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Creighton Receives $400,000 NOAA Grant to Study Coastal Habitats

Creighton University is a member of a training and research consortium that recently received a five-year $15 million renewal award from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As a continuing member of NOAA’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center (ECSC), Creighton will receive $400,000 over the next five years to focus on student training and research with an emphasis on coastal habitat mapping using geospatial techniques and remote-sensing imagery data.

According to John Schalles, Ph.D., director of Creighton’s Environmental Science program and co-principal investigator on the project, the students will use satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe’s new World View 2 sensor and on-site habitat surveys to produce mapping products that are useful to NOAA and resource managers on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

The lead institution in the consortium, Florida A&M University, was awarded the grant to meet NOAA’s workforce needs in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that support the agency’s mission. Other consortium members include Delaware State University, Jackson State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the University of Texas-Brownsville as well as three National Estuarine Research Reserves; Apalachicola Bay in Western Florida, Grand Bay in Southeastern Mississippi and Mission-Aransas Bay in Southeastern Texas.

These partnerships give Creighton students access to information, revolutionary technologies and natural resources that would not otherwise be possible. Students are able to take advantage of research stations for student field courses to study ecosystem characterization.

Current and planned research projects in Schalles’s group include: species-level mapping of coastal wetlands, impacts of a 2010 oil spill on marsh health, quantification of harmful algal blooms and the invasion of black mangrove trees on the central Texas coast. There are also plans to work with the laboratory at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, one of the five partner universities, for other research projects and training in geospatial analysis of coastal and offshore habitats.

Two Creighton graduate students have completed Master of Science degrees with ECSC funding since 2006. Lauren Urban studied the effects of storms on colored, dissolved and organic matter distribution in the South Atlantic Bight off the Georgia coast. Drew Seminara compared salt marsh vegetation structures at seven NOAA coastal reserves. A current graduate student, John Olley, is studying algal bloom optical signals and pigments. Another 20 Creighton undergraduate students have also assisted Schalles in funded coastal habitat surveys.

As a continuing member of NOAA’s Environmental Cooperative Science Center, Creighton will focus on increasing its number of scientists and managers qualified to improve scientific knowledge for coastal resource management and developing tools and research products to characterize, evaluate and forecast coastal and marine ecosystem responses to natural and human-induced stressors as well as facilitating community engagement and public outreach related to the function and relevance of coastal ecosystems and the natural services they provide to society.