Examples of possible summer undergraduate research experiences (SUREs) or annual research training (ART)

The University of Puerto Rico-Rí­o Piedras Campus

1) Impact of pulse and press disturbances on seagrass community biodiversity and productivity:

Students will monitor pulse and press disturbances of seagrass habitats using an innovative aerial imaging system in conjunction with permanently deployed in situ sensors and quarterly habitat monitoring. The intensity and duration of these disturbance events will be correlated with seagrass community biodiversity, physiology, survival and resilience, incorporating both field and lab components across multiple disciplines from the organism to the molecular scale.

2) The role of physical forcing in modulating changes in benthic community structure:

Students will integrate the existing biological investigation of shallow coral reefs in St. John in collaboration with Dr. Pete Edmunds (California State University Northridge) with ongoing NOAA efforts in Puerto Rico to develop and deploy sensor technology in marine habitats (ADCP current meters and "smart" drogues) to resolve water motion on a scale relevant to understanding benthic processes, and pCO2 sensors to establish the capacity to understand the response of these habitats to rising atmospheric pCO2 and the evaluate the role of ocean acidification in nearshore benthic community structure, survivorship, and resilience.


3) Design of field-deployable biosensors for measuring chemical contaminants in seagrass beds and coral reefs:

Students will integrate nanotechnology, chemistry and environmental science to tackle the rising problem of nearshore pollutants and their impact on marine organisms as well as public health issues. Biosensors will be used in conjunction with studies on pulse and press disturbances as well as physical forcing.


4) Measurement of nonlethal effects of temperature, turbidity, and chemicals on seagrass and reef organisms using electrophysiological techniques:

Environmental neuroscience will provide a novel method to study the mechanisms and thresholds involved in community disturbances and therefore allow for better predictions of community trajectories under future global climate change scenarios. Students will work with model systems to test the effects of contaminants and temperature changes on neural or neuromuscular circuits in collaboration with the Institute of Neurobiology, UPR Medical Sciences.


5) Geomorphic Coastal system characterization using the integration of remote sensing and field work.

6) Assessment of beach profile changes at selected beaches in Puerto Rico

7) Land use changes and its impact on beach systems

8) Historical Shoreline changes in selected beach systems in Puerto Rico

9) The economic value of beach systems


University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus


Topic: Understanding Caribbean Natural Hazards: Sources, Dynamics, Distributions, and Impacts.

The Marine Science Department and Geology Department at the UPRM will host one summer REU site (10 weeks). The main topic of this REU site will focus on understanding the basic science concepts and social impacts of major natural hazards in the Caribbean region, such as earthquake, volcano, landslide, coastal erosion, hurricane, and tsunami. The REU site will include a one-week intensive lecture classes and two-week field trips. After that, students will work closely with a science mentor on a research project related to natural hazards. Many faculty members of the Marine Science Department and Geology Department at the UPRM campus have shown their interests in mentoring summer REU students. Our highest priority for REU students is not that they learn a lot about advanced geosciences, nor that they become experts in natural hazards study. Rather, our primary goal is that the students learn that geosciences are exciting processes of exploring, and that they become interested in geosciences. Thus, we hope that they can continue their study as graduate students in geosciences after they finish their Bachelors. Because of a lot of reasons, most of our Hispanic undergraduates get a job in other fields after they finish Bachelors in geology. A few go to graduate school but mostly not in geoscience majors. The geosciences have one of the worst records for attracting and retaining students from underrepresented groups in science.

1) GPS Landslide Monitoring

Landslides are one of the costliest natural hazards in Puerto Rico, as well as in the Unites States. Dr. Guoquan Wang at the Geology Department has been involved in a couple of landslide monitoring projects in Puerto Rico. He will mentor one REU research student (10 months per year). He had mentored a dozen of NSF REU research students. GPS landslide monitoring has become a very attractive research topic for undergraduates. Students like to "see" landslide movements through continuous or campaign GPS observations in a period of one semester. Many of his previous REU students are continuing their study in graduate school inspired by previous research experience.

2) Decadal-to-century-scale climate variability Study

Decadal-to-century-scale climate variability is presently receiving renewed attention as the IPCC has declared "Initialized Decadal Predictions" as one of its major goals for the Fifth Assessment. Hydrologic variability in particular is of great concern as the availability of water resources becomes increasingly stressed with global warming and growing populations.

Dr. Winter and his colleagues at the Marine Department at UPRM are studying Caribbean hydrologic variability spanning the last millennium using a network of speleothems (cave deposits) providing spatial coverage of most of the Caribbean. Dr Amos Winter will mentor one REU research student to work on sample collections and data processing. Climate change is one of the most attractive topics for undergraduates. Students like to work on this highly relevant topic and many may continue their graduate studies inspired by this research experience.

