Coastal Research in Environmental Science and Technology

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Faculty Bios

 

Dr. Mark Borelli

Dr. Jennifer L. Bowen

Dr. Robert Bowen

Dr. Jarrett Byrnes

Dr. Robert Chen

Dr. Alan Christian

Dr. Ellen Douglas

Professor John Duff

Dr. Ron Etter

Dr. Allen Gontz

Dr. Steven Gray

Dr. Robyn Hannigan

Dr. ZhongPing Lee

Dr. Sarah Oktay

Dr. Karen Ricciardi

Dr. Helen Poynton

Dr. William Robinson

Dr. Randi Rotjan

Dr. Crystal Schaaf

Dr. Michael Tlusty

Dr. Juanita Urban-Rich

Professor Jack Wiggin

Dr. Meng Zhou

 

FACULTY RESEARCH INTERESTS

 

Dr. Mark Borelli

Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, mborrelli@coastalstudies.org

Dr. Borelli's research interests are in Coastal Geology; Non-Cohesive Sediment Transport; Seafloor Mapping

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Dr. Jennifer L. Bowen
Biology, jennifer.bowen@umb.edu

Fields of study: microbial ecology, microbial diversity, ecosystems ecology, urban ecosystems, aquatic biogeochemistry, salt marsh and estuarine ecology, functional genomics of nitrogen cycling bacteria and archaea.

Dr. Bowen is interested in all aspects of the interaction between humans and the environment. My work runs the gamut from modeling how changing land use on watersheds alters the geochemistry of receiving waters to understanding how climate change and ocean acidification will alter the structure and function of microbial communities. In particular Dr. Bowen has focused on both how human activities are altering the structure and function of microbial communities and in turn how microbial communities can help ameliorate pollution from human sources.

This summer Dr. Bowen will be focusing her research efforts in four areas. 1) assessing the role that urbanization of watersheds plays in microbial diversity of coastal waters, 2) looking at differences between sediment and water column microbial systems in estuarine sediments, 3) assessing which groups of bacteria (nitrifiers or denitrifiers) are primarily responsible for N2O fluxes from salt marshes by simultaneously measuring rates of nitrification/denitrification, and examining genes specific for those processes (this may be a bit too advanced for an REU), and 4) trying to isolate and culture denitriifers from the environment.  

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Dr. Robert Bowen
School for the Environment, bob.bowen@umb.edu

Dr. Robert Bowen’s research addresses the evolution of Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) practices. ICM is an emerging area of policy analysis which attempts to assess the development of management practices which respond to the environmental pressures of expanding resource exploitation and new, multiple and often competing human uses of coastal areas. Students working with Dr. Bowen may explore: The role of various regulatory mechanisms in the identification and reduction of public health risk from contaminated seafood; The impact of environmental contamination on the management and development of urban ports; and, development of urban ports; and, The influence of coastal environmental factors in the building of regional economic development strategies. 

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Dr. Jarrett Byrnes

Biology, jarrett.byrnes@umb.edu

Dr. Byrnes research focuses on the causes and consequences of complexity in nature. Dr. Byrnes is interested in how humans alter the diversity and interconnectedness of life on earth. Understanding how these changes alter the services that nature provides is a critical need as we watch ecosystem after ecosystem collapse. Dr. Byrnes studies these questions in the ocean because, let's face it, the sheer number and diversity of species in the oceans is astounding.

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Dr. Robert Chen
School for the Environment, bob.chen@umb.edu

Dr. Robert Chen’s research interests include 1) identification of sources and transformations of colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in the ocean, 2) real-time measurements of physical, chemical and biological parameters in near-shore coastal environments and watersheds with wireless sensor networks, 3) factors controlling water quality in coastal oceans, 4) carbon cycling in coastal ecosystems, and 5) development of effective education and outreach practices to integrate research and education. Undergraduate research opportunities exist for developing new instruments, ocean and watershed field work, chemical analysis with modern instrumentation, and educational research.

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Dr. Alan Christian
Biology, alan.christian@umb.edu

Dr. Alan Christian’s research lab is interested in understanding fundamental and applied questions regarding the ecology of freshwater ecosystems with an emphasis on understanding the role of mussels in freshwater ecosystems. Students working in his research lab receive broad training in field and laboratory techniques associated with freshwater ecology. Research projects in his lab range from 1) molecular ecology using DNA sequencing and microsatellite analysis of freshwater organisms (e.g. kinship and paternity analysis in freshwater mussels), 2) species and size selection by freshwater mussel predators, 3) food web and trophic analysis of freshwater mussels and other aquatic organisms, 4) ecological stoichiometry and nutrient recycling in aquatic organisms, and 5) nutrient limitation and primary production in coastal streams (e.g. investigation of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus and their role in limiting primary production).  

