the relevant skills and knowledge. Therefore, investing time in both broadening your professional connections and developing expertise in relevant areas will undoubtedly contribute to a more resilient and promising future in your field.

National Ocean Sciences Bowl 2024, 2024 National Ocean Sciences Bowl Team Coginchaug

Coginchaug’s National Ocean Sciences Bowl Team continues its impressive streak in ocean science competitions

Written by Lorrie Martin

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) is an academic competition and program that introduces high school students to ocean science, aiming to prepare them for ocean science-related STEM careers and addresses a national gap in environmental and earth sciences in public education.

This February 3rd, Coginchaug fielded a NOSB team for the 17th consecutive year at UConn Avery Point Campus in Groton. Team members, Logan Watts, Claire Roraback and Bella Oakley again claimed a 1st Place Finish for their school at the Regional CT/RI Quahog Bowl. This was actually the “4th” First Place Regional Finish in the 17 years Coginchaug has competed in the program. The team has never “hung up their fins”, transferring seamlessly to the Blue Lobster Bowl in Massachusetts when the Quahog Bowl temporarily shut down and competing virtually throughout Covid. When the National Competition has been held, Coginchaug has placed 9th, 10th and 12th in the country when going up against the 25 other Regional Teams, a remarkable achievement for such a small public school often pitted against marine magnet schools and science & technology institutions. 

Coached by Lorrie Martin and Luke Charest, students build over their high school years on their ocean knowledge ranging in fields as diverse as marine biology, geology, chemistry, physics, history, geography, technology, literature and archaeology.  No water related topic is off the table as students on competing teams race to buzz-in on multiple choice and short answer questions on a lock out system.  Each approximately 15 minute match also includes two high-scoring Team Challenge Questions where the team works cooperatively to prepare their answers. 

As usual, the friendly competition taps dozens of Volunteers from Connecticut and Rhode Island Colleges, Marine organizations, Coast Guard and Navy plus graduates who have competed in Ocean Bowl themselves. They serve as a large professional team of  Moderators, Science Judges, Scorers, Timers and Runners to smoothly run the competition for the students. Remarkably, the National Ocean Bowl representative who along with Andrew Ely (Project Oceanology), Larissa Graham (National Estuarine Research Reserve) and others brought the face-to-face Quahog Bowl back to life in 2024 is Megan Szymaszek –  a Coginchaug graduate herself as well as an Ocean Bowl competitor throughout high school and an Ocean Bowl Coach throughout college before moving into this NOSB leadership position which for many years was held by Diana Payne. 

The Coginchaug team, representing the two small central Connecticut towns of Middlefield and Durham, practices diligently each Sunday afternoon throughout most of the academic year in their own “Ocean Annex” space – generously donated by the United Churches of Durham. Scrimmages with other teams, Dunkin Donut Card Competitions among themselves, ocean-themed sugar cookies and Swedish fish contribute to their success. Coach Martin insists that every competition MUST be accompanied by fun and their two valuable 17 year old Cephalopod Mascots – “Squidley” Squid originally from Peabody Museum and “Octavius” Octopus donated by Hannah Gossner, a nationally known oceanographer returning from Antarctic research as this article is being written and a former Coginchaug Ocean Bowl competitor herself.  Martin commends the “mental agility, exemplary teamwork and good sportsmanship” exhibited by this year’s small, close-knit academic group, as we coaches, could do nothing more than “sit back in the audience and squirm through 6 hours of tough marine questioning in total silence.”

Meet Dr. Paola Batta-Lona: Assistant Research Professor at DMS

Meet Dr. Paola Batta-Lona - assistant research professor

Photo credit: Peter Morenus

Dr. Paola Batta-Lona is an assistant research professor at DMS. In this interview with graduate student Mengyang Zhou, she shared her research in zooplankton molecular ecology, career path and challenges as an international researcher in the US. 


Mengyang: Can you tell us about your career path? 

Paola: I grew up reading Jacques Cousteau books and watching videos from National Geographic. I have always been amazed at the adaptation and shapes of marine organisms. I really wanted to study marine mammals, however, during my bachelor’s studies I was introduced to molecular techniques. I took to it and since then I have worked on various research questions using molecular techniques on many different organisms.

