First-year marine science Ph.D. student Arley Muth is one of 52 graduate students recently awarded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results, or STAR, fellowship.
The fellowship grants Muth funds to research ocean acidification and its effects on kelp systems in regions such as the Arctic and Southern Chile with her mentor, Ken Dunton, UT marine science professor. The fellowship was initiated in 1995 and has supported nearly 1,850 students pursuing graduate degrees in environmental disciplines.
“One of the characteristics that made Ms. Muth’s application attractive was her proposed research in the area of ocean acidification, which is a critical challenge facing the planet,” Nick Conger, an EPA spokesperson, said.
Muth said she hopes to use her research to understand and predict how these and similar systems will be impacted by climate change. She said she plans to continue studying kelp systems after finishing her graduate research.
“Kelps are a foundation species — when they disappear from an area, the entire ecosystem often collapses,” Muth said. “I love studying about kelp systems because of their complexity — any impacts or changes to kelp density, diversity or productivity can affect the entire associated invertebrate and fish community.”
Muth said the fellowship works to give her more freedom as a graduate student by providing her funding, which allows her to focus on her research.
“Two locations I will observe in detail are kelp systems in the Alaskan Arctic and Southern Chile,” Muth said. “These areas haven’t been explored in terms of how ocean acidification and climate change will affect specific species interactions. It’s important for these systems to be studied because of their ecological significance and the impacts they have on local fisheries.”
Dunton, Muth’s mentor and research partner, said the accumulation of sediment, dissolved inorganic carbon and carbon dioxide in oceans caused by climate change are all considered huge environmental concerns.
“The Arctic estuarine systems are now beginning to show the effects of sea ice loss and increased freshwater inflow in response to climatic warming,” Dunton said. “Ocean acidification could become a significant problem for resident [ecosystems].”
According to Dunton, although ocean acidification is becoming a much more visible issue in the scientific community, there isn’t much data about the changes in pH level in vulnerable regions such as the Arctic.
“Assuming our instruments survive the very turbulent and icy conditions in the next nine months in Arctic waters, Arley will have the very first long-term measurements of pH in coastal Beaufort Sea waters,” Dunton said. “These data, alongside her controlled experimental measurements, will enable us to better project the response of [ecosystems at the bottoms of oceans] to climate change in the Arctic.”
According to the EPA, their organization reviews applications from a variety of perspectives and criteria to evaluate the student’s potential for achievement in an environmental graduate study program.
“These fellowship grants are part of EPA’s commitment to ensuring that the nation develops future leaders in science, policy and environmentally-related fields,” Conger said. “Today’s students will be part of the future environmental workforce.”