2017 Gulf Research Program Fellows|
Early-Career Research Fellows
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
East Boothbay, ME
Research Summary: When oil is released into the environment through oil spills the chemical makeup of the oil dramatically changes over a matter of weeks. This process forms vast amounts of oil transformation products. Although these products can remain in the environment for years, neither their chemical makeup nor their toxic properties are known or accounted for in current oil spill assessment practices. By using advanced analytical methods, toxicity assays, and computational methods, Dr. Aeppli’s research is helping to understand the formation, fate, and effects of oil transformation products. This knowledge will lead to an improved assessment of the impacts that oil spills have on humans and the environment.
Biography: Dr. Aeppli is an environmental chemist and a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, where he studies the sources, fate, and effect of pollutants in the ocean. Dr. Aeppli has studied oil weathering at natural oil seeps, in Arctic conditions, and after major oil spills, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He received his master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Berne, Switzerland, in 2002 and his doctorate in environmental chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in 2008. He was awarded postdoctoral fellowships from the Swiss National Science Foundation that took him to Stockholm University, where he investigated the dynamics of naturally produced halogenated compounds, and to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he studied biodegradation and photooxidation of petroleum hydrocarbons. Dr. Aeppli has published more than 25 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
University of Arizona
Research Summary: When natural disasters like hurricanes strike, communities may or may not bounce back or otherwise recover quickly. Decisions individuals make relative to available resources such as money, information, and time can affect the resilience level and, ultimately, disaster losses. As an economist, Dr. Bakkensen researches individual responses, overall community resilience, and policy responses in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Her research informs policy on public insurance and regulation, pre- and post-disaster aid, severe weather warnings, and public adaptation projects.
Biography: Dr. Bakkensen is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Government and Public Policy, where she uses applied microeconomic and econometric techniques to analyze the economics of natural disasters, identifying current hazard risks and evidence of adaptation to damages and fatalities across the globe. Her research has been published in journals including the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, Nature Climate Change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Risk Analysis. Dr. Bakkensen received her Ph.D. in environmental and natural resource economics from Yale University in 2014. She also holds an M.Phil. in environmental and natural resource economics from Yale University, an M.Sc. in environment and development from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a B.A. in economics from Whitman College. She was previously a visiting researcher at the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change in Venice, Italy, and received a Fulbright Teaching Grant to South Korea. Dr. Bakkensen is also a volunteer National Weather Service SKYWARN severe weather spotter and a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson.
Franklin and Marshall College
Research Summary: How is anthropogenic environmental change affecting marine organisms now and how will it affect them in the future? Dr. Harnik has taken the approach of analyzing both current species as well as preserved organisms, including those in the marine fossil record, for causes and consequences of extinction in the oceans. Most recently, Dr. Harnik and his students have been working in the northern Gulf of Mexico comparing live populations of mollusks with the remains of historical populations preserved on the seafloor to establish pre-industrial biological baselines for these communities and to assess the effects of different human activities on coastal ecosystems.
Biography: Paul Harnik is an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Franklin and Marshall College. He received his B.A. in geology from Oberlin College and his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Chicago. He conducted postdoctoral research in the Department of Geological Sciences at Stanford University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC. Dr. Harnik’s doctoral and postdoctoral research focused on understanding extinction risk in the oceans through analyses of the marine fossil record. At Franklin and Marshall, his research has focused increasingly on the links between modern, historical, and ancient marine systems with the goal of advancing our understanding of the biological consequences of current and future anthropogenic environmental change. Dr. Harnik’s articles have been published in journals such as Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Dr. Harnik is also very involved in undergraduate and pre-college STEM education and is developing an outreach program for junior high school students focused on reconstructing human-environment interactions in the Gulf through the lens of radiocarbon-dated skeletal remains and the visual arts.
Case Western Reserve University
Research Summary: Dr. Heo’s research is focused on minimizing risks in on- and offshore oil and gas systems. These systems are exposed to severe operating conditions and weather and their successful function is critical to averting cascading disasters that can significantly impact human health and well-being, the economy, and the environment. As an engineer, she uses a variety of tools, including modeling and simulations, to investigate multi-hazard risks for the complex energy infrastructure systems that are subject to constantly changing stresses. By aiming to maintain safe operating conditions of these essential energy infrastructure facilities, her work contributes to both resilient infrastructure and communities.
