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Island University Scientists Receive $199K from National Science Foundation for Post-Harvey Research

November 16, 2017

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For the researchers in the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, quick reaction to natural disasters, such as a major hurricane, are essential because it can help society better prepare, prevent and respond. The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $199,952 to a COSE research team for their Rapid Response Research (RAPID) proposal titled “Measuring the Response of Stream Communities to Hurricane Harvey Across a Semi-Arid to Sub-Humid Gradient.” 

“You can’t plan for a catastrophe, so you need to be ready to drop everything and get out into the field if you want to study it,” said Dr. Christopher Patrick, Assistant Professor in the Department of Life Sciences at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and Primary Investigator (PI). “Things change quickly and if you’re not ‘rapid’ enough, you’ll miss important parts of the story.”

Patrick, alongside his Co-PIs, Dr. Derek Hogan, Assistant Professor in the Department of Life Sciences, and Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology, started brainstorming about potential research projects while monitoring Harvey’s initial trajectory. The informal brainstorming session quickly materialized into a concrete project that aims to study the impact of Harvey’s 130 mph winds and flooding on the amount of debris that makes its way into South Texas coastal streams.

“Our global climate is changing, and it’s unclear whether the resistance and resilience of ecosystems is changing as a result,” explained Patrick. “We know that extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency, but if resistance and resilience are also declining, those future extreme events could be more disastrous than we’d expect.”

Patrick, Reese and Hogan will study three groups of organisms, including microbes, invertebrates and fish, as well as ecosystems properties such as nutrients, habitat and organic matter. In addition, the team is collecting continuous high-frequency data through automated loggers that record light, temperature and dissolved oxygen. Monitoring performed by the United States Geological Survey provides continuous discharge and depth data. The research funding will enable the team to conduct rigorous monthly sampling and hire Islander graduate research assistants through fall 2018.

“One of the most exciting things about this project is that it covers every trophic level,” shared Reese. “Ecological studies rarely cover such a complete range like we are doing with this project, which is one the many reasons we are so appreciative of the grant and the NSF.”

In the future, the team plans to share their research findings with the community and natural resources managers so that they will be better equipped to make the appropriate decisions in the face of a natural disaster.

“We are generating a ton of great data and I’m very excited to analyze it. I think that this project is novel on a variety of levels that will allow us to make great contributions to our respective fields of study,” concluded Patrick. “This project has the potential to generate high-profile papers and seed many future collaborative proposals. Ultimately, all of this productivity reflects positively on our labs, our department and the University.”

Patrick, Reese and Hogan are just one of two teams at the Island University to receive NSF RAPID. Dr. Paul Montagna, Endowed Chair for Ecosystems Studies and Modeling at the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at A&M-Corpus Christi, Dr. Michael Wetz, Associate Professor of Marine Biology, and Dr. Xinping Hu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, were awarded $182,790 for their project, “Capturing the Signature of Hurricane Harvey on Texas Coastal Lagoons.”