I was born in Mexico and left my house for my bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Baja California (UABC) in Ensenada, Mexico. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, Pieter Visscher (a professor at DMS) was visiting our institute and he told me about a scholarship through US-AID-TIES for exchange graduate studies. I applied and was accepted to join Dr. Senjie Lin’s laboratory here at DMS as a master’s student. After my master’s degree, Dr. Ann Bucklin hired me as a technician to work on microsatellites of the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Eventually I joined her lab for my PhD in Oceanography. After my doctoral research, I received a postdoctoral CONACYT fellowship to continue research on zooplankton communities in the Gulf of Mexico at CICESE in Ensenada Mexico. In 2018 I returned to Connecticut and joined Ann’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow. I became an Assistant Research Professor in 2021, and I have been mentoring students and collaborating with Ann Bucklin since then. 


Mengyang: Can you share your research experience?

Paola: During my undergraduate study in biology at UABC, I had a lot of field trips in Botany and Zoology classes. I always enjoyed learning about adaptation of different plants and animals to different ecosystems and biogeography. In my senior year, I was introduced to molecular techniques and for my senior thesis, I worked on antibody expression on bacteriophages to block fertilization on the spoon worm, Urechis caupo. So basically, I designed some birth control for the worm. From the beginning, I really enjoyed bench work, protocols and experiments associated with research.

For my master’s degree, I focused on quantification of gene expression in the cocolithopohorid Emiliania huxleyi. Afterwards, I worked as a technician for Ann Bucklin. Part of my job was going to the sea in the Atlantic, which was the first time in my life. I carried out gene sequencing onboard both US and German research ships. During these expeditions, zooplankton samples were collected at different depths from 5000 m to the surface. Scientists with expertise on zooplankton identified different types of organisms so that we could sequence them. I really enjoyed seeing all the organisms that came up alive on the net and learning their unique features that were pointed out by scientists who were excited to share their knowledge.

That experience sparked an interest in learning more about the pelagic zooplankton community, in particular gelatinous zooplankton. For my PhD, I focused on analysis of the genome and transcriptome of the Southern Ocean salp Salpa thompsoni in the context of climate change. During my PhD, I was able to travel to Antarctica five times to collect samples for my dissertation. I really enjoyed the research expeditions since it seemed like all the oceanography came together – currents, chemistry, and biology, and I was able to experience it first-hand! My PhD lasted seven years, during which I collaborated in multiple projects including gene expression analysis of the copepod C.finmarchicus joining a team of researchers at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and Hawaii; development of SNPs for Euphausia superba and using real time PCR for diet detection in fish stomachs. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about collaboration and adapting/troubleshooting molecular techniques to a variety of plankton ecology questions.

I’m currently working on food web dynamics in the Ocean Twilight Zone by sequencing stomach contents of fish and salps. Simultaneously I have joined a project to study the zooplankton communities before and after installation of Offshore Wind turbines using eDNA. 


Mengyang: What do you enjoy the most as a research scientist, and what are the most challenging about this job?

Paola: During graduate school, I really enjoyed field work and going to the sea. Currently I really enjoy talking to colleagues, students, and mentees and discussing research questions and ideas on ways to collaborate. I really enjoy troubleshooting things on the bench. The most challenging for me is to put all these questions into papers. Another challenge is funding and requesting that funding. I’m still working on becoming better at valuing my work and learning how to transfer that into self-worth and trust all my experiences and knowledge as a research scientist.


Mengyang: What do you do outside of work for fun, to balance life-work?

Paola: Balancing this position with my roles as wife and mother is quite a challenge. For fun in my spare time I play beach volleyball, spend time with my family and friends, knit, and watch tv.


Mengyang: Do you have any advice for aspiring researchers that want to pursue a career in academia? 

Paola: Be curious, helpful, and collaborative at all levels. Accepting that you don’t know or understand something is more beneficial and less tiring than putting pressure on yourself to know everything. For international students, make sure you research where you are going and get a baseline for your expectations in terms of cultural and infrastructure differences. Share your culture in your new environment; you will be surprised how much it is appreciated by your community.


Mengyang: Can you talk about the challenges as an international researcher in the US?