3) Coral Reef Study

Coral reefs are complex, biologically diverse ecosystems which are highly sensitive to environmental changes. Presently, coral reefs face numerous hazards and threats of both natural and anthropogenic origin. Dr. Clark Sherman will mentor one REU student working on coral reef study. The REU research aims to at provide the student with an awareness of coral reefs importance, development, current situation and the methodologies applied in their study. REU students will work on the following topics in different years: (a) Patterns of Holocene reef accretion on the insular shelf of Puerto Rico; (b) Sediment dynamics and reefs; (c) Man induced hazard to coral reef systems; (d) Coastal land use and reefs; (e) Relationships between coastal land use.

4) Sampling the Puerto Rico Trench

Although twelve people have walked on the Moon and numerous spacecraft are now exploring our solar system and beyond, very little in situ sampling of the Earth's oceanic trenches has occurred. Their general geographic remoteness and extreme bottom-pressures (>600 atmospheres) have made all sampling techniques difficult. The Puerto Rico Trench has begun to be sampled by low-cost, untethered free-vehicles that are being developed by Dr. Wilford Schmidt of the Department of Marine Sciences. Professor Schmidt will mentor a REU student from Engineering or Computer Science majors to develop free-vehicle research payloads and control circuits, such as vertebrate traps, sediment samplers and their actuators. This activity will not only familiarize the intern with the marine environment and oceanographic instrument design. It is also likely to result in a graduate career in Marine Sciences, where the student will develop a thesis based data and samples collected with the new free-vehicle research payloads.

5) Modeling the Distribution of Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs)

Mesophotic coral ecosystems occur along tropical slopes at depths of 40 to 100 m. While MCEs contain unique flora and fauna, they also serve as a refuge for shallow species whose numbers have declined markedly due to overfishing and other anthropogenic stresses. Dr. Appeldoorn, Department of Marine Sciences, will mentor a REU student to model the distribution of MCEs¸ with emphasis on corals, and then test their predictions. Students would first study the factors felt important in determining MCE location, while simultaneously learning the basics of Geographic Information Systems. Students will then explore the use of GIS and high-resolution bathymetry data to model the existence of known MCEs and use this to predict the location of new areas.

Texas A & M University

The Department of Geography currently has an REU Site project that takes undergrad students to conduct original research on the water cycle at the Soltis Center in Costa Rica. The GEO-STEP Center could potentially expand or extend this as part of a larger REU experience.


Topic: Impacts of Climate Variation and Change on the Gulf of Mexico Region Water Cycle

a) Evaluation of changing rainfall rates over time using historic hourly rainfall measurements from last 60 years, and satellite-derived rainfall rates using NASA TRMM datasets.

b) Evaluation of changing stream flows over time using historic gauge data from the USGS, Texas Water Development Board, Army Corps of Engineering, and other data sources.

c) Analysis of extreme hydrologic events and how they are changing in magnitude, frequency, and duration, using meteorological and hydrologic data from a variety of sources.

d) Analysis of changing biogeochemical cycles in coastal zones in response to changing temperatures and hydrologic regimes.

University of Texas, Arlington

1) Holocene/Pleistocene climate change from speleothems (UTA)

2) Permo-Triassic paleooceanography and mass extinction (UTA; field site in West Texas)

3) Environmental health (airborne particulates with emphasis on metals) (primarily funded through municipalities) (UTA)

4) Paleclimate and carbon cycle modeling (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum at 55 my bp; last deglaciation to present; future climate change) (UTA)

5) Fracturing and fracture density in the shallow crust (UTA)

6) Neotectonics of the circum-Caribbean (field sites in northeastern Caribbean; Lesser Antilles; Nicaragua; analysis at UTA or UPRM)

7) Eruption mechanisms and edifice failure of active volcanoes in the Caribbean (field sites at active Soufriere Hills volcano; volcanoes in circum-Caribbean; analysis at UTA)

8) Other GPS geodetic applications, such as land subsidence, vertical deformation rates and sea level change, hazard monitoring (also Caribbean most likely; analysis at UTA or UPRM)

9) Potential collaborations with faculty in Biology (ecosystems) and with faculty in the School of Urban and Public Affairs (sustainability)

California State University, San Bernardino

1) Plinian eruptions in the Caribbean-characteristics, eruptive mechanisms and assessment of associated hazards, specific examples include:

2) Roseau Tuff on Dominica

3) Grand Bay Ignimbrite, Dominica

4) Grand Savane Ignimbrite, Dominica

5) Chosieul and other Ignimbrites, St. Lucia

6) Hazard assessment of Dominica, based on recognition and location of thermo-seismic zones

7) Evaluation of hazards (volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, sea level rise) associated with locations of main population centers on Dominica, and generation of viable contingency plans

8) Granulometric and geochemical analysis of Wilson Creek Formation California

9) Geochronology of Dominica-dating of key samples to provide a better framework for the understanding of the geological evolution of the island, and the timing of the formation of a magma chamber of batholithic proportions that now underlies the island

10) Geochronology of early volcanism in east-central Nevada (Grant and Horse Ranges). Dating¨that has been done thus far on these early eruptive products was done¨primarily in the 1960s and was relatively low resolution, as well as sometimes being contradictory (i.e. units in stratigraphically younger positions give older dates than underlying units). Clearly, to¨properly understand the timing and correlation with regional units, accurate dates need to be produced.

