Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), a consortium of 98 Ph.D.-granting universities, has selected Holly Michael, assistant professor of geological sciences in the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award.
The competitive award, which provides $5,000 from ORAU and
$5,000 in matching funding from the faculty member's university, is intended to
enrich the research and educational growth of young faculty and result in new
Michael is one of only 32 recipients of the award nationwide
for the 2010-2011 academic year from a pool of 114 applicants.
"Each participating university may submit only two
nominations each year for the ORAU Powe Award, which is reserved for promising
young researchers," says Cordell Overby, UD's associate provost for
research and representative to ORAU. "We are very proud of Prof. Michael's
accomplishment and look forward to great things from her in environmental
research of critical interest to all of us."
The award will support Michael's research related to
eutrophication – the nutrient overloading from land runoff, septic systems, and
other sources that fuels excessive primary production in aquatic ecosystems. As
algae grow rapidly and then decompose, they deplete the oxygen in the water,
causing fish kills and other problems.
Michael's focus is the ground water that flows into
estuaries – a major pathway for nutrient transport. However, little is known
about how ground water interacts with surface water beneath the seafloor and
the chemical changes that occur in the ground water's nutrient payload before
entering the sea.
At a study site near Holts Landing in Delaware's Indian
River Bay, which has experienced severe eutrophication problems in the past,
Michael and graduate student Cristina Fernandez will be monitoring fluxes of
ground water and levels of nitrogen, a major nutrient, at several wells
installed in ancient river channels (paleochannels) on the seafloor. The wells,
up to 80 feet deep, are equipped with sensors that continuously log salinity,
temperature and depth.
Their objective is to identify the subsurface zones in which
mixing occurs due to the tides and help determine the extent to which nutrient
chemical transformations are occurring.
The project will augment a larger research effort led by
Michael and supported by the National Science Foundation to determine how
geology and hydrology affect the amount of bioavailable nutrients contributed
by ground water to Indian River
Bay on a seasonal basis.
"Coastal estuarine ecosystems throughout the world are
increasingly threatened by eutrophication caused by excess nutrients introduced
by human land use and rapidly growing coastal populations," Michael says.
In addition to her work in Delaware's Inland Bays, Michael
also is researching the vulnerability of ground water to coastal sea-level rise
in Bangladesh as part of a larger World Bank effort to understand the potential
effects of climate change on food security in that country.
Award for Ground Water Research
June 1, 2010