Paola: Day to day – Lack of transportation infrastructure, regular citizen paperwork (social security, credit scores, bank accounts) was not straightforward since it wasn’t common in my country. Not speaking my native language on a regular basis or having contact with Mexican culture locally. In Mexico, there’s more affection when greeting somebody (hugging, teasing and cheek kissing), so the first months were difficult since I was lacking that type of connection.

Academia – Composing emails, summaries or any type of communication takes a bit longer, English being a second language adds an extra bonus to writers’ block. Expressing oneself clearly and concisely in a second language can be a challenge; differences in style and structure across cultures and languages exist which can present as a barrier to success in some cases. I think that we in academia should do more to ensure those barriers are not in place. It’s one small thing we can do to create a more diverse, inclusive, and ultimately more well-rounded institute. 

DMS faculty and researchers highlighed in UConn Today

Two research teams from DMS were featured in UConn Today’s latest edition.

The first was led by Penny Vlahos’s team and highlights polar research activities. You can read more about it here:

UConn Researchers Studying Multi-Year Arctic Sea Ice Before It Is Gone

figure 1

The other highlight focused on a new paper in Nature Communications led by Research Scientist Zhuomin Chen as part of Samantha Siedlecki’s group. That work identifies decadal predictive capacity in the ocean relevant to marine habitat shifts. Read more about it here:

A New Tool to Skillfully Predict Marine Habitat Shifts

Summary of Summer/Fall 2023 Departmental Achievements

Check out a summary of some of the achievements in our department in summer and fall 2023 below!


*identify students


Professor Ann Bucklin and Paola Batta Lona

Population genetic analysis reveals distinct demographic histories of two Arctic euphausiid species and their responses to ecological drivers affecting communities in the Arctic Ocean.

Bucklin, A., Questel, J.M., Batta-Lona, P.G. et al. Population genetic diversity and structure of the euphausiids Thysanoessa inermis and T. raschii in the Arctic Ocean: inferences from COI barcodes. Mar. Biodivers. 53, 70 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12526-023-01371-y


Professor Hans Dam

This study led by alumni James deMayo, shows the limits to adaptation to the ongoing ocean warming and acidification. Animals adapted to these conditions are less fit than animals adapted to current conditions. Hence, there is no free lunch to adaptation to climate change.

deMayo James A.*, Brennan Reid S., Pespeni Melissa H., Finiguerra Michael, Norton Lydia, Park Gihong, Baumann Hannes and Dam Hans G. 2023Simultaneous warming and acidification limit population fitness and reveal phenotype costs for a marine copepod. Proc. R. Soc. B.2902023103320231033. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2023.1033


Professor Heidi Dierssen:

NASA plans to launch three new missions for monitoring aquatic ecosystems from space: PACE in 2024, Geostationary Littoral Imaging Radiometer in 2026, and SBG in 2028. Each mission monitors unique space and time scales from inland water quality to coastal seagrass habitats to upwelling zones supporting rich phytoplankton blooms. Having many more wavebands than historic sensors, these missions will allow us for the first time to monitor phytoplankton diversity from space. Dr. Dierssen serves as the Science and Applications Team Leader for the PACE mission and is on the mission team for the SBG mission.

Dierssen et al. 2023.  “Synergies Between NASA’s Hyperspectral Aquatic Missions PACE, GLIMR, and SBG: Opportunities for New Science and Applications”.  Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences,

128, e2023JG007574. https://doi.org/10.1029/2023JG007574


Several spectral indices have been proposed in the last decade for remote detection of macroplastics in the environment, however no comprehensive analysis has been provided on the over land and water. Published and new algorithms proposed in this study were evaluated on hyperspectral remote sensing imagery taken over plastic targets in Ostend, Belgium.  Dr. Dierssen developed and worked on this study as a Fulbright scholar to Belgium.

Castagna, Dierssen, et al. 2023. “Evaluation of historic and new detection algorithms for different types of plastics over land and water from hyperspectral data and imagery” Remote Sensing of the Environment. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2023.113834


Professor Senjie Lin: 

In an opinion piece, Lin analyzed the complexity of how phosphorus-nutrient limitation interacts with ocean acidification in impacting phytoplankton, the foundation of the marine ecosystem. He further brought forth a suite of fundamental research questions that need to be addressed and proposed several multi-disciplinary multi-platform approaches that need to be deployed to address these questions. 

