KINGSTON, R.I. – September 14, 2016 – University of Rhode Island senior Caroline Amelse has been awarded the David E. Lumley Young Scientist Scholarship by the American Geophysical Union, the world’s largest professional organization of earth scientists, astronomers and oceanographers.
The honor includes a $1,000 scholarship and an additional $500 grant enabling her to travel to the organization’s annual fall conference in San Francisco to present her research.
“This is a huge honor,” said Amelse, 27, who grew up near Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Hawaii before enrolling for a second bachelor’s at URI. “When I first heard about it, I just couldn’t believe it. It’s a very competitive award, so I’m proud to be able to represent URI and my department.”
Amelse was selected for the award as a result of research she conducted this summer through URI’s Coastal Fellows program, a unique initiative designed to involve undergraduate students in addressing current environmental problems. The program pairs students with a mentor and research staff to help them gain skills relevant to their academic major and future occupations. Amelse was paired with URI Assistant Professor Simon Engelhart and the Sea Level Research Center.
A geology major who now lives in Barrington, Amelse spent her fellowship studying microorganisms called foraminifera (or forams), tiny shelled creatures that live in marine sediments. Researchers interpret prehistoric changes in climate and sea level based on variations in the abundance and species of fossilized foraminifera found in layers of sediment.
“The assumption is that you could go out on a single day to sample modern forams in the top few centimeters of sediment to get a sense for what species are typically found at that location, and then use that to compare to those found deeper,” Amelse explained. “But that doesn’t take into consideration the seasonal changes that might affect modern species abundances, which might alter the interpretation of the fossil record.”
So during every season she collected sediment samples at 25 locations in the Narrow River salt marsh in Narragansett, then counted and identified at least 200 forams per sample. While she is still completing the process and analyzing her results, Amelse is excited – and a little nervous – about presenting her results in December at the largest gathering of geologists in the world.
“I hope to wrap up my project in October, which will give me time to focus on what I’m going to present,” she said. “It could have implications for scientists who use forams for reconstructing prehistoric sea level changes.”
With one year left at URI before graduation, Amelse is already thinking about her future career. Her first step will be graduate school, though she is uncertain about what direction to pursue. She wants to combine her degrees in geology and social work into a career that examines the human impact of geology and climate change, perhaps focusing on geohazards – geological conditions that might lead to widespread damage – or hydrogeology. She envisions working overseas for a humanitarian group or government agency.
“There are a lot of people in countries around the world that don’t have as many resources as we do,” she said. “As global warming happens, it creates all kinds of changes to the environment, and I’d like to help understand and mitigate those changes for people in those countries.”