Newsletter

New Faculty Member: Dr. César Rocha

Later this year, Dr. César Rocha will be starting as a new assistant professor in the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS). DMS has been searching for new physical oceanographers to join the ranks of the faculty. It is with great enthusiasm that we welcome César to the University of Connecticut and to the scenic Avery Point campus.

Professor Rocha is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In 2018, he received his Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. Before then, he studied at University of São Paulo in Brazil, where he completed his B.S. in Oceanography and M.Sc. in Physical Oceanography.

Rocha, who hails from Brazil, reflected that his childhood played a large role in his decision to study the ocean. “Even though I grew up in a landlocked city, I used to spend every summer in my family’s house on Brazil’s Green Coast.” He continued, “in those lengthy vacations, I developed an awe for the ocean and this led me to pursue oceanography in college.”

He started oceanographic research as an undergraduate and “never stopped.” Along the way, he is glad to have had “wonderful mentors” to help shape his academic and professional career. Currently, Rocha’s research interests lie in mesoscale and sub-mesoscale flows in the ocean. This scale ranges from 1 to 100 kilometers and includes features such as eddies, fronts, and filament flows of the mixed layer and pycnocline, the layer of the ocean characterized by large density differences. Flows may originate at large scales and cascade to smaller ones, which mix the ocean and cause turbulence. Rocha explains, “Turbulent oceanic flows are responsible for both horizontal and vertical transport of properties such as heat, freshwater, nutrients, and biogeochemical tracers.”

While in graduate school, Rocha was a NASA Earth and Planetary Sciences Graduate Fellow. At UConn, he will continue his relationship with NASA through two NASA-related projects. The first will investigate sub-mesoscale eddies that are generated near topographic features on the ocean floor, which is a part of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) Mission. The second will be with the Submesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE), in which he and collaborators will deploy a flotilla of Saildrones, wind and solar-powered uncrewed surface vehicles, to study vertical transport in kilometer-sized fronts of the California Current.

Beyond research, Rocha is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring. “I enjoy breaking down and distilling complicated concepts and explaining them to others,” he said. “I am committed to continuing to develop myself as an effective instructor.” He plans to create a new hands-on course called Research Computing in Marine Sciences, in order to teach data science and analytical tools in Python.

Rocha is looking forward to the personal and interdisciplinary community at DMS. “I like the idea of being in a department that is big enough to have a robust graduate and research programs, yet small enough so we get to know everybody,” he said. “I am eager to interact with colleagues from all areas of marine sciences.”

In his spare time, Rocha is working on his culinary skills. He also voraciously reads in both English and his native Portuguese. One of his favorite American publications is The New Yorker, for its fascinating and well-produced content.

Meet Kay Howard-Strobel, Research Associate

On the first floor of the Marine Sciences Building, it’s hard to miss the office door belonging to Kay Howard-Strobel because of its humorous sticker, “SAVE THE CRABS, THEN EAT ‘EM.” If you haven’t met Kay, you’ll probably be familiar with some the activities she’s been involved with at Avery Point.

Kay received her bachelors from the University of Mary Washington, where she majored in biology and geology. Then she completed her masters from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) in marine geology. Her thesis looked at Chesapeake Bay mud by using spatial autocorrelation to characterize dredge disposal sites in the Chesapeake Bay. “I found sand and mud was even way more fun than rocks and minerals,” she commented.

How Kay got to UConn is an interesting coincidence: “While at VIMS – one of my advisors hosted a visiting professor named Frank Bohlen,” she said. “After graduate school, I moved to Rhode Island with my husband and sent Frank a letter – and here I still am.” For 30 years, Kay has been a researcher in DMS, the first half working with Frank and second with Jim O’Donnell.

Currently, Kay manages, maintains, and configures various oceanographic instruments for field observations, including portable and mooring Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), profiling and stationary Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTDs) sensors, suspended sediment sensors, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and gliders, nutrient sensors, buoys, and more.

Kay deploys and recovers these sensors on all types of field campaigns too. Work in the field is very weather dependent and preparation constant, so she is ready to go on a moment’s notice. The variety of field work Kay has done is staggering. She said, “Every project is memorable in some way, shape or form…  whether traipsing through marshes and walking amongst reef balls with graduate students, deploying buoys in western LIS off the R/V Connecticut at the crack o’ dawn, squeezing under bridges on the Maritime Skiff, riding flood-gate currents in a johnboat, or running CTD profiles down the Sound on a flat, calm summer day on the Osprey… they’re all good.”

Throughout her three decades at UConn, Kay has been a part of many significant observational projects. One in particular is the Long Island Sound Coastal Observatory, now know as the Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observing System (LISICOS). Initially, it started as a buoy in the Thames River that transmitted data in real-time back to Avery Point, which she and David Cohen developed. Now, LISICOS is an interdisciplinary network of buoys, radar, weather stations, and water quality measurements. Public, private, and state users have to come to rely on that data for recreation, policy, and monitoring

Kay also enjoys CrossFit and playing soccer. She is one of the longest standing, most valuable members of the Department’s Friday afternoon pick-up soccer games.