Lin, S. Phosphate limitation and ocean acidification co-shape phytoplankton physiology and community structure. Nat Commun 14, 2699 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-38381-0



Professor David Lund: 

This paper indicates that weakening of the Atlantic overturning circulation regularly occurs when the Earth transitions from glacial to interglacial conditions (i.e. deglaciations).  Graduate student Monica Garity’s results suggest weakening of the Atlantic circulation plays a key role in deglaciation, most likely through accumulation of heat in the subsurface North Atlantic and subsequent melting of ice shelves.  

Multi-proxy evidence for Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)  weakening during deglaciations of the past 150,000 years

Monica Garity and David Lund

Accepted in Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology

Professors Rob Mason, Penny Vlahos, Michael Whitney, and Zofia Baumann:

The study, conducted while Maodian Liu was a visiting scientist at DMS, identified the importance of the river plume as a hot spot of methylmercury production in Long Island Sound. This finding is significant because methylmercury is toxic and bioaccumulative, and understanding its biogeochemical cycling is essential for public health management. The studies were conducted in conjunction with studies of carbon and nutrient dynamics in LIS (Vlahos and Whitney’s funded research).      

“Riverine Discharge Fuels the Production of Methylmercury in a Large Temperate Estuary” Maodian Liu, Robert P. Mason, Penny Vlahos, Michael M. Whitney, Qianru Zhang, Joseph K. Warren, Xuejun Wang, Zofia Baumann. Environmental Science & Technology 2023 Vol. 57 Issue 35 Pages 13056-13066 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.3c00473


Professors Rob Mason and Zofia Baumann:

This research highlighted the importance of the reduced sulfur content of organic matter in influencing the binding of methylmercury to dissolved organic matter and to influencing its bioaccumulation at the base of the aquatic food chain. The work was led by alumni Emily Seelen.     

Seelen, E.A.*, Liem-Nguyen, V., Wünsch, U., Baumann, Z., Mason, R.P., Skyllberg, U., Björn, E. 2023.. Dissolved organic matter thiol concentrations determine methylmercury bioavailability across the terrestrial-marine aquatic continuum. Nat Commun 14, 6728. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-42463-4


Professor Rob Mason: 

During cruises in 2021 in the Arctic, Marissa determined the relationship between nitrification in the water column and mercury methylation as this is an unexplored pathway for the production of methylmercury in ocean waters. Her studies showed that nitrification bacteria could be important for mercury methylation.         

Despins, M.C., Mason, R.P., Aguilar-Islas, Lamborg, C.H., Hammerschmidt, C.R., Newell, S.E. 2023. Linked mercury methylation and nitrification across the oxic sub-polar regions. Frontiers in Environ. Chem., 4: DOI: 10.3389/fenvc.2023.1109537.


This chapter in the book highlighted the importance of sources and cycling of inorganic and organic contaminants in impacting human and wildlife health.  

Chen, C.Y., Mason, R.P., Lohmann, R., Muir, D. 2023. Chemical pollution and the ocean. In: Oceans and Human Health: Opportunities and Impacts, 2nd Ed.,, Fleming, L.E. et al. (Eds.), Chapter 13, Elsevier, 351-426.


Mason, R.P., Buckman, K.L., Seelen, E.A., Taylor, V.T., Chen, C.Y. 2023. An examination of the factors influencing the bioaccumulation of methylmercury at the base of the estuarine food web. Sci. Tot, Environ.  866: Art. # 163996.


Professor Jim O’Donnell: 

Knowing the height and period of waves at the shore of Connecticut during major storms is central to the cost-effective design of coastal flood protection systems. We have made measurements of waves for almost 20 years at two locations in Long Island Sound (WLIS and CLIS) in the deeper parts of the Sound, so we need a model to create estimates at the coast. This paper, led by alumni Amin Illia, describes our implementation of FVCOM and SWAVE to do that, and it reports how well it works and what we need to do to improve it.  

