REU: Sensors in Earth, Oceans, and Space Science – How We Observe Our Planet
Our primary goal is to provide a positive introduction to sensor-based Earth and space science research for underserved student populations.
What makes this REU program unique?
- Research opportunities in Earth, Oceans, and Space: Sensors are used across many fields of Earth, Space and Ocean sciences. This REU program is hosted by UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, providing research projects and mentors in all three of these scientific fields.
- Focus on sensors and cutting-edge data science skills: Learn to harness the data revolution! In this REU, you will develop skills to collect, analyze, and interpret data from a wide range of sensors used in science. This includes sensors deployed in ocean settings, forests, rivers, and even satellites in space. Data analysis using programming and statistics are core skills taught by leading scientists.
- Professional development activities: In addition to learning scientific research skills, you will present a research poster to peer researchers at a multi-internship end of summer symposium. This REU will also provide weekly lunch discussions with scientific professionals in academia, industry, and government, giving you a chance to learn about the myriad career pathways opened by STEM degrees.
- Open to students of all levels and majors: This REU is open to undergraduate students of all levels and majors, including undecided/undeclared majors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an REU program and is it right for me?
An REU is a “Research Experience for Undergraduates,” and is a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The goal of all REU programs is to provide authentic research experiences for undergraduate students. Here, we aim to help students identify if STEM majors and careers are right for them. You can find more information on all REUs and search for other REU programs here.
What will I do as part of this REU?
Each student will work on a specific project with a faculty mentor. See below for project descriptions and mentor profiles. Over the course of 10 weeks, you will learn about the research questions that can be addressed by the type of sensors used in your mentor’s lab, how to collect, maintain, and analyze data, and finally how to present your findings to peers. Many projects will involve computer programming skill building, and some will include field and/or lab work. You will also learn about data stewardship, research integrity, and collaborative science. REU students will work alongside graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and other scientific professionals.
Where is this REU located?
The University of New Hampshire main campus in Durham, NH. All REU students will have housing on campus, and mentor labs are all in UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. Some projects may involve field work off-campus; transportation will be provided for all required fieldwork.
Will I be compensated for participating in this REU?
Yes! This REU program provides on-campus housing, meals, and a $6,000 stipend for each student.
Am I eligible to apply to this REU?
Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents and at least 18 years of age at the time of the REU program. This REU program is open to all majors – including undecided or undeclared majors – as well as undergraduate students at all levels of study (freshman, sophomore, etc). We welcome applications from students in 2-year courses of study. The main goal of this REU program is to provide research experiences to underserved student populations. This includes underrepresented minority groups in STEM, veterans, individuals with differing abilities, and people from low socioeconomic status. Underrepresented minority groups in STEM are defined by the NSF as: Blacks and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and American Indians including Alaskan Natives and Native Pacific Islanders.
Projects and Mentors
Marine microbes cover a diversity of organisms that account for more than 98% of ocean biomass. They are fundamental for oceanic food webs and thus ecosystem function and services. Research within the Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory aims to understand microbial and biogeochemical processes and their role in the cycling of growth-limiting nutrients (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) as well as organic and inorganic carbon in marine environments. REU students will be involved with field measurements in the Gulf of Maine and its estuaries, and with laboratory research focusing on microbial growth and metabolic rates along with carbon chemistry, and how these rates and parameters are affected by anthropogenic stressors such as ocean acidification, sea surface warming, and ocean pollutants (e.g., microplastics, spilled oil). Students will gain skills in marine sensor deployment, lab incubation methods, and statistical data analysis.
Mentor: Dr. Kai Ziervogel
Seagrasses are important ecosystems that help mitigate climate change, clean the water, and support local fisheries and biodiversity. Globally, these sensitive ecosystems are in decline, with numerous international efforts attempting to monitor their health and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation programs. As seagrasses photosynthesize and sway in currents, underwater sound and surface cameras can be used to monitor their health. Research within 3 centers: CARE (Center for Acoustics Research and Education), CCOM (Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping), and SMSOE (School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering) aims to understand the relationship between hydrodynamics and underwater acoustics in seagrass beds, enabling the design of better sensor-based seagrass health monitoring systems. To better study this complicated interaction, researchers are using a model seagrass bed seeded with bubbles in a 10-m-long flume in the laboratory. REU students will be involved with running the flume and collecting acoustic and hydrodynamic data. They will gain skills in the processing and interpretation of acoustic and hydrodynamic signals.