DMS is enriched by and fortunate to have Kay Howard-Strobel as an expert observationalist in our midst.

Marine Sciences History: Growing Towards Gender Equality

It has been over 50 years since the University of Connecticut established Avery Point as a regional campus and nearly 40 years since the formalization of the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS). At that time, national feminist and civil rights movements were in full swing as well. In the decades that followed, especially the past 20 years, a primary focus of these movements has been increasing and retaining diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), which includes oceanography. Since the early 2000s, DMS has successfully narrowed the gender-gap among faculty members.

Barbara Welsh was the first female faculty member in DMS. She was hired in the 1980s and helped establish hypoxia monitoring and nitrogen management programs in Long Island Sound. Her research revealed phytoplankton blooms and the resulting alarmingly low oxygen concentrations in Western Long Island Sound in the summer.

The next female professor to join was Annelie Skoog, who studies marine organic matter cycling. Another early female leader was Associate Professor in Residence Patricia Kremer, who studied gelatinous plankton. After Barbara retired, Annelie remained the only tenured female faculty member. All other women faculty were research scientists and not professors. The most common title being Research Professor, with levels assistant, associate and full.

A few members of the department recalled a faculty meeting in 2002, in which half the members present were women. However, as the only female tenure-track professor present, Annelie was the only woman allowed a vote.

As a part of larger UConn initiatives to promote diversity and opportunities for underrepresented groups, DMS sought to grow as a department and recruit talented new faculty for hire. In 2005, Ann Bucklin became the first female department head and lead many efforts to formalize department proceedings.

Since then, Heidi Dierssen, Penny Vlahos, Julie Granger, Kelly Lombardo (who moved to Penn State University in 2019), Melanie Fewings (who moved to Oregon State University in 2018), Samantha Siedlecki, and Catherine Matassa have joined the tenure-track faculty ranks.

Additionally, Sandy Shumway, Jamie Vaudrey, and Jennifer O’Donnell have been members of the research faculty and key contributors to the Department. Claudia Koerting has been an integral part of developing the undergraduate program and maintaining instrumentation. A partnership with Mystic Aquarium added four women – all active and successful marine researchers – as affiliate faculty-in-residence: Tracy Romano, Maureen Driscoll, Laura Thompson, and Ebru Unal.

After conversations with many of these stellar scientists, it became clear that the culture in science overall has shifted greatly. Both Claudia and Penny commented that neither of them had any female professors throughout their entire academic careers. Whereas current graduate and undergraduate students can attest that female professors in the sciences are now entirely usual. However, disparities among different scientific disciplines remain. Today, the percent of people in physics and engineering identifying as female at the doctorate level is approximately 20% (Women in Physics and Astronomy 2019 Report, American Institute of Physics).

The culture that has been cultivated and continues to grow in DMS strives for diversity, inclusion, and equity on all academic levels including students, staff, and faculty.

On a final note, here are some statistics based on current departmental records. As of April 2020, all four research staff, six of eight postdoctoral research associates, 7 of 18 tenured or tenure track faculty, and four of five research faculty are women.

Ocean Bacteria Make Nutrients Out of Air

Image courtesy of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), https://www.jamstec.go.jp/e/about/press_release/20180523/

It’s finally springtime in the Northeast USA, so gardeners are looking to fertilize their plants and flowers. Have you ever stopped to wonder what is actually in the big bags of soil you spread on your lawn?

In most cases, it is a mixture of nitrogen and phosphorus. Both are limiting nutrients for the base of the food chain, aka plants. Phosphorus makes its way into soil and the ocean through weathering of rocks. Nitrogen, on the other hand, is trickier, because although it makes up over 70% of the atmosphere, this gaseous form (N2) is unusable by plants and animals.

So how does nitrogen get from the atmosphere into a usable form? The process is called “nitrogen fixation.” On land, bacteria in soil do the heavy lifting by converting N2 into organic nutrients like ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3) that are usable by plants. In the ocean, blue-green cyanobacteria are the most abundant type of bacteria to fix nitrogen. Collectively, these organisms are called diazotrophs, and account for close to 90% of natural nitrogen fixation.

In a recent collaborative publication, Associate Professor Julie Granger and Professor Craig Tobias contributed their expertise on the nitrogen cycle in the ocean. The study included scientists from various institutions and focused on standardizing procedures for measuring diazotrophic activity in field sample incubations.

Oceanographers are interested in understanding the magnitude and rate of nitrogen fixation by diazotrophs. These rates vary significantly depending on the location, whether coastal or open ocean, poles or equator, shallow or deep. Ultimately, scientists aim to evaluate what controls the reservoir of nitrogen in the ocean from measurements and its influence on ocean fertility. Unfortunately, researchers currently employ differing techniques, causing uncertainty in whether estimates of nitrogen fixation rates are inter-comparable among research groups and among ecosystems.