Ilia, Amin*, Alejandro Cifuentes-Lorenzen, Grant McCardell, and James O’Donnell. 2023. “Wind Wave Growth and Dissipation in a Narrow, Fetch-Limited Estuary: Long Island Sound” Journal of Marine Science and Engineering 11, no. 8: 1579. https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse11081579



Professor Samantha Siedlecki: 

Over the past 10 years, Siedlecki and her team have developed a seasonal ocean prediction system, JISAO’s Seasonal Coastal Ocean Prediction of the Ecosystem (J-SCOPE), for the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest. The results of this work include publicly available seasonal forecasts of ocean acidification variables, hypoxia, temperature, and ecological indicators that are tailored for decision-makers involved in federal, international, state, and tribal fisheries that have been used to inform decisions. This work provides a retrospective look at the first 10 years of forecasting. 


Siedlecki, S.A., S.R. Alin, E.L. Norton, N.A. Bond, A.J. Hermann, R.A. Feely, and J.A. Newton. Can seasonal forecasts of ocean conditions aid fishery managers?:  Experiences from 10 years of J SCOPE. Oceanography.  2023. https://tos.org/oceanography/assets/docs/36-2-3-siedlecki.pdf

Professor Pieter Visscher:

The Bernhard paper investigated the role of biology in Earth’s oldest fossils (2.3 to 3.5 billion year old), using modern analogs. The Bernhard et al. paper discovered new species of protists that shape the internal fabric microbial rocks. This work the was co-authored by one DMS undergraduate (Luke Fisher), two DMS MS students (Quinne Murphy, Heidi Yeh) and two other DMS faculty (Paola Batta Lona and Ann Bucklin)


Bernhard, J.M., L.A. Fisher, Q. Murphy*, L. Sen, H. Yeh*, A.S. Louyakis, F. Gomaa, M. Reilly, P.G. Batta Lona, A. Bucklin, V. Le Roux, P.T. Visscher 2023. Transition from stromatolite to thrombolite fabric: Potential role for reticulopodial protists in lake microbialites of a Proterozoic ecosystem analog. Frontiers in Microbiology 30, doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1210781


The paper first authored by Marlisa Marthino de Brito is about understanding whiting events (production of small carbonate minerals) in lakes. Often, these CO2-consuming mass events are predicted based on the chemical composition of the water column (the alkalinity) but are not observed because the picoplankton “slime” scavenges the calcium from the water and inhibits the mineral production. This slime is later degraded by microbes at the sediment surface and minerals are formed there . This has implications for satellite estimations of carbon sequestration in lakes. Marlisa defended her PhD on September 27, at the Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté in Dijon, France. Pf. Visscher was her major advisor.


Martinho de Brito, M., I. Bundeleva, F. Marin, E. Vennin, A. Wilmotte, L. Plasseraud, P.T. Visscher. 2023. Properties of exopolymeric substances (EPSs) produced during cyanobacterial growth: Potential role in whiting events. Biogeosciences 20:3165–3183, doi.org/10.5194/bg-20-3165-2023.


Professor Penny Vlahos: 

For the first time, the contribution of sedimentary fluxes to carbon and nutrient cycling in the shallow Pacific Arctic region was empirically quantified; carbon and nutrient effluxes from sediments were shown to be greatest in ice-free waters with high rates of surface productivity.


Barrett, L. J.*, Vlahos, P., Hammond, D. E., & Mason, R. P. (2023). Sediment-water fluxes of inorganic carbon and nutrients in the Pacific Arctic during the sea ice melt season. Continental Shelf Research, 105116. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csr.2023.105116


Professor Evan Ward: 

Blue mussels were exposed to nylon microfibers, a particle control, or non-particle control for 21 days, but these exposures did not show any effects on the mussel gut microbiome or gut tissues.  Please find here: https://ami-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1462-2920.16496 

Collins, H.I.*, Griffin, T.W.*, Holohan, B.A., & Ward, J.E. (2023) Nylon microfibers develop a distinct plastisphere but have no apparent effects on the gut microbiome or gut tissue status in the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis. Environmental Microbiology, 1-15. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.16496.


Voiding feces (depuration) is an important factor that determines the community structure of gut microbiomes from blue mussels.