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Dr. Ellen Douglas
School for the Environment, ellen.douglas@umb.edu

Dr. Ellen Douglas’ research has involved the analysis of regional to global scale hydrologic processes and the impacts of human water use (particularly agricultural irrigation) on the hydrologic cycle. Specific research activities include quantifying non-sustainable water use globally, identifying the role of water scarcity in social conflict in Africa, and investigating the impacts of moisture fluxes from irrigation on land-atmosphere interactions in India. At UMass Boston, she developed a research program that also includes sustainable water use and water management issues at the watershed to regional scale. Specific areas of interest include quantifying the impacts of agricultural irrigation on the global water cycle, estimating the impacts of climate change on coastal systems, and monitoring the effects of river restoration activities. Dr. Douglas has mentored undergraduates on projects ranging from groundwater flow on the property of Nantucket Biological Field Station, Mystic River GIS restoration models, an honors thesis investigation extreme precipitation in New England over the past 50 years, groundwater overuse in southern India, an international project on hydrology of the Spiti River Valley in the Indian Himalayas, and monitoring river restoration in a coastal stream in Massachusetts (Red Brook). 

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Professor John Duff
School for the Environment, john.duff@umb.edu

Professor John Duff’s research interests are in ocean and coastal law and policy; environmental policy and management; international law of the sea; land and ocean use. Broadly speaking, his research interests revolve around matters related to ocean and coastal policy; marine resource management; ocean zoning; land use; and the laws and policies related to public and/or common property interests. Recent research efforts have included examinations of some of the following questions: What are the relative legal authorities of towns, states and federal government in the ocean? How can environmental laws be fashioned to work at an ecosystem level? Will stretches of US ocean space be ""for sale"" in the future? How will legal and regulatory systems respond to technological developments and evolving uses of the ocean? How can property lines be drawn in dynamic coastal areas? Will the United States ever join the Law of the Sea Convention? How do insurance markets influence land use and coastal hazard mitigation efforts? Can state and federal authorities fashion effective relationships to manage and protect the coasts? How can countries manage trans-boundary marine resources?

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Dr. Ron Etter
Biology, ron.etter@umb.edu

Dr. Ron Etter’s research laboratory explores fundamental questions about the evolutionary origins, radiation and geographic spread of deep-sea organisms. The deep sea is a vast and complex ecosystem that supports a surprisingly rich and highly endemic fauna, yet virtually nothing is known about how evolution unfolds in this remote environment. Dr. Etter uses molecular genetic techniques to quantify geographic and bathymetric patterns of genetic variation, and to test hypotheses about gene flow, dispersal, population differentiation, speciation and the nature and scale of isolating mechanisms. Dr. Etter also uses geographically referenced phylogenetic analyses to test hypotheses about how the deep ocean was colonized. For example, his lab is exploring whether the deep-sea molluscan fauna evolved from numerous independent colonizations from coastal progenitors, or from an in situ radiation. Students will be involved in exploring basic evolutionary questions at different geographic, bathymetric and taxonomic scales.

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Dr. Allen Gontz
School for the Environment, allen.gontz@umb.edu

Dr. Allen Gontz’s research interest is in coastal geological evolution. Landscapes change over time based on the driving forces applied to the landscape and the nature of the resisting forces of the lithology and structure of the landscape. The actions of these changes lead to the development of characteristic sedimentological and stratigraphic signatures in the shallow subsurface that can be deciphered and dated. High-resolution shallow-earth geophysical methods can be employed to read the record of change in the subsurface. Research in his lab focuses on the investigation of changes to the landscape within the Quaternary that are primarily the result of changing sea-level and anthropogenic impacts.

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Dr. Steven Gray

School for the Environment, steven.gray@umb.edu

Dr. Steven Gray’s research focuses on the human dimensions of natural resources and environmental learning.  More specifically, he is interested in common-pool resource management, participatory modeling, learning within social-ecological systems, fisheries management, and coastal planning.  Dr. Gray has relocated to UMass Boston this summer, but at the already has several research projects on the ground in Boston such as sustaining ecological communities through citizen science and online collaboration.   At the University of Hawaii Dr. Gray has mentored 5 graduate and 6 undergraduate students in independent study or honors or graduate thesis research.  