Granger, Tobias and colleagues focus on the 15N2 tracer method for this study. Therein, water samples from a particular depth and region of the ocean are incubated and supplemented with isotopically-labeled nitrogen gas (15N2 gas).

Isotopes refer to the different masses an element can have depending on its atomic structure. Nitrogen can have atomic mass of 14 or 15, which are referred to as 14N or 15N. Naturally occurring nitrogen is predominantly 14N, such that adding a dollop of 15N can facilitate the tracking of nitrogen transformations.

During incubation, living diazotrophs in the water samples convert nitrogen gas (including the labeled 15N-gas) into nitrogen nutrients. At the end of the incubation, the isotopic composition (whether 14N or 15N) of the newly “fixed” nitrogen is measured. This method allows scientists to track the amount and rate of atmospheric nitrogen gas that was converted into nitrogen nutrients at a particular ocean location.

Over the years, renditions of the 15N2 tracer method have been conceived, including some with questionable practices. As not all are created equal, Granger, Tobias and co-authors ultimately recommend the so-called “dissolution” and the “bubble release” methods over others.

Additionally, Granger and Tobias stress the importance of adhering to proven mass spectrometric procedures to quantify 15N, which is crucial for obtaining representative estimates.

The paper thus states, “While the research community may remain divided as to which variant of the method to follow, the standardization of some key practices will enable intercomparability among estimates, to better discern temporal and biogeographical trends, as well as environmental controls on ocean N2 fixation.”

While both Granger and Tobias are proud of the resulting document, they agree that they will never again engage in the Herculean effort that is achieving consensus: “Herding cats is harder than science.”

Trichodesmium, a common diazotroph, blooming in the ocean. Image courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory image archive.

Citation:

White, A.E., Granger, J., Selden, C., Gradoville, M.R., Potts, L., Bourbonnais, A., Fulweiler, R.W., Knapp, A.N., Mohr, W., Moisander, P.H., Tobias, C.R., Caffin, M., Wilson, S.T., Benavides, M., Bonnet, S., Mulholland, M.R. and Chang, B.X. (2020), A critical review of the 15N2 tracer method to measure diazotrophic production in pelagic ecosystems. Limnol Oceanogr Methods. doi:10.1002/lom3.10353

Departmental Achievements, Spring 2020

Since the last edition of the newsletter, there has been plenty to celebrate and recognize in the department! Here you’ll find recent publications, new grants, undergraduate achievements, and awards in the Department of Marine Sciences from October 2019 through April 2020.

Awards Description
Prof. Heidi Dierssen Dierssen was awarded with a membership in the Connecticut Academy of Sciences and Engineering. She also was selected as team leader for the PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, and ocean Ecosystems) NASA mission.
Prof. Peter Auster Auster served on the Ecological Experts Working Group for development of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan. The Blue Plan is an effort to implement marine spatial planning to address conflicting human uses of Long Island Sound while conserving natural resources.
Prof. in Residence Ralph Lewis Ralph Lewis received the Dr. Joe Webb Peoples Award from the Geological Society of Connecticut for his contributions to the understanding of Connecticut’s geology over the past 40 years.
Prof. Robert Mason Mason became Chief Editor for the inorganic pollutants section in the new Frontiers journal Frontiers in Environmental Chemistry.

 

Grants Description
Assistant Prof. Hannes Baumann Baumann received funding by Connecticut Sea Grant to study the potential re-emergence of spawning Atlantic sturgeon in the Connecticut River in collaboration with colleagues from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Prof. Hans G. Dam Linking eco-evolutionary dynamics of thermal adaptation and grazing in copepods from highly seasonal environments. National Science Foundation. P.I. Hans Dam. $ 531,484. 6/1/2020-5/31/2023. The grant will support a postdoc and a graduate student.
Kayla Mladinich (grad student, Prof. J. E. Ward) Connecticut Sea Grant recently funded Kayla Mladinich and the Ward Lab to help critically examining the science of microplastics uptake by oysters.
Tyler Griffin (grad student, Prof. J. E. Ward) Tyler Griffin received a seed grant to study the effect of chlorpyrifos, a common neurotoxic insecticide pollutant in coastal systems, on the taxonomic composition and metatranscriptomic expression of the gut microbiome of blue mussels. In collaboration with Associate Prof. Penny Vlahos.

 

Undergraduate Recognitions Description
Alex Frenzel (Class of 2021) Alexandra Frenzel just returned from her study abroad in Switzerland. An honors student as well, Alex was recently informed her 2020 SURF proposal was awarded.
Amelia Hurst (Class of 2021) Amelia Hurst was just accepted into the NASA Airborne Science Program. Amelia was awarded University Scholar recognition this past December, the highest distinction that the University bestows on an undergraduate. Amelia is a junior seeking a double degree in Anthropology and Marine Sciences, with honors in both.
Mackenzie Blanusa (Class of 2020) Mackenzie Blanusa was accepted into the summer 2020 Cooperative Institute for Modeling the Earth System (CIMES) Research Internship Program at Princeton University. Mackenzie is a seeking a double degree in Marine Sciences and an Individualized Major titled Atmospheric Sciences, with a minor in mathematics. She is also wrapping up her UConn Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) project.