Biography: Dr. Heo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. She received her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Davis in 2009. She has expertise in modeling and simulation of probabilistic risk-based system-level performance for complex structures subjected to dynamic loads. From 2010 to2013 she worked at the Offshore Technology R&D Center of Samsung Heavy Industries, where she examined diverse multi-hazard problems for offshore oil and gas process systems exposed to severe weather and operation conditions. Dr. Heo holds three patents for offshore structural systems and was the recipient of the 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Norman Medal for her co-authored paper published in the ASCE Journal of Structural Engineering. She has contributed to advances in hazard and risk mitigation through numerous professional activities including reviewing papers and proposals, organizing sessions at major international conferences, and serving as an active member of several technical committees in ASCE, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Fire and Blast Information Group (FABIG),and others. She has served as secretary of the ASCE-SEI (Structural Engineering Institute) Multihazard Mitigation Committee since 2015 and served on the scientific committee of ASME OMAE (International Conference on Ocean, Offshore & Arctic Engineering) since 2016.
Florida A&M University
Research Summary: Coastal marine ecosystems like estuaries are subject to a range of anthropogenic stressors such as chemical pollutants and microplastics. Dr. Martínez-Colón takes a novel approach to studying these challenges, focusing on a type of single-celled organisms called foraminifera (shelled protists), which have calcium carbonate skeletons and tend to live in sediments. These organisms accumulate toxins like heavy metals and organic pollutants and the degree of accumulation and community changes are used as an indicator of stress response to toxins. Martínez-Colón’s work is focused on developing a multi-level mechanistic understanding of these processes, thereby providing a greater understanding of the ecological and environmental impacts of pollutants, especially in tropical marine environments.
Biography: Dr. Martínez-Colón is presently an Assistant Professor in the School of the Environment at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a Courtesy Professor in the Department of Environmental Science at the University of South Florida (USF), and adjunct faculty (summer) at the Savannah River Field Station (Aiken, SC). He received his Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of South Florida and both a B.S. and M.S. in geology from the University of Puerto Rico. His research expertise is in coastal ecosystems, specifically coastal and marine ecology and biogeochemistry, and his research portfolio examines numerous aspects of environmental micropaleontology, geochemistry, and pollutants in conjunction with bioindicators in short- and long-term monitoring efforts. Martínez-Colón is also an Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Water and Air Quality at FAMU, a Research Advisory Committee Member at the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Puerto Rico, a board member of the Savannah River Environmental Science Field Station (Aiken, SC) and the Rock Detective Geoscience Education Program. He has received several awards, including the USF/Tampa Bay Parrot Head Endowed Fellowship, USF Successful Latino Student Award, National Scholars Honor Society membership, Universidad del Este Presidential Award, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Minority Ph.D. Program Scholar award. He was also the U.S. representative at the International Year of Planet Earth in Portugal in 2009.
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
Research Summary: Coastal communities all over the world are facing various levels of chronic and acute stressors, many of which are and will be exacerbated by sea level rise. Dr. Mostafavi takes a “system of systems” approach to studying this problem. He bridges the boundaries between complex systems science, network theory, and civil infrastructure systems in a way that he hopes will foster resilient, smart, and connected communities. His work creates complex system models of coastal communities that contribute to actionable science that is necessary for adaptation planning.
Biography: Dr. Mostafavi is an Assistant Professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. He received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Purdue University in August 2013. He also holds a Master of Science in Industrial Administration (one-year accelerated MBA) degree from the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. Dr. Mostafavi supervises the Infrastructure System-of-Systems (I-SoS) Research Group. He also works closely with community partners, such as the Southeast Florida Climate Compact, to extend the broader impacts of his research. Dr. Mostafavi is an author of more than 75 scholarly journal and conference papers and has received multiple awards for research creativity and impacts.
University of South Florida
Research Summary: Dr. Murphy is an expert in fluid mechanics whose research has biological, ecological, and environmental applications. For example, he has worked on crude oil spill dispersion in marine environments and potential human health effects of exposure to oily marine aerosols. Through a variety of methods, including advanced flow visualization and measurement techniques, he has also investigated zooplankton swimming, insect flight, and prosthetic heart valves. In a recent project, he explored the swimming of sea butterflies, also known as pteropods. The specifics of their movement may help inspire the design of new micro aerial vehicles.
