Marine and Environmental Sciences
Rising to the Occasion
It is in the times marked by great uncertainty that we see the potential of the human spirit. The past trials of war, famine, and disease were equally met by the will of entire generations to overcome. Now, as the reality of climate change sets in, we once again stand at the precipice of a historic and unique challenge, with a call for leadership, foresight, and great courage.
In these times, hope must be prefaced by action. Hard scientific truths will have to be reconciled with economic, political, and social ramifications. It will require a global commitment where every person, no matter their education, age, careers, or affiliations, wear the badge of scientist.
The Northeastern Marine and Environmental Science program seeks to prepare future generations of climatologists, ecologists, and marine biologists for the front lines of climate change — to reclaim our coral reefs, and oceans, our biodiversity, our air, and certainty for our future.
Focuses on basic skin diving and scuba diving skills, with emphasis on safety.
Utilizes evidence from the sedimentary rock record to evaluate and to interpret significant biological and physical events in Mesozoic earth history.
Offers a comprehensive review of the biology, ecology, and management of cetaceans.
The Three Seas Program
Northeastern’s signature Three Seas Program is a Master of Science Marine Biology program giving students the opportunity to spend a year studying in three different marine environments: New England (US), Panama and the Pacific Coast (US). The Three Seas Program is ideal for advanced undergraduates (usually in their third or fourth year of study) and first-year graduate students with a strong interest in marine biology and ecology.
Marine Science Center
Offering a pristine New England rocky shore habitat in close proximity to Boston, the Marine Science Center is a globally recognized organization dedicated to marine science research and education.
MS in Environmental Science and Policy
Northeastern’s Master’s in Environmental Science and Policy, a joint program between the College of Science and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, provides interdisciplinary training and environmental problem-solving expertise to the next generation of environmental professionals.
Many Marine and Environmental students choose to participate in the university’s signature co-operative education program because it offers excellent preparation and exposure to exciting careers.
Environmental Studies/International Affairs
North Shore, MA
Started as Physics and switched to Environmental Science
Woods Hole, MA
As with so many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced My Brother’s Table, a soup kitchen in Lynn, Massachusetts, to change how they serve guests while maintaining the positive atmosphere the Table is known for. Much of that comes down to community support, and the community at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts, has come together to help in a variety of ways.
Torrance Hanley, associate research scientist at the Marine Science Center, has been preparing lunches and dinners at home, and dropping off 50 meals each week at the Table.
Randall Hughes, associate professor of marine and environmental sciences, first volunteered at the Table with Hanley, and has also volunteered preparing meals during the pandemic. For Hughes, it’s been inspiring to see her coworkers at the Marine Science Center unite around My Brother’s Table. Even her daughter in fifth grade, Lilli, got involved, taking the challenge of the pandemic and turning it into an opportunity to help.
This story was originally published on News@Northeastern on June 1, 2020. To continue reading, click here.
How much does fear motivate prey, and what impact do predators have on organisms that share their habitats?
Northeastern Three Seas Program alumni Lindsay M. Phenix partnered with Dana Tricarico, Enrique Quintero, Mark Bond, Simon Brandl, and Austin J. Gallagher to dive into some of the unanswered questions around this topic.
The team used baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVs) in different habitats to capture predators and prey on camera and determine behavior change in relation to predator prevalence and habitat complexity.
Researchers hypothesized that in more complex habitats, predators would be more active, and that prey would take less risks. They also hypothesized that in habitats with less cover and complexity, prey would be more hesitant to take the bait and therefore take longer to arrive at the BRUV.
In their study, published recently in Ecology and Evolution, Phenix and her collaborators complex habitats were determined by coverage of 50% or more of sand, coral reef, seagrass, or sea fan. Sandy habitats may offer prey less hiding spaces than a seagrass habitat. Each habitat was assessed for risk by researchers considering both how much the predators moved around and how many predators were present.
Predators were also ranked into categories based on type and size. For example, a moray eel would rank as a mid-trophic predator and a barracuda would rank as an upper-trophic predator.
For consistency of light and time of day, in each habitat the BRUVs were submerged for an hour at a time, always between 8:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. All research was done in Biscayne Bay, Florida, a perfect shallow lagoon connecting to the Florida Reef Tract and extending down to Key Largo with an abundance of each habitat studied.
The researchers observed that prey in less covered habitat areas approached the BRUV more quickly than in higher coverage areas, and suggested that this could be due to the restricted access to food for prey in those areas and therefore more immediate demand. They hypothesized also that prey may prefer to feel they have many avenues of escape from potential predators, which would be consistent with the finding that prey may be apprehensive in complex habitats because of the potential for view obstruction.
In those less complex, more exposed habitats such as sandy bottom and seagrass bed, the prey definitely display different behaviors such as burst-swimming and schooling which may affect their long-term fitness and energy levels.
The central takeaway from Phenix is that predators do not control prey behaviors on short temporal scales, but instead “a habitat‐specific response to a consistent signal of mobile predators on reefs may result in pro‐active prey vigilance and subtle food‐risk trade‐offs.” This highlights the complexities of these marine ecosystems and the need to continue to study the many drivers of behaviors in habitats.
The main takeaway from Phenix et al. is, indeed, an interesting finding, proving once again that so many interactions in marine habitats remain understudied and unpredictable- even for trained scientists.