 

Publications Summary
Allison Byrd (M.S. 2019, Associate Prof. P. Vlahos) (Tidally resolved observations of organic carbon exchange through Eastern Long Island Sound.)
Brittany Sprecher (graduate student, Prof. S. Lin) Brittany Sprecher published her dinoflagellate gene transformation work in Microorganisms.
(Nuclear Gene Transformation in the Dinoflagellate Oxyrrhis marina.)
Assistant Prof. César B. Rocha Napolitano, Silveira, Rocha and colleagues developed a simple theoretical model to explain the recirculation of a subsurface western boundary current off Brazil. The theory agrees well with the time-mean flow observed by Argo floats and simulated with a regional numerical model. But the numerical model displays large variability due to strong westward-propagating eddies, which are not accounted for by the theory.
(On the Steadiness and Instability of the Intermediate Western Boundary Current between 24° and 18°S.)
Paradise, Rocha and colleagues employed a simple theoretical model to study the sensitivity of atmospheric blocking to climate change. Their model explores the mathematical analogy of blocking phenomena and traffic jams in freeways. The authors found that the present climate lies close to a boundary between a block-dominated state and is highly sensitive to perturbations to the jet stream.
(Blocking Statistics in a Varying Climate: Lessons from a “Traffic Jam” Model with Pseudostochastic Forcing.)
Rocha and colleagues developed new theoretical methods to characterize the strength of horizontal convection–the flow generated by differential heating at a single surface; horizontal convection is motivated by the observation that the ocean is cooled at high latitudes and heated in the tropics. Their mathematical machinery led to new bounds on the heat flux of horizontal convection.
(Improved bounds on horizontal convection.)
Chris Murray (Ph.D. 2019, Assistant Prof. H. Baumann) Dr. Murray and colleagues discovered a fish species that is unusually sensitive to ocean acidification and warming.
(High sensitivity of a keystone forage fish to elevated CO2 and temperature.)
Emma Cross (former postdoc, Assistant Prof. H. Baumann) Dr. Cross and colleagues showed that fluctuations in oxygen and carbon dioxide can benefit offspring of a coastal marine fish.
(Diel and tidal pCO2 × O2 fluctuations provide physiological refuge to early life stages of a coastal forage fish.)
Prof. Hans G. Dam (Antagonistic interplay between pH and food resources affects copepod traits and performance in a year-round upwelling system.)
Associate Prof. Julie Granger and Prof. Craig Tobias This effort involved numerous members of the community, and resulted in a comprehensive guide to insuring inter-comparability of N2 fixation rate estimates among researchers. Granger and Tobias, as well as former lab member Lindsey Potts, contributed to this effort by providing guidelines to ensure reliable N isotope ratio analyses by mass spectrometry.
(A critical review of the 15N2 tracer method to measure diazotrophic production in pelagic ecosystems.)
Julie Pringle (M.S. 2018, Assistant Prof. H. Baumann) Graduate alumnae Julie Pringle discovered that females in a common forage fish are growing faster and therefore survive better than males.
(Otolith-based growth reconstructions in young-of-year Atlantic silversides Menidia menidia and their implications for sex-selective survival.)
Matt Lacerra (M.S. 2019, Associate Prof. D. Lund) Graduate alumni Matt Lacerra showed that rising atmospheric CO2 levels at the end of the last ice age were likely due to weakening of the ocean’s biological pump.
(Less Remineralized Carbon in the Intermediate‐Depth South Atlantic During Heinrich Stadial 1.)
Associate Profs. Penny Vlahos and Mike Whitney Vlahos, Whitney, and colleagues found that 40% of nitrogen delivered to Long Island Sound (LIS) is primarily exported as organic nitrogen, while the rest is either buried in sediments or released as gas.
(Nitrogen budgets of the Long Island Sound estuary.)
Prof. Peter Auster These papers are part of a larger effort to understand the role of higher trophic level predators within marine protected areas with a focus on conserving species interactions as an element of management goals.
(Coordinated hunting behaviors of mixed species groups of piscivores and associated species at Isla del Coco National Park (Eastern Tropical Pacific).)
Prof. Peter Auster and Chris Conroy (former postdoc) The study was used in the recently released Condition Report for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and will be used to revise the management plan for the Sanctuary.
(Time-series patterns and dynamics of species richness, diversity, and community composition of fishes at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (1970-2017).)
Assistant Prof. Samantha Siedlecki (Seasonal-to-interannual prediction of North American coastal marine ecosystems: Forecast methods, mechanisms of predictability, and priority developments.)
(The Importance of Environmental Exposure History in Forecasting Dungeness Crab Megalopae, Occurrence Using J-SCOPE, a High-Resolution Model for the US Pacific Northwest.)
(Exoskeleton dissolution with mechanoreceptor damage in larval Dungeness crab related to severity of present-day ocean acidification vertical gradients.)
Prof. Senjie Lin In collaboration with Prof. Zhi Zhou (Hainan University, China), Prof. S. Lin used genomic profiling to reveal that microplastics depressed growth and the capacity of detoxification in dinoflagellate symbionts of corals.
(Microplastic exposure represses the growth of endosymbiotic dinoflagellate Cladocopium goreaui in culture through affecting its apoptosis and metabolism.)
Prof. Senjie Lin, Associate Prof. Huan Zhang, Brittany Sprecher Members of the Lin Lab joined an international team which published a paper reporting development of functional genetic tools for protists (dinoflagellates and other single-celled eukaryotes).
(Genetic tool development in marine protists: emerging model organisms for experimental cell biology.)