11) Geochronology of synextensional sediments in east-central Nevada (Grant and Horse Ranges). The volcanic sequence mentioned above pre-dates extensional tectonics in this part of Nevada.  Once extension commenced, syntectonic sediments (Horse Camp Fm.) accumulated in fault-bounded basins.  These sediments contain undated ash fall tuff layers, which would provide valuable timing constraints on the initiation and evolution of faulting in this part of the Basin and Range province.

a. For both of these projects, the baseline geologic mapping has been done (Moores et al., 1968; J.E. Fryxell, unpublished data), so field work can focus on detailed mapping and on collecting samples for age-dating. In the lab, processing the samples from whole rocks to the appropriate component minerals is both a key component to the project and valuable for developing lab skills for the students. Samples would be sent to an appropriate lab facility for dating.

12) Chemosynthetic Halophiles in pink salt deposits at Cabo Rojo, PR and Searles Valley, CA: An astrobiology analog for potential life on Mars. This project is envisioned to involve collaboration of students from both California and Puerto Rico, with fieldwork at both sites. This work will be partially funded by a grant from the American Chemical Society through 2012. The sustainability of this research effort is anticipated through a grant from the NASA Minority Institution Research program.

13)Â Placer gold distribution and geochemical fingerprinting. This broad area of research is taking place in diverse locations ranging from Nicaragua, to Arizona, to California. There are many opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to join this work to identify the bedrock source of placer gold using trace element geochemistry, mineral inclusions, and thickness of high-purity gold enrichment rims on gold grains.

14) Studying the timing of Holocene and Pleistocene aggradational and incisional events on alluvial fans as a paleoclimate record. This work capitalizes on excavations and dating conducted for paleoseismic studies where there is very often a paleoclimate record that can also be deciphered.

15) Using GPS to monitor elastic strain deformation across the Pacific-North American plate boundary in the vicinity of San Bernardino

16) Using GPS to measure present-day crustal deformation in poorly instrumented areas near the eastern end of the Garlock fault

17) Using GPS to monitor and study slow-moving landslides in southern California

18) Field mapping of active faults in southern California aimed at measuring fault slip rates (northern San Jacinto fault, southern San Andreas fault, Garlock fault, North Frontal fault, Eastern California shear zone)

19) Paleoseismic trenching studies of active faults in southern California to determine recurrence patterns of prehistoric earthquakes and future seismic hazards. (McGill has 2 years of USGS funding for field expenses related to this project starting summer of 2011).

University of South Florida

Preface: the USF College of Marine Science would like to offer REUs as well as RETs, Research Experiences for Teachers, in an effort to advance Ocean Climate research and literacy that includes secondary educators. The rationale is to provide Ocean Global Climate Change Research Experiences for UG students and In-service Teachers designed to 1) improve competency for global climate change education, and 2) provide global climate change research experiences. We propose several possible hands-on experiences where UG students and in-service teachers will work alongside researchers either in field data collection or in laboratory analysis and compiling data. The emphasis will be placed on gaining experience and familiarity with the expertise needed for proper interpretation, compilation and analysis. There will also be opportunities to learn more about how these data are made available for the general public. The overarching goal is to inspire and prepare current undergraduate students and for teachers to motivate rising undergraduates towards geosciences careers through practical experiences in the ocean sciences.

Examples of primary research areas that could be pursued during REU-RET include a) ocean modeling and the use of satellites and in situ data to study sea level variations and climate change (Don Chambers), b) coral reefs as indicators of global climate change (e.g. ocean acidification) by studying both the geologic record and modern coral reefs, to gain insight not only into environments of the past and present, but also the effects of human activities on future tropical benthic ecosystems (Pam Hallock-Muller), c) the role of ocean circulation in past global climate change, specifically sedimentary records of Earth's changing environment and biota, on time frames ranging from the early Cenozoic to the present (Ben Flower) and, d) ocean observing systems that combine real-time ocean observations with numerical models of ocean currents and processes and their application to various problems ranging from water quality in estuaries to variability in large-scale ocean circulation and its relation to climate change (Gary Mitchum. The USGS Center for Watershed Studies can provide research experiences compiling coastal change hazards data, field work in mangrove forests and other coastal habitats, phenology data analysis and/or compilation and collection. Sharing these concepts with UG students and teachers in a research environment will provide great insight that expands knowledge as well as an understanding of how science informs policy makers.