Griffin, T.W.*, Darsan, M.A., Collins, H.I.*, Holohan, B.A., Pierce, M.L., & Ward, J.E. (2023). A multi-study analysis of gut microbiome data from the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) emphasises the impact of depuration on biological interpretation. Environmental Microbiology, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1111/1462-2920.16537


Professor Ward and Sandra Shumway

A critical assessment of microplastics in molluscan shellfish with recommendations for experimental protocols, animal husbandry, publication, and future research

Sandra E. Shumway, Kayla Mladinich*, Noreen Blaschik, Bridget Holohan and J. Evan Ward. Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture  2023. https://doi.org/10.1080/23308249.2023.2216301 Open Access until March 1, 2024   https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23308249.2023.2216301



Professor Heidi Dierssen:

Dr. Dierssen was awarded a new NASA Interdisciplinary Science grant $1.7M to study phytoplankton, carbon, and sea ice dynamics in the Western Antarctic Peninsula region of the Southern Ocean with colleagues from Rutgers University, University of Colorado, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


Professor Rob Mason: 

NSF Chemical Oceanography. 9/1/2023-8/31/2026. Mason, sole PI. Constraining the air-sea exchange of inorganic and methylated mercury with high resolution spatial and temporal measurements in the Sargasso Sea. $680,675.


Professor Leonel Romero

The Air-Sea Interaction Laboratory received a $712,215 grant from NSF to conduct novel measurements of breaking waves in the open ocean using stereo imagery from visible and infrared cameras. The results of this study will contribute greatly to our understanding of wave breaking with important implications for air-sea exchanges, remote sensing, and the prediction of microseisms.


Professor Samantha Siedlecki:

A new award to study coastal terrestrial liming as a potential method of mCDR via ocean alkalinity enhancement with a holistic program to monitor the carbon chemistry of a small coastal lagoon before and after the application of calcitic limestone on the surface of an abutting golf course. This work is a part of a larger investment that the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program on behalf of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) announces $24.3M of funding to advance research in marine carbon dioxide removal. https://oceanacidification.noaa.gov/fy23-nopp-mcdr-awards/ 


NOPP (2023-2026) mCDR 2023: An opportunity to study Ocean Alkalinity Enhancement, CDR, and ecosystem impacts through coastal liming (PI: Palter, URI) Total $1,538,451.52 ($300,540 to UConn)



Congratulations to graduate student Mengyang Zhou was awarded the CERF (Coastal and Estuarine Research Foundation) Rising TIDES (Toward an Inclusive, Diverse, and Enriched Society) Scholar 2023. This award provides valuable support for attending conferences and fostering career development in the field of coastal and estuarine science and management. 


Congratulations to Mengyang Zhou on receiving the best poster award at the recent Gordon Research Conference on Coastal Ocean Dynamics in June of 2023. His poster entitled “Constraints on the bottom water residence time in an economically-important embayment of the Southern Benguela Upwelling System” is work that is part of an NSF-funded project led by Pf. Julie Granger and Pf. Samantha Siedlecki in partnership with colleagues at the University of Capetown. Mengyang ran a series of particle tracking experiments in a high-resolution simulation to quantify the residence time of bottom waters plagued with hypoxia. Interannually, years with short bottom water residence time experienced little hypoxia. This work is part of his Ph.D. dissertation research with Pf. Julie Granger.


Our PhD student Anagha Payyambally was featured in UConn Today to celebrate her achievement of receiving the Quad Fellowship. Anagha is one of only 100 recipients out of over 3000 applicants to receive this fellowship to her graduate studies. This new fellowship program supports exceptional students who are citizens of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan to support their graduate studies in the United States and build collaboration among scientists and technologists.  Read the story here with quotes from Anagha and her advisor Dr. Manning. 


Congratulations to Brendon Goulette, an undergraduate student in our department who was awarded a Connecticut Sea Grant Undergraduate Research Fellowship for the work he is doing with Professors Catherine Matassa and Samantha Siedlecki and PhD student Halle Berger. Brendon is researching how climate change is affecting sea scallops, a significant commercial fishery in New England.

Read more about Brendon’s research here!