Honoring the achievements of emeritus faculty Dr. Edward C. Monahan

Edward C. Monahan Symposium

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Monahan Symposium
Colleagues, family, and friends celebrated Dr. Monahan.

In the old-world tradition of a Festschrift, i.e., a celebration and book honoring the life and achievements of outstanding academics, the Department of Marine Sciences celebrated Dr. Edward C. Monahan in a full day symposium. Colleagues from Ed’s many years at UConn and Connecticut Sea Grant recounted entertaining anecdotes and his many accolades. Outside of academia, friends shared stories about his intense love for rowing crew and his involvement in local politics. One of the shining moments of the day included a photo montage of Ed’s facial hair throughout the years. Two beautiful quilts, crafted by Ed’s wife Elizabeth, were displayed throughout the festivities. One quilt captured rolling waves, the pattern being different shapes for different words for white caps. The other quilt displayed every institutional emblem in chronological order at which Dr. Monahan worked.

Dr. Monahan studied at Cornell University as an undergraduate in Engineering Physics, and continued onto his Ph.D. in Oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he focused on the correlation between sea spray, whitecap coverage, and wind speed. His career brought him across the world to Ireland, where he completed another Doctorate of Science at the National University of Ireland. For two decades, he led the Connecticut Sea Grant program at UConn as its Director and initiated international marine sciences exchanges. In his retirement, Ed has not slowed down his scholarly productivity. He continues to publish scientific journal articles, remains active in the department, and stays abreast of all things oceanography by attending weekly seminars and brown bag presentations.

Dr. Penny Vlahos, chair of the symposium organizing committee, commented, “Ed and I have collaborated since I started as junior faculty. I thought it was appropriate to honor him and recognize his achievements and contributions. His work is still being cited today, especially by climate scientists in IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports.”

Some wonderful words come from Peg Van Patten, retired communications director for Connecticut Sea Grant, “Ed Monahan was my supervisor as Director of Connecticut Sea Grant for two decades, but he was really more than that.  Ed became my mentor, and friend, and sometimes my co-author. I learned so much from his experience that I was delighted when Professor Vlahos asked me to help organize a symposium in his honor.  The day was a perfect tribute to Ed’s remarkable career and many accomplishments.”

Throughout the symposium, selected guests gave scientific talks on topics related to Ed’s research interests: sea spray, white caps, and air-sea interaction. Other speakers included grant recipients from Connecticut Sea Grant, collaborators, rowing partners, and students. In his retirement, Ed helped organize Coastsweek Regatta, a local rowing competition in Mystic, with 2019 marking the 28th consecutive year. At the closing of the day, attendees, family and friends enjoyed celebratory beverages and birthday cake appropriately decorated with a large wave. Allison Staniec, a current Ph.D. student who works directly with Ed, summarized the day quite well: “The Monahan Symposium (Twixt Wind and Waves) was an enjoyable celebration of Ed’s past and ongoing career with plenty of time for ground breaking science and entertaining anecdotes. And cake!”

The Festschrift book, “Recent Advances in the Study of Oceanic Whitecaps,” edited by P. Vlahos and E. C. Monahan (Honorary Editor) will be published by Springer Nature shortly.

Summer ’19 Synopsis

Although the academic year is over by mid-May, the Department of Marine Sciences does not take a summer vacation. Outreach, research trips, summer interns, and more activities keep Marine Sciences bustling during the summertime. Included here are just a few of the programs from summer 2019.

 

Marine Sciences and Mystic Aquarium REU program

This year marked the last class in the inaugural cycle of our new NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program with the Mystic Aquarium. Our REU students came from all corners of the country: California, Florida, Iowa, and Maine. Eight REU students were paired with Marine Sciences Faculty or Mystic Aquarium researchers on projects that spanned all levels of the marine food web. The program provides students with housing, a stipend for working full-time in a lab and for food, and all transportation. The students just focus on conducting science! This year featured new collaborative projects between DMS and the Aquarium, such as the first ever documentation of ciliate diversity and population dynamics of Beluga Whale blowhole spit. The Marine Sciences Graduate Student Organization also integrated itself into the REU program by providing invaluable peer support for oral and poster presentation experience. After a laudatory site visit by the NSF program manager, we were encouraged to apply for another four years of funding and to increase the number of students to 10. Our fingers are crossed we can continue this exciting and rewarding program.