USF CMS faculty who could provide summer REU and RETs include Don Chambers, Pam Hallock-Muller, Ben Flower, and USGS-CCWS scientist (TBD; specifically phenology research). Other CMS faculty who may serve as Science Advisors for the Faculty and Professional Development modules, include Gary Mitchum and Frank Muller-Karger, as well as climate change scientists at the USGS Center for Watershed Studies.

University of the Virgin Islands

1) Measurement of Particulate Organic Material and Erosion Rates in Small Subtropical Watersheds on the East End of St. Croix, USVI

Increased sedimentation in near shore coastal habitats resulting from anthropogenic activities continues to be one of the main stressors threatening near shore habitats throughout the US Virgin Islands. Current research is underway in the US Virgin Islands in an effort to better understand the relationships between increased terrestrial sediment inputs and the degradation of receiving marine ecosystems. Specific objectives included in the current research are 1.) to quantify the impact of anthropogenic activities in increasing sediment; and 2.) to asses relationships between terrestrial sediment input and marine conditions. This research focuses on net sediment yields and does not partition those yields into organic and inorganic components. The transport of particulate organic matter is important in understanding threats of eutrophication by increased loading of organic material into the bays. An extensive field study, located in the small watershed of the East End Bay in St. Croix is designed to quantify and compare terrestrial sediment inputs into the downstream receiving waters from natural areas and from disturbances due to trail installation and usage. Currently, sixteen silt fences and a tipping bucket rain gauge are installed at the study site. The scope of this proposal is to broaden the study area by adding four additional silt fences and an additional rain gauge in Isaacs Bay, which will allow for more intensive sediment sampling and to quantify the transport of particulate organic matter. Subsamples taken from the total sediment yield samples will be sieved to determine particle-size distribution and analyzed for organic content, using the Loss on Organic method. Given that studies are currently underway in the East End Bay watershed in St. Croix regarding sediment loading in near shore marine environments, additional funds to supplement that effort would provide a missing link to better understand the relationships between terrestrial sediment inputs and coastal habitat conditions. Thereby the specific proposed objectives are (1) to quantify particulate organic material present in sediment samples collected from all sediment traps in East End Bay and Isaacs Bay and (2) to quantify the effects that land disturbance, in the form of a foot trail, affects the production of organic material by surface erosion.


2) Resilient socio-ecological systems: the case of USVI coral reefs": coral reefs are affected by multiple anthropogenic impacts, including overfishing, water quality degradation, and increase in acidity and temperature of seawater. The cumulative effect of these impacts has led to a phase shift from coral reefs to algal reefs throughout the Caribbean during the last forty years. It has been estimated that USVI coral reefs, in particular are 40% away from ecological extinction. Our research project aims to assess the degree of dependence of USVI people on coral reefs and the availability of alternative resources to evaluate the resilience of the socioecological system: USVI people-coral reef resources.


3) "Increase in Bioerosion as a harbinger of Acidification on coral reefs": increase in acidity of seawater is expected to decrease the calcification rate and increase the dissolution rate of calcifying organisms, including corals. Yet, bioerosion rates are critically missing from the Caribbean basin. Our project aims at quantifying bioerosion rates on coral reefs at different depths.

4) Population dynamics of Diadema antillarum. Between 1977 and 2001, hard coral cover declined by 80% on Caribbean coral reefs. The steepest decline was in the 1980s and coincided with the massive die-off of a dominant herbivore, the long-spined urchin Diadema antillarum. The Diadema die-off facilitated the decline by allowing macroalgae to flourish. Although Diadema antillarum is a keystone herbivore in coral reef systems, little is known about its early life-history in Caribbean waters. This herbivore removes macroalgae that inhibit coral recruitment and smothers adult coral colonies. Thus, the Caribbean-wide die-off of Diadema from disease in the 1980s had a dramatic impact on reef ecosystems. Despite the importance of managing the recovery of D. antillarum for the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems, critical information is missing on: (1) distribution of juvenile D. antillarum, (2) patterns of larval supply and (3) potential nursery habitats. The REU student would estimate urchin density in shallow waters at a variety of locations around the island, collect data from larval settlement traps at different locations, and conduct laboratory experiments to test feeding preferences and habitat selection of juvenile urchins. These baseline data will be very important as reef managers assess the future of the system in the face of climate change.


5) The effects of climate change on synchrony of spawning and larval dispersal patterns in the Virgin Islands.


6) The effects of climate change on synchrony of spawning and larval dispersal patterns in the Virgin Islands. Students will examine the influence of climate change on water temperature and current patterns at two well known spawning aggregation sites in the USVI and the effects of these environmental changes on the reproductive behavior of adults and the subsequent dispersal and settlement patterns of larvae.