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Dr. Robyn Hannigan
School for the Environment, robyn.hannigan@umb.edu

Dr. Robyn Hannigan’s research centers on studying past and future “Strangelove Ocean” phenomena, specifically changes in biomineralization during times of ocean acidification and low productivity. Research projects include 1) the formation of structure biominerals such as fish otoliths (ear stones) under high CO2 conditions, 2) reconstructing of environmental life histories using the chemistry of biominerals (whale baleen, terrapin shells, fish otoliths), 3) reconstructing ocean pH and ocean dissolved CO2 in ancient marine sediments using biomineral proxies (Permo-Triassic boundary, paleoclimate of the Boston Harbor), and 4) developing undergraduate research activities to broaden diversity in discipline and participation. Undergraduate research opportunities exist for students to reconstruct the paleoclimate of the Boston Harbor using fossilized biominerals including fish ear stones and teeth, reconstruction of the Permo-Triassic ocean chemistry using biomineral proxies preserved in rocks. Students will gain experience with fundamental analytical skills including mass spectrometry as well as depth of understanding of past, current and future coastal ocean chemistry.

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Dr. Zhong Ping Lee

School for the Environment, ZhongPing.Lee@umb.edu

Dr. ZhongPing Lee is interested in 1) how the light field changes in a natural environment (radiative transfer), 2) development of effective tools that use the light information to retrieve important environmental properties (remote sensing), and 3) application of remotely sensed products to study the ocean/Earth system. We also conduct various field measurements to study physical and bio-geochemical processes in the oceans, as well as using these “sea truths” to validate satellite products.

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Dr. Sarah Oktay

Nantucket Field Station, School for the Environment, sarah.oktay@umb.edu

Dr. Oktay is a coastal and marine geochemist.  Her research interests include: quantifying nitrogen and phosphate source functions into freshwater, groundwater, and coastal environments; examining the fluxes and inventories of radioactive iodine in riverine and atmospheric samples; iodine dating of nearshore sedimentary deposits; usage of radioactive tracers in natural environments to date sediments and calculate particle input fluxes; tracing processes concerning colloidal, dissolved, and particulate size fractionation of organic carbon; and quantifying trace metal interactions in estuarine and coastal environments. Currently, Dr. Oktay runs a Nantucket-based research program on hydrological and coastal processes unique to the island in addition to facilitating biodiversity research, investigating the bay scallop ecological requirements and life cycle, monitoring eutrophication and associated nutrient influxes, tracking mosquito borne disease vectors, and surveying control methods for exotic invasive plant species among other topics.

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Dr. Karen Ricciardi

School for the Environment, karen.ricciardi@umb.edu

Dr. Ricciardi studies optimization methods used in systems where input parameters are subject to variability. This is related to groundwater research in the area of remediation designing. Groundwater flow is dependent upon the hydraulic conductivity of the medium through which it flows. Unfortunately, hydraulic conductivity is very difficult to measure accurately. Dr. Ricciardi's research explores a novel method used to address the variability of hydraulic conductivity in determining optimal remediation designs. Dr. Ricciardi also has explored a new algorithm for determining global optimal solutions to complex numeric problems with multiple local minima.  

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Dr. Helen Poynton
School for the Environment, helen.poynton@umb.edu

Dr. Helen Poynton’s research focuses on applying genomics to better understand sub-lethal effects of environmental pollutants and uncover molecular biomarkers that can be used to detect environmental pollutants and understand their bioavailability. Her focus areas include: 1) Developing molecular biomarkers as detection tools for emerging contaminants including nanoparticles and use them to understand the bioavailability of nanoparticles in environmental matrices and 2) Using genomics to understand the molecular pathways affected by environmental pollutants including metals, nanoparticles and pesticides and relate them to whole organism or population level effects.

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Dr. William Robinson
School for the Environment, william.robinson@umb.edu

Dr. William Robinson’s research addresses functional mechanisms in aquatic toxicology, particularly those processes involved in metal uptake, depuration, sequestration and internal transport. This work focuses on two groups of marine organisms - bivalve molluscs (mussels and clams) and tunicates (ascidians). My students, collaborating researchers and I are investigating several mechanisms (physiological, biochemical and molecular) that bivalve molluscs and tunicates utilize in response to specific metals. Ongoing and past studies have addressed metal bioavailability, detoxification and the circulatory transport of metal ion complexes in both bivalves and tunicates. We have also conducted research aimed at advancing monitoring techniques, using the biomarker approach and the marine mussel transplant approach, in Boston Harbor and regional embayments.

