Island University Researcher Receives $460K NSF CAREER Award to Investigate Estuaries and Promote Education

Published: March 02, 2017

Island University Researcher Receives $460K NSF CAREER Award to Investigate Estuaries and Promote Education

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Despite years of study, carbon cycling research in estuaries is still seriously lacking, especially in low latitude subtropical regions like the Texas Coast. Dr. Xinping Hu, Assistant Professor of Chemical Oceanography at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will be investigating estuarine carbon cycling and acidification using the Mission-Aransas Estuary in South Texas as a case study. This is thanks to a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The objective of Hu’s research project is two-fold: understand the effect of less freshwater going into the subtropical estuaries due to climate change, then, adjust and encourage education accordingly for high school students through college and graduate students. The NSF award is valued at approximately $460,000 and will be used over a 5-year span. The research project is estimated to begin in May 2017. The Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve and University of Texas Marine Science Institute will provide strong support in Hu’s fieldwork.

“I would like to stimulate students’ interest in the sciences, math, and engineering, especially in underrepresented students,” Hu said. “As educators, we need to help resolve this issue. I also would like to let the public know what we do, as scientists, so the next generation finds an interest in STEM.”

Hu’s research aims to improve the understanding of carbon cycling in Mission-Aransas Estuary and, in the second year of the research project, Hu will expand his research across the entire Texas coast. An estuary is the tidal mouth of a river, where the tide meets the stream. Carbon cycling is a study that examines how carbon enters and leaves the atmosphere, water and land. The results will provide important information on the biogeochemical response of the estuaries to declining precipitation and river water inflow in this semi-arid coastal region. Hu is excited due to the exceptional nature of our local environment.

“We live in a unique place. If you go to the east coast of the U.S., you may not get as much contrast in freshwater conditions as what we have here in Texas,” said Hu. “These estuaries provide excellent ‘natural laboratories’ for us to work in.”

The research project investigating the estuaries will involve local students at the high school, collegiate and graduate levels. Students from Foy Moody High School were selected due to the importance of getting underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students involved in STEM opportunities. While Hu won’t be teaching the high school classes, he does have plans on regularly giving seminars on his area of study and he will also provide materials to Moody High School teachers on ocean acidification and water chemistry. Over the summer, interested high school students would be able to intern with Hu at the Island University.

To assist getting college students involved and educated, a cross-listed graduate and senior level course will be created at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on ocean and estuarine acidification and two existing courses that Hu has taught will also be redesigned. These classes will remain a part of the Island University’s curriculum.

The NSF CAREER Award that Hu received is from the Chemical Oceanography Program in the Ocean Science Division. According to the NSF, this prestigious award goes to “junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.”

For more information on Hu’s laboratory, go to