 

STEM Success and Student Support Services

STEM Success, the undergraduate retention program for incoming Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) students, returned this summer! Fourteen in-coming undergraduate students enrolled, who are either first-generation college students, from low-income households, part of underrepresented populations within UConn, or in need of some extra academic support.

For four weeks, students participated in eight workshops, twice-a-week, that were designed to promote discussion amongst peers and with graduate students on STEM subjects and life at Avery Point. Activities ranged from performing titrations, carrying out plankton tows, introducing programming, and learning how to use a microscope. This enabled the incoming undergraduates to become familiar with basic scientific concepts and laboratory etiquette, readying them for their science classes this Fall. The primary goal was to add another layer of support for these students by fostering connections with their peers and their future teaching assistants.

For the second year in a row, the STEM Success program occurred alongside the intensive five-week Student Support Services summer program directed by Aaron Collins. Twice as many marine sciences graduate students got involved this year to lead the workshops. STEM Success has been designed and coordinated by Dr. Emma Cross the previous two years and she is now handing over the reins to Dr. Lisa Nigro. Our graduate students were super enthusiastic and all the incoming first-years enjoyed and found the program useful!

 

Pre-college at Avery Point

The Department of Marine Sciences participated in UConn’s pre-college summer program for the second time. The program, titled “marine biology and oceanography” enrolled 17 students from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Saudi Arabia (by way of New Hampshire). The students stayed in Storrs and were transported to Avery Point during the week. Students’ favorite activities included taking water quality measurements around Pine Island off the R/V Lowell Weicker, exploring invertebrate ecology from settling plates, going on a behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium, and dissecting dogfish. Instructors were Claudia Koerting and John Hamilton. The program ran the last full week of July.

 

UConn Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) Awards

Each summer, UConn awards close to 50 undergraduates with financial support to explore a research project of their own device through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF). Over the last few years, Marine Sciences undergraduate students have consistently received recognition. This year, seniors Mackenzie Blanusa and Annalee Mears were fully funded for summer research. Mackenzie combined atmospheric science and chemical analysis in her project entitled, “The Effect of Storm Type and Source Region on the Chemical Composition of Precipitation along the Long Island Sound Coastline.” Dr. Kelly Lombardo and Dr. Zofia Baumann mentored and guided her research. Annalee worked with Dr. Catherine Matassa on a project about predator-prey interactions called, “Stoichiometry of Fear: Do Predators Affect the Balance of Carbon and Nitrogen in their Prey?” Previous SURF recipients include Clare Schlink (2018), Sarah McCart (2017) and Jessica Hinckley (2019). We are proud of our undergraduates for their great contributions!

Departmental Achievements

Since the last newsletter edition, many members of the Department of Marine Sciences were awarded grants, published articles, and received fellowships and awards. Congratulations to everyone on their remarkable achievements! All are presented in alphabetical order by last name.

Publications:

Hannes Baumann Contrasting genomic shifts underlie parallel phenotypic evolution in response to fishing.

 

Zofia Baumann Chapter 5: Ocean Transport of Radioactive Materials. Section 10: “Radioactive caesium in marine migratory animals.”

 

Ann Bucklin and Heidi Yeh Time-series metabarcoding analysis of zooplankton diversity of the NW Atlantic continental shelf.

 

Heidi Dierssen Evaluating the seasonal and decadal performance of red band difference algorithms for chlorophyll in an optically complex estuary with winter and summer blooms.

 

Water column optical properties of Pacific coral reefs across geomorphic zones and in comparison to offshore waters.

 

Pushing the limits of seagrass remote sensing in the turbid waters of Elkhorn Slough, California.

 

Modeling atmosphere-ocean radiative transfer: a PACE Mission perspective.

 

Atmospheric correction of satellite ocean-color imagery during the PACE Era

 

Retrieving aerosol characteristics from the PACE Mission, Part 1: ocean color instrument.

 

Retrieving aerosol characteristics from the PACE Mission, Part 2: multi-angle and polarimetry.

 

Felipe Porto Long Non-Coding RNA Expression Levels Modulate Cell-Type-Specific Splicing Patterns by Altering Their Interaction Landscape with RNA-Binding Proteins.

 

Matthew Sasaki and Hans Dam Integrating patterns of thermal tolerance and phenotypic plasticity with population genetics to improve understanding of vulnerability to warming in a widespread copepod.

 

Emily Seelen and Rob Mason The interaction of mercury and methylmercury with chalcogenide nanoparticles.

 

Samantha Siedlecki Observational needs supporting marine ecosystems modeling and forecasting. (accepted)

 

Cloud and radiative effects of a Northeast Pacific marine heat wave. (accepted)

 

An enhanced ocean acidification observing network: from people to technology to data synthesis and information exchange.

 

Better regional ocean observing through cross-national cooperation: a case study from the Northeast Pacific.

 

Samantha Siedlecki and Penny Vlahos Carbon cycling in the North American coastal ocean: a synthesis.

 

Pieter Visscher Carbonate precipitation in freshwater cyanobacterial biofilms forming microbial tufa.