Biography: Dr. Murphy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of South Florida. He completed a double B.S. in mechanical and biomedical engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2004, an M.Phil. in biological science from Cambridge University in 2005, and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. He received his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Georgia Tech in 2012. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. His research has been featured in national publications like the New York Times as well as in the 2016 documentary, Dispatches from the Gulf, narrated by Matt Damon. He is an active member of the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics and recently received two research awards from the National Academies of Science Keck Futures Initiative.
Texas A&M University, Galveston
Research Summary: Dr. Ross studies the vulnerability of coastal communities to natural disasters and other hazards and how to make them more resilient. As a political scientist, she approaches these challenges from a public administration and policy perspective. She is specifically interested in exploring how the public perceives risk for a variety of coastal hazards, including flooding and climate change. She then uses this information to inform improved policies with the goal of enhancing community resilience. Dr. Ross is also interested in understanding the big picture of how civil society, the private sector, and local government interact to build community adaptive capacity for disaster resilience.
Biography: Dr. Ross is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences and a faculty fellow with the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University at Galveston. Her research examining coastal hazards from a public administration and policy perspective has produced the book, Local Disaster Resilience: Administrative and Political Perspectives (2013, Routledge), which explores new directions in governance scholarship. Dr. Ross was a 2014 National Science Foundation (NSF) Next Generation of Hazard and Disasters Researchers Program fellow. Her work on Gulf Coast disaster resilience has also been supported by the Department of Homeland Security. She holds an M.A. in political science from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. in political science from Texas A&M University. Before joining Texas A&M University at Galveston, she was an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University Corpus-Christi and Sam Houston State University. She serves as the lead for the discovery area of Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience with the Institute of Sustainable Communities at Texas A&M University.
Auburn University at Montgomery
Research Summary: Dr. Shao studies the interactions between nature and society. Her research encompasses the human dimensions of climate change, environmental risk perceptions, community resilience to environmental hazards, environmental policies and planning, and impacts of climate change on public health. She applies many quantitative methods in her research, including geospatial analyses and statistical analyses and the interdisciplinary nature of her research leads her to work across traditional disciplinary lines. She has worked with scholars in a wide range of fields, including climatology, political science, sociology, communication, civil engineering, statistics, and economics.
Biography: Dr. Shao is an Assistant Professor of Geography and GIS at Auburn University at Montgomery where her primary research interests are the interaction between nature and society. She received her B.S. in geography from Jilin University (China) and M.P. in planning from the University of Wyoming. While pursuing her Ph.D in geography at Louisiana State University, Shao was a research assistant for the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, which is funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Shao worked as a Coastal Resources Scientist at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) in Louisiana. Her work has been published in many journals, including Water Research, International Journal of Climatology, Risk Analysis, and Weather, Climate, and Society.
J. Cameron Thrash
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA
Research Summary: Marine microbes, although invisible to the naked eye, play an enormous role in marine ecosystems, including serving as the first responders to both natural and anthropogenic perturbations. For example, they conduct essential turnover of nutrients when too many nutrients enter marine environments. Dr. Thrash specifically focuses on the function of microbes in the different interconnected aquatic systems within the Gulf of Mexico, including the coasts, estuaries, the shelf region, and the Mississippi River. He aims to be able to predict which microbes contribute, and how they contribute, to the vital ecosystem services of nutrient and carbon processing to generate strategic options for pollutant remediation.
Biography: Dr. Cameron is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Louisiana State University. He received a B.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Afterwards, he worked as a technician at The Scripps Research Institute on microglial gene expression during central nervous system disease. He received his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied microbial physiology. His graduate work included perchlorate bioremediation and isolation of novel perchlorate reducing microorganisms. He also worked on anaerobic oxidation of iron and uranium. He was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship to work at Oregon State University, where he focused on the evolution and genomics of SAR11, the most abundant marine bacteria. Dr. Thrash teaches Prokaryotic Diversity, Microbial Bioinformatics Tools, and helps coordinate microbiology focused Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (mCURE) sections in freshman biology. He also co-hosts the free online microbiology seminar series MicroSeminar.