Undergraduate experiential learning courses

MARN 3001 students at Barn Island mapping the salt marsh elevation. Photo credit: Leonel Romero
Hydrographic survey in Thames River for MARN 3001 aboard the RV Connecticut. Photo credit: Leonel Romero
Students from MARN 4001 presenting their science at a CUSH sponsored public event in the Mystic Seaport Museum. Photo credit: Hung Nguyen
Students in the field for MARN 3030. Photo credit: Pieter Visscher

By Mengyang Zhou

Undergraduate classes within the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS) are bridging the classroom learning, fieldwork and addressing environmental challenges that are relevant to the local community.

As undergraduate students enter their junior and senior year, they engage in experiential learning through classes such as MARN 3001 (Foundations of Marine Sciences, instructed by Pf. Leonel Romero, Pf. Jason Krumholz, and Dr. Claudia Koerting, historically also co-taught by Pf. Craig Tobias who is on sabbatical this year), MARN 4001 (Measurement and Analysis in Coastal Ecosystems, instructed by Pf. Julie Granger and Dr. Claudia Koerting) and MARN 3030 (Coastal Pollution and Bioremediation, instructed by Pf. Pieter Visscher). These classes are designed to provide hands-on experience of fieldwork, lab experiments and data analysis, and empower students to apply classroom knowledge to the real world, making a positive impact on environmental problems in the local community.

The class Foundations of Marine Sciences (MARN 3001) focuses on carrying out and interpreting the most fundamental oceanographic measurements in coastal habitats such as beaches, marshes and estuaries. In the fall semester of 2023, students went on field trips to Long Island Sound and the Thames River aboard the RV Connecticut and RV Lowell Weicker. They collected hydrographic data using CTDs (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth), water samples for nutrient measurements, as well as sediment samples. They also conducted marsh elevation mapping in Bluff Point Beach and Barn Island. Upon analyzing these data and publicly available datasets provided by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), students learned how to characterize the changing coastal systems and how organisms adapt to those changes.

Students in the class Measurement and Analysis in Coastal Ecosystems (MARN 4001) assessed the potential causes of water quality impairment in Wequetequock Cove near Stonington, CT and Pawcatuck River, and built connections with the local community. Beyond learning textbook knowledge, they went into the field to collect water and sediment samples that were analyzed in the lab for nutrient and chlorophyll concentrations and O2 consumption rates. They also learned how to analyze, interpret and archive the data they collected, as well as those collected by CUSH (Clean Up Sounds and Harbor), a local non-profit organization who has been conducting a long-term survey of the cove’s water quality. Finally, they tried to address important questions, such as identifying the sources of nutrient overload in the cove, and understanding the causes of summertime O2 depletion in the cover, and constructed scientific posters and presented their scientific findings to a broad audience in Mystic Seaport Museum.

The class Coastal Pollution and Bioremediation (MARN 3030) is another example of a class that is designed to connect students with the real world through service-learning. This class focuses on how pollution in the nearshore marine environment impacts the marine food web. In the fall semester of 2023, students learned the fundamental environmental monitoring techniques and data analysis which were applied to coastal pollution research. They monitored the overall health of the Mystic River through field and lab experiments that included water column profiling, sediment quality and enterococcal counts before and after rain events. Their work provided data for the Alliance of the Mystic River Watershed, a local citizen group that focuses on resilience and social justice along the Mystic River. Upon discussion about local policy related to coordinated resilience planning and watershed protection, they also presented their findings to the public in Mystic Seaport Museum, together with MARN 4001.

To reflect on experiential learning classes, Shannon Jordan, who took MARN 4001 and now a master student in the DMS, said: “MARN 4001, more than any other core class, was an introduction to oceanographic research as it actually occurs. Experimental design, methods of data management and interpretation are not outlined in a manual. In contrast to many undergraduate science labs, this course encourages students to take the reins in each aspect of the scientific method. MARN 4001 was an excellent environment in which to explore individual research interests and the process by which questions are translated into hypotheses, experiments, results, and further questions. The opportunity to develop these practical skills in a collaborative environment – with ready access to the vast knowledge base of experienced faculty – was incredibly valuable.” 

Through these experiential learning classes, students worked on interdisciplinary problems and gained plenty of hands-on experience in the field of oceanography. They also proposed solutions to address the local environmental problems, and presented them to a broad audience. The valuable skill sets they developed in the past semester will prepare them for their future career and academic pursuits.