 

J. Evan Ward Selective ingestion and egestion of plastic particles by the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) and eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica): implications for using bivalves as bioindicators of microplastic pollution.

 

 Fellowships:

Mackenzie Blanusa and Annalee Mears UConn Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF)

 

Elisabeth (Lissa) Giacalone Dominion Energy student internship, working in environmental compliance at Millstone Power Station, Waterford, CT

 

Vena Haynes Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from the UConn Graduate School

 

Gunnar Hansen Doctoral Student Travel Fellowship from the UConn Graduate School

 

Abigail Kwiat NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates through University of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory at the Plum Island Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research site

 

Kayla Mladinich Doctoral Student Travel Fellowship from the UConn Graduate School

 

Grants:

Julie Granger and Samantha Siedlecki Investigation of mechanisms leading to seasonal hypoxia in the Southern Benguela Upwelling System.

 

Rob Mason Collaborative Research: Constraining the role of chemical transformations in the cycling of mercury in the Arctic Ocean air-sea interface.

 

Samantha Siedlecki Assessment of the observing network to identify processes relevant to the predictability of the coastal ocean of the Northeast on centennial time scales, NOAA OAP.

 

Pieter Visscher 2019-2020 Synchrotron Soleil/CNRS-CEA: Spatial distribution of metals in microbialites as biosignatures: Linking the modern to the fossil record and search for life on Mars. Visscher (PI), Bouton (Co-PI); Fifteen shifts of beamtime in the Nanoscopium, Synchrotron Soleil, Paris, France.

 

 Awards:

Ann Bucklin Outstanding Achievement Award at ICES Annual Science Conference.

Ann Bucklin receiving award

 

Where are they now? Alumni Spotlight – Michelle Fogarty

michelle fogarty portrait
pictured, Dr. Michelle Fogarty

Despite the 2-hour time difference, Michelle Fogarty answers my Skype call with enthusiasm at 8:30am MDT. Michelle is a recent Marine Sciences alumna, who is now based in Boulder, Colorado working at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). While at UConn, she studied air-sea interactions with Dr. Melanie Fewings. She graduated with her PhD in 2018, and her dissertation is available online for those interested in learning more. We spoke about her job search process, her current position, and advice she has for current graduate students. Interviewer: Molly James

 

Molly: What is your current position?

Michelle: I am a Postdoctoral Researcher in Marine Energy Resource Characterization at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Flatirons Campus, in Boulder, CO. I’ve been there for 8 months, since February 2019. NREL is a DOE-owned, contractor operated national lab, and we work with industry and academic partners to accelerate the commercialization of renewable energy technologies and diversify the US’s energy portfolio.

 

Q: How did you hear about it?

Michelle: I remember seeing the posting online somewhere — probably on LinkedIn, the Coastal List listserv or the MPOWIR jobs board. But, I didn’t apply based on the posting because there was no contact information for the principal investigator (PI), only instructions for submitting an application through the online portal. Without being able to research more about the group I’d be working with, I didn’t pursue it further. Later when I attended the Mid-Atlantic Bight Physical Oceanography and Meteorology (MABPOM) conference, I spoke with an acquaintance who knew about the NREL position and offered to send an introductory email to the PI. After a phone call with the PI, I decided to apply.

 

Q: What was the hiring process like?

Michelle: Over the course of three months, October to December 2018, I submitted my cover letter and CV, had a phone interview with Human Resources, and visited Boulder for an in-person interview. During the in-person visit, I gave a 15-minute presentation and fielded questions from a group of about 10 people, which was followed by a 1-hour Q&A session with a smaller interview committee that covered a larger range of topics and allowed me to ask questions of them as well.  A few weeks later, I was offered the job. I drove from CT to CO and reported for work at the beginning of February [2019]. I think it’s worth pointing out that from a hiring standpoint, there’s a difference between being brought on as a researcher or as a postdoc. As a postdoc, the main focus is on building your professional capacity, and NREL is committed to providing opportunities and mentorship along the way.

 

Q: What are you researching?

Michelle: As a member of the Marine Hydrokinetic Energy (MHK) group within the Water Power team, I am working on tidal energy resource characterization. My first project is to calculate characteristic flow and turbulence statistics from data collected at the Western Passage site near Eastport, Maine and write a journal article describing the results. That data was collected before I began at NREL. I’m also working on preparations for another tidal energy site resource characterization field campaign in Cook Inlet, Alaska. The results of both projects will document relevant flow conditions at potential tidal energy sites, to be used to validate regional circulation models, and will help device simulation tools estimate realistic loads on tidal turbines. More recently, I’ve started to coordinate with outside partners to get two new wave buoys deployed in 2020 to increase our wave resource characterization efforts. I am motivated by knowing that the results of my research will be used to help solve real-world problems.

 

Q: What is your work life like and how does it differ from your experience during grad school?