Science Policy Fellows
Host Office: Host Office: RESTORE Council
New Orleans, LA
Dr. Bernik holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Tulane University, and and earned her B.S. in environmental biology as a Newcomb Scholar. With support from an EPA STAR Fellowship, her dissertation research focused on the ecosystem consequences of genetic variation in salt marsh grasses. This work revealed that heritable differences in a common grass species can affect salt marsh erosion and nutrient cycling. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, her research contributed to the cleanup response and helped develop new guidelines for marsh remediation and restoration approaches. More recently, as a postdoctoral scholar at Tulane’s ByWater Institute, Dr. Bernik has been examining plant-microbe dynamics in petroleum-contaminated marshes as well as the socioecological responses of urban vegetation following Hurricane Katrina.
In moving toward a career at the interface of science and policy, Dr. Bernik previously worked with the Gulf Research Program as a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC. She hopes her future work will continue to inform and improve decision-making, linking theoretical research with its practical applications.
Host Office: Texas General Land Office
Dr. Blomberg holds a Ph.D. in coastal and marine system science from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC), where she was named Outstanding Doctoral Student in 2015. Her dissertation research, conducted at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, focused on the ecology and restoration of oyster reef systems. Prior to entering graduate school, she attended The University of Tampa, then Purdue University to earn her B.S. in biology. She is presently a postdoctoral scholar at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where her current research focus is synthesizing ecological and socio-economic data resulting from the implementation of a dozen living shoreline projects in coastal Alabama over the past decade.
Blomberg has presented more than 20 scientific conference presentations, has won several awards for outstanding presentations, and has been an invited speaker at two conferences in the past year. She has also been involved in numerous outreach events for all ages, including the production of two short films. Dr. Blomberg has mentored undergraduate research students and taught several university courses.
Host Office: Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Dr. Durham graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with a B.A. in biology and earned his Ph.D. in paleontology with a minor in conservation biology from Cornell University in 2017. While at Cornell, Dr. Durham was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship and worked on several projects applying the data and techniques of paleontology to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services. Specific research projects included surveying restoration professionals for their perspectives on geohistorical and long-term data, investigating the application of benthic index metrics to mollusk assemblages, and studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on oyster body sizes in Louisiana using buried oyster shells. His dissertation research focused on comparing the lifespans of fossil oysters from South Carolina that lived during a warmer time in the past—a potential analog for future warming—with those of modern South Carolina oysters.
In addition to scientific journals, Dr. Durham’s research has appeared in popular media outlets such as Hakai Magazine and Smithsonian.com. He has also contributed to outreach and collections work at the Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth (Ithaca, NY) where he has given lectures, helped members of the public identify and learn about fossils, and assisted with curating and rehousing some of the institution’s fossil invertebrate collection, which is among the largest in the United States.
Host Office: NOAA Restore Act Science Program
Stennis Space Center, MS
Ms. Frometa earned an M.S. in marine biology from the College of Charleston and a B.S. in biology from the University of Florida. She currently works as a biologist at NOAA’s Deep Coral Ecology Laboratory in Charleston, SC, examining the health of deep sea coral ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. As part of this work, she assisted in the damage assessment following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Previously, Ms. Frometa worked as a research technician at the U.S. Geological Survey Benthic Ecology Laboratory, where she examined the infaunal community structure of hard-bottom and chemosynthetic seep habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ms. Frometa has spent over 100 days at sea in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California as part of numerous research expeditions surveying deep sea habitats using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles. She is passionate about exploring and understanding the largely unknown deep sea, as well as using that information to guide management efforts of these vulnerable yet extremely valuable habitats.
Host Office: Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
Baton Rouge, LA
Ms. Jankowski is a Ph.D. candidate in earth and environmental sciences at Tulane University, where she focuses on wetland responses to environmental change on annual to millennial timescales. Ms. Jankowski earned a master's degree in climate and society from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in geology and political science from Macalester College. She has conducted field work in areas ranging from Glacier National Park in Montana to Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania with a sustained focus on human impacts on natural environments and climate. Previously, Ms. Jankowski worked as a technical advisor for the Red Cross Climate Centre, where she helped to integrate climate information into disaster risk reduction preparedness in Thailand and Kyrgyzstan.