Building Knowledge and Pathways to Positive Change
Women make up less than a third of the global research population, but scientists at Northeastern University’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences are driving the change in that statistic through their innovative, successful research and their contributions to a thriving STEM pipeline for young women and future researchers. This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting faculty who are advancing scientific knowledge and removing barriers for the next generation of women in STEM.
How are humans impacting the waterways we depend upon, and how can we ameliorate these impacts?
Featuring Dr. Loretta Fernandez
Dr. Loretta Fernandez is working to answer those questions and communicate
critical information to the stakeholders and stewards of our shared waterways. Her work
utilizes environmental organic chemistry to pioneer passive sampling methods for organic
contaminants in water and sediment, as well as monitor the transport, transformation, and
biological exchange of organic contaminants in our environment. Dr. Fernandez recently
developed a straightforward method for determining the concentration of contaminants most
likely to end up in the tissues of organisms living in polluted waterways, providing crucial
pollutant data to the EPA and other researchers. She is currently collaborating with the Munoz
Lab at the Marine Science Center to examine industrial contaminant mobility across the land
sea interface; these contaminants are detrimental to human and ecosystem health, and are
mobilized by geomorphic and biochemical processes for decades. Fernandez and her
collaborators are examining the stability of these compounds in floodplains and the coastal
ocean at several locations across New England and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
Dr. Fernandez has been an active part of connecting environmental science with students and
with the local community. She has presented hands-on water quality activities at the Marine
Science Center Open Houses, and has been a mentor for young women at various science
career stages. Recent undergraduate research assistants in her lab have gone on to pursue
graduate research at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Colorado School of Mines, and Univ. of California
Santa Cruz. Creating pathways to success for young researchers is one of the ways Dr.
Fernandez is helping ensure that the environmental systems around us have scientific sentinels
into the future. Dr. Fernandez recently turned her lab’s expertise in environmental pollutants
into an innovative solution for testing facemask effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus,
working with Dr. Amy Mueller and a team of engineering students to modify their software to
assess particle movement through the masks, and establish the best materials for protecting
people against an airborne virus.
How can we measure, characterize and understand the huge and heterogeneous system of our earth?
Dr. Amy Mueller works to tackle these complexities by enabling critical
environmental measurements of the water in natural systems around us and in the built
systems we use each day, and enabling optimization of infrastructure like stormwater sewers
and wastewater treatment plants. Dr. Mueller’s Environmental Sensors Lab is developing new
sensors, instruments, and signal processing strategies to optimize our ability to study the
natural and built environments. Her sensor development space at Nahant’s Marine Science
Center and chemistry labs on the Boston Campus provide space and infrastructure to bring
together engineers and scientists from a variety of disciplines to tackle critical challenges. Dr.
Mueller and her team are advancing our understanding of nutrients in ocean ecosystems by
developing an in-situ trace-metal clean sampler capable of automated sample collection and
now working on nitrogen nutrient sensors to support more environmentally friendly
aquaculture pens. On the wastewater front, she is working with collaborators at the University
of Washington and a number of operating treatment facilities in New England to validate novel
sensor systems for use in current next-generation wastewater treatment reactors. Dr. Mueller
recently combined labs and expertise with Dr. Loretta Fernandez into an innovative solution for
testing facemask effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus, modifying their software to assess
particle movement through the masks and establish the best materials for protecting people
against an airborne virus.
Dr. Mueller is active in efforts to communicate science to community stakeholders and students
alike. She has shared her innovative water monitoring work with attendees at the Marine
Science Center’s public lectures and open house series, and is co-leading a wastewater
treatment workshop series bringing together regional plant operators, engineers, instrument
experts, and researchers to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the
Providing an innovative educational experience for our community of learners is a central focus of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences, so we are proud to congratulate this year’s College of Science Dean’s Award for Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching, Sara Schaal.
Sara is an Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology PhD candidate in the Lotterhos Lab at the Marine Science Center. Her research focuses on adaptation in marine fishes through the lenses of genetic evolution and climate change. Sara presented her latest research on Atlantic cod diversity earlier this semester at Nordic Society Oikos in Reykjavik, Iceland, along with fellow Lotterhos Lab researchers Dr. Áki Láruson and PhD Candidate Alan Downey-Wall. Sara was nominated for the Dean’s Award by her PhD advisor Dr. Katie Lotterhos, who teaches the Biostatistics course for which Sara is a teaching assistant.
Sara has been leading the lab sections of Biostatistics for several years and has made a significant positive impact on the trajectories of students in the course. Lauren, an undergrad in the Biostatistics lab that Sara ran, explained that while many students in her lab section were initially resistant and unfamiliar with programming, Sara was able introduce the R program in an accessible way. Lauren actually found herself aspiring to learn more about programming in general and how she could use it in the future, thanks to Sara’s guidance during the lab. Lauren shared that, “Sara has mastered the ability to provide comprehensive explanations with patience and empathy for her students… I am indebted to Sara for instilling this programming confidence in me and demonstrating that with an effective teacher, one can learn to enjoy a complex activity that once seemed impossible.”
Sara admits that it took a while to learn how to manage a classroom of students that all move at different paces and how to keep all students engaged and excited about the materials even when they were struggling. But all the effort and adaptation has been more than worth it, Sara says, adding that, “Teaching these students how to code has honestly been one of the most rewarding parts of my PhD. Coding has been so integral to my development as a scientist and being able to teach students how to code and inspire them to use it in their future careers has been a joy for me.”
Sara’s accomplishments epitomize the teaching and research efforts by so many of our graduate students, who become both resources and inspirations to undergraduate students they teach. Congratulations, Sara!