Michelle: There is little obvious hierarchy at NREL on a day to day basis like there was in grad school (undergraduate students/graduate students/postdocs/staff/faculty, etc.). While I still do a lot of work independently, we work in teams. On a weekly basis I participate in more collaborative efforts than I typically did during grad school. I work with people at all stages in their careers, and the tasks I’m given are based on my skills, my willingness to participate, and my availability.

I work a 40-hour week and complete a time sheet that accounts for each hour of work and which project the work was associated with, so that’s quite a bit different than the grad school structure. It feels more like a consulting job, where you are required to bill out your hours to a specific project. I have a cubical, and most of my time is spent working independently at my desk, with various project-based and MHK or Water Power group meetings throughout the week. I will continue to attend conferences like Ocean Sciences to keep in touch with the network of people I developed during grad school, and will get to know a new community of people at marine energy related conferences, too.

 

Q: What advice do you have for current graduate students?

Michelle: Talk to as many people as possible, you never know which connection will turn out to be useful. Keep notes of those interactions. Start doing this as early in your graduate school career as possible so 1) you get comfortable with it and 2) you develop relationships out of genuine interest and aren’t making the initial attempt to network at the moment you need something. Talk with people who have jobs like the one you think you want and to people who have jobs you’re “sure” you have no interest in. Do this through informal conversations at conferences, at events that have nothing to do with work, and invite people you’ve met in person or found online to participate in informational interviews with you on the phone or in person. I highly recommend sending hand-written thank you notes after those informational interviews, too. I have always been impressed at how willing people are to give their time and sending a thank you card is a small way to show how much you appreciate the kindness.

Plastic pollution needs a new bioindicator

Stories about the impact of plastic pollution on marine organisms have been flooding the news with upsetting images of sea turtles with plastic straws stuck in their nostrils, and whales dying with tons of plastic in their stomachs. Besides large animals, plastic is potentially harming the creatures that wind up on our dinner plate, like bivalve shellfish. Bivalves filter ocean water to eat plankton, which suggests they are ingesting small plastic particles, called microplastics, every time they feed.

Researchers in UConn’s Department of Marine Sciences recently conducted a study exploring how common, commercial bivalves interact with microplastics when filter feeding. Ph.D. students Kayla Mladinich and Tyler Griffin, working with Professor J. Evan Ward, collected eastern oysters and blue mussels from Long Island Sound for laboratory experiments, in which they were exposed to plastic spheres and/or plastic threads of different sizes.

bivalves
Eastern oyster (left) and blue mussel (right).

For spheres, their findings show that both mussels and oysters always reject the largest-sized plastic spheres, but ingest and expel smaller ones. For threads, however, there was not a clear pattern between rejection or ingestion, and length.

Mladinich explains, “Bivalves are selective feeders. While they can capture particles of various sizes and shapes on their gills, they will not eat everything they are exposed to. They can ingest or reject certain particles based on the size, shape, and surface properties.”

Dr. Ward and his lab group have shown that bivalves are not passively ingesting all types of plastics, rather the size and shape of the plastic matter a lot. This finding has implications for using bivalves as bioindicators for plastic pollution in the ocean.

Bioindicators are species used to represent the concentrations of pollutants and contaminants in an environment. In the ocean, bivalves are already utilized to monitor and determine levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which can cause a variety of diseases in humans.

According to the World Health Organization, the most commonly encountered POPs are pesticides, industrial chemicals, and unintentional by-products of many industrial processes, such as DDT, PCB and PCDD, respectively. Recently, some scientists suggest also using bivalves as bioindicators for plastics pollution in the ocean.

feces and plastics figure
Difference between oysters and mussels feeding on microplastics (courtesy of publication).

According to the Ward lab, the criteria for a good microplastics bioindicator species include (1) being ubiquitous and relatively easy to collect; (2) interacting significantly with the surrounding environment through particle-feeding processes; and (3) ingesting, without bias, the majority of plastic particles in the environment.

Therefore, says Mladinich, “We should reconsider using bivalves as bioindicators for microplastics pollution, because as this study shows they capture, ingest, and reject plastic particles differentially. Bivalves are not consuming particles passively; they have selection mechanisms and bias.”

“If you went out and opened up a mussel or oyster and counted all the types and sizes of microplastic particles, you would not be getting an accurate representation of the microplastic load in that area,” added Griffin. “We should investigate other filter feeders that better satisfy our criteria.”

Unfortunately, mussels and oysters do not follow these criteria because they selectively consume some microplastics over others. Additional studies suggest that most plastics do not accumulate in shellfish tissues because they are readily eliminated on short timescales.  “Our study supports the idea that many plastic particles encountered by bivalves are either rejected prior to ingestion or rapidly egested in feces, so the instantaneous microplastic body burden of the animals is low,” explains Dr. Ward. Nonetheless, long-term effects of a low microplastic body burden in bivalves are not yet known.

More experiments are being conducted by Dr. Ward and his students that explore the impacts of microplastics on the gut microbiome of mussels, the selection of microscopic fibers depending on size and polymer type, and other topics.

Ward Lab 2019
The Ward Lab, summer 2019.