Ms. Jankowski has a passion for communicating science to broad audiences. After teaching high school biology in Memphis, TN, she worked for the National Park Service (NPS) to create the Junior Paleontologist curriculum, which has helped teach more than 100,000 young people about fossil resources in the NPS system since 2010. During her time at Tulane she has mentored three undergraduate researchers and was named Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Assistant. She is excited to continue exploring the intersection of science and coastal policy in the Gulf Coast through her fellowship.
Host Office: Harris County Public Health
Dr. Jennings holds a B.A. in chemistry from Hendrix College in Conway, AR, and a Ph.D. in marine and atmospheric chemistry from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) at the University of Miami. Her graduate research focused on the biogeochemistry of carbon and nutrients in the ocean. Specifically, she used an analytical chemistry approach to investigate the environmental controls of marine dissolved organic carbon concentration, a massive reservoir of organic carbon in the ocean that is comparable in size to atmospheric carbon dioxide. She participated in several oceanographic research expeditions to understand the fate of organic carbon in the Antarctic Ross Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, and the western North Atlantic Ocean. She has contributed to the scientific community through presentations at several international conferences as well as through publications.
At RSMAS, Dr. Jennings was recognized for excellence in undergraduate teaching and for service to the community through student leadership. She was a National Science Foundation Science Communication Fellow through the Philip and Patricia Frost Science Museum in Miami, where she conducted public outreach and education about the role of oceans in the climate system. After attending the American Meteorological Society’s Summer Policy Colloquium in Washington, D.C., she realized that she wanted to use science to help address environmental challenges through policy. As a Gulf Research Program Science Policy Fellow, she is interested in navigating the science-policy interface to develop multidisciplinary approaches for climate resilience and environmental stewardship.
Host Office: Environmental Protection Agency-Gulf of Mexico Program
Mr. Lee is a Ph.D. student at the University of Alabama where his research interests include the fields of limnology, microbial ecology, and biogeochemistry. Specifically, he studies the relationships between abiotic parameters, soil microbial communities, and nitrogen enzyme activity in wetland soils. He also investigates the spatial and temporal patterns in coastal wetland soil microbial communities and their role in nitrogen cycling. Prior to graduate school, he interned with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources working on a project involving wetland delineation.
Mr. Lee received a B.S. in secondary education with an emphasis in biology from the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh and an M.S. in freshwater microbiology from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. His master’s thesis examined the effects of invasive Quagga mussel on benthic microbial communities in Lake Michigan. Mr. Lee is also involved with water quality monitoring community science programs as well as general science education.
Host Office: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
New Orleans, LA
Ms. Mansfield received a B.A. from Hampshire College with a self-designed concentration on the political economy of petro-states. Early in her academic career, she identified oil and gas as a passion as she pursued broader studies in economic development, politics, and environmental science. In 2009, she spent six months in Venezuela conducting research for a thesis that explored the effectiveness of the government's policy to utilize oil revenues to support social programs. She was subsequently awarded a Fulbright Research Scholarship to return to Venezuela.
She received an M.A. in international affairs with a focus on energy policy and international security studies from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. During her graduate studies, she held leadership positions on the Tufts Energy Conference and on a Law and International Development Society team that produced a guidebook on community development agreements for Afghanistan's mining industry. Her graduate thesis, which built on her experience working in Iraqi Kurdistan, explored the relationship between oil and self-determination movements through case studies on Greenland and Iraq. After graduation, Ms. Mansfield was a research consultant for the Natural Resource Governance Institute and evaluated hydrocarbon governance in the Gulf of Mexico for the Resource Governance Index. She most recently worked in the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management on Intergovernmental and Stakeholder Programs developing a Tribal Protocol Manual and learning about nuclear waste cleanup as a summer intern.
Host Office: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Mr. Reeves is a Ph.D. candidate in oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU). He holds an M.S. in oceanography and coastal sciences from LSU and a B.S. in biological sciences from Loyola University New Orleans. Mr. Reeves is broadly interested in fisheries ecology, restoration, endangered species management, and the interconnectedness of human and natural systems in the Gulf of Mexico. His current research focuses on evaluating the ecological value of oil and gas platforms as habitat for reef-associated organisms. He is proud to be a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast and spends his free time absorbing the region’s cultural and natural beauty.