Coastal marine habitats are rich with natural sounds that many aquatic animals use for important functions such as communication and selecting suitable habitat. These sounds together make up the “soundscape” of an environment and can be recorded with underwater microphones (hydrophones). Different characteristics of coastal soundscapes, such as how loud they are, often correlate with visually determined indicators of habitat health and biodiversity. The application of using acoustics to monitor ecosystem health, or “Ecoacoustics”, has been explored in many coastal habitats including coral reefs, but is only beginning to be explored in New Hampshire’s local waters. Seagrass habitats in New Hampshire have declined and new tools to assess seagrass health are in high demand. A key first step for success in developing soundscape monitoring as such a tool is a detailed understanding of the natural composition and temporal variation of a soundscape. This project will use underwater sound recorders deployed in local seagrass habitats to investigate: what types of sounds (from animals, currents, and other sources) are present in these habitats? How do these sounds vary over day and night cycles? Are soundscapes different for healthy seagrass areas, versus seagrass areas that are degraded or recovering?
Mentor: Dr. Ian T. Jones
Estuaries – where rivers meet the ocean – are hotspots for biodiversity, as well as early indicators of water contamination issues and climate change impacts. Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) researchers within SMSOE use a suite of in-situ water sensors along with surveys of seagrass coverage and indicator species (shellfish, green crabs, lobster, and oyster reefs) to help monitor estuary ecosystem health and develop best management practices for nutrient pollution. The PREP organization helps communities around UNH better manage their two estuaries of national significance: the Hampton-Seabrook Estuary and the Great Bay Estuary. Due to its community focus, PREP’s expertise and student training includes participatory process design and facilitation, and science communication. REU students will collect and analyze data from estuary in-situ sensors. Skill development includes not only data analysis, but also community outreach and science communication.
Mentor: Dr. Kalle Matso
Phenology is the study of seasonal cycles of natural phenomena like climate, plant, and animal life. As the climate warms and becomes more variable, once predictable seasonal cycles such as the timing of snowmelt and vegetation green-up are changing in unpredictable ways. Shifts in key phenological events can have big impacts on terrestrial ecosystem carbon and water cycles that have yet to be explored. Sensors that monitor climate and plant phenology can help to inform the drivers and consequences of changing seasonality.
Mentor: Dr. Alix Contosta
Understanding the controls on water quality in streams draining different watersheds requires high frequency measurements that account for changes during storms. Major research questions include: How do various water quality variables such as water temperature, dissolved oxygen, sediments, and nutrients respond during storm events? And, How do these storm responses interact with land use? High frequency sensors deployed in streams are needed to address these questions.
Mentor: Dr. Wil Wollheim
Water resources are essential to all human activities, from feeding the global population to industrial production. Prior to the satellite era, water resource data was collected with inconsistent methods, quality, and density across different regions of the world. Now, researchers in the Earth Systems Research Center use cutting-edge satellite data to observe many important components of the water cycle and human water use consistently across the globe, including changes in groundwater storage, soil moisture, snow and glacier cover, reservoir water levels, and even irrigation infrastructure. These data, in combination with statistical analysis and hydrologic modeling, can answer such questions as: is snow cover changing in regions that rely on snowmelt to supply irrigation water? How much does agricultural production rely on nonrenewable groundwater resources? Is groundwater pumping contributing to sea level rise? These questions are essential to the multiple ongoing Earth Systems Research Center research projects that focus on applying Earth sensor data to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. REU students will use global satellite observations to understand how water resources are changing through space and time across the entire planet, with a focus on Sustainable Development applications. Skill development will include satellite data processing, hydrologic modeling, and statistical analysis.
Mentor: Dr. Danielle Grogan
Our technology-driven society is dependent upon satellite technology for communication, navigation, and national security, as well as upon a reliable power grid for everyday needs such as money transactions, job functions, and food storage. These infrastructure systems are vulnerable to geomagnetic activity, when charged particles in the space surrounding Earth are energized and transported due to energy input from the Sun. Researchers in the Space Science Center use satellite data to create ion temperature maps of the magnetosphere, which help to understand where and how ions are heated by the energy from the Sun and how they’re propelled towards Earth. Emerging machine-learning methods are being tested to evaluate their ability to use satellite sensor data to model geomagnetic storms and predict when these disruptions will cause power outages. REU students in the Space Science Center will join in the creation of ion temperature maps from satellite sensor data, as well as test new machine learning models. Skill development will include satellite data processing, 3D map making, and machine learning methods.
Mentor: Dr. Amy Keesee