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Dr. Randi Rotjan

New England Aquarium, rrotjan@neaq.org

Dr. Randi Rotjan’s research at the New England Aquarium focuses on various ecological processes governing marine ecosystem structuring. Many of these processes touch on areas of symbiosis, food webs and trophodynamics, behavioral ecology, and conservation biology. Since key ecosystem engineers (specifically foundation species) have a disproportionate influence on ecosystem structure, we focus on factors and processes that influence their performance. Dr. Rotjan research group uses exploratory observations combined with careful, manipulative experiments to discover the patterns and uncover the mechanisms guiding these dynamics. Specifically, they integrate field observations and lab experiments together with models to investigate factors that regulate the performance of marine ecosystem engineers and the cascading influence on ecosystem structure. Within this context, our research distills to 4 main themes: 1) Symbioses in key ecosystem engineers and foundation species; 2)  Fish-coral interactions on tropical reef; 3) Behavioral ecology of marine organism; and 4)  Conservation ecology in marine environments.  Dr. Rotjan research program has been supported by working with numerous undergraduate interns through the prominent New England Aquarium internship program. 

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Dr. Crystal Schaaf
School for the Environment, crystal.schaaf@umb.edu

Dr. Schaaf is working on the development and use of operational products from NASA's MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) to monitor the Earth's environments from the Terra and Aqua polar-orbiting space platforms.  She is a science team member for both MODIS and the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor on board the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership platform (NPP is the precursor to the next generation of national meteorological satellites). Dr. Schaaf's current interests include modeling reflectance anisotropy and albedo and using remote sensing data to reconstruct and and monitor the reflectance characteristics of various land surfaces, including vegetation phenology and land surface change. More recently she has also been involved in the development and use of ground-based lidar systems to characterize biomass and vegetation structure.

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Dr. Michael Tlusty

New England Aquarium, mtlusty@neaq.org

Dr. Micheal Tlusty’s research at the New England Aquarium focuses on aquaculture, and the integration of new technological advanced into current production scenarios, analysis of disease looking at changes in host susceptibility as a result of changes in the environment, the production of fish for the pet trade, and leveraging large companies to improve the ecological footprint of seafood production.  Current projects include: 1) the influence of increased temperature on the onset of shell disease in American lobsters, 2) rearing marine ornamental fish with extended larval periods; 3)  ecological and economic sustainability of freshwater ornamental fisheries; 4)  and advisory services to improve environmental friendliness of aquaculture produced seafood products.   Dr. Tlusty’s research program has been supported by working with numerous undergraduate interns through the prominent New England Aquarium internship program

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Dr. Juanita Urban-Rich
School for the Environment, Juanita.urban-rich@umb.edu

Dr. Juanita Urban-Rich’s research interests and focus is on coastal zooplankton distribution and their inputs to particulate and dissolved carbon cycles and on global environmental education. Zooplankton are an important trophic link to many commercial fisheries and to the North Atlantic Right Whale in Massachusetts Bay. In order to better understanding their distribution and grazing habits, she has research projects looking at coastal plankton distributions and the influence of the freshwater inputs on these communities. Additionally, she has found that zooplankton excrete a unique humic-like compound that can be detected using fluorescence spectrophotometry. Dr. Urban-Rich has ongoing research involving both field and laboratory work on the development and testing of a fluorometer to measure in situ zooplankton inputs to fluorescent dissolved organic matter (FDOM) is continuing in the Virgin Islands and in Massachusetts Bay.  

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Professor Jack Wiggin

Urban Harbors Institute, School for the Environment, jack.wiggin@umb.edu

Mr. Jack Wiggin is the director of the Urban Harbors Institute (UHI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston utilizes policy, scientific, planning, and management expertise to assist governments and communities address the complexities and issues associated with harbors and coastal areas.  As a research institute at the university, UHI brings a comprehensive well-balanced and academic approach to providing expert advice on environmental problems and issues. The institute offers technical assistance and advisory services in fields such as urban planning, coastal and harbor planning, natural resource management, marine industry master planning, water transportation and geographical information systems.  While UHI generally focuses on urban marine and watershed issues in New England, we have worked with governments, non-government organizations, and marine industry representatives throughout the US and internationally.  In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the School for the Environment at UMass Boston, Mr. Wiggin also has had numerous paid and unpaid interns work with him at UHI and has been an active mentor in the CREST REU program.

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Dr. Meng Zhou
School for the Environment, meng.zhou@umb.edu

Dr. Meng Zhou’s research focuses on small and mesoscale physical processes and their effects on spatiotemporal variability of chemical and biological processes in aquatic ecosystems by using observation tools, numerical models, and mathematical theories. He is particularly interested in integrating observations, models, and mathematical theories with will lead to better understandings of the ecosystems and better ecosystem models. He is also interested in zooplankton population dynamics, aggregation behavior, and patch dynamics.

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