Emerging Research Areas
VI-EPSCoR supports three emerging areas of research in the Territory: Coastal Oceanography, Watershed Dynamics and Human Dimensions. These research areas complement current expertise and expand the ability to conduct high-impact research. Our goal is to better understand the community's social and economic resilience in the face of climate change. New hires in these areas help further the research and collaborations so deeply needed.
Oceanographic processes affect nearly all aspects of marine ecosystems, including: the dispersal of coastal sediments, fish and coral larvae, the vulnerability of nearshore ecosystems to storms, concentration of nutrients, and the accumulation of themal stress (Cowen et al. 2006; Manzello et al., 2007; Chérubin et al. 2008; Paris and Chérubin 2008; Chollett et al. 2010, 2012; Chollett and Mumby 2012). The coastal oceanography program is an integral emerging research focus of VI-EPSCoR which augments existing marine science research at UVI particularly by expanding our understanding of coastal oceanographic processes. An additional focus is investigating the factors that influence environmental and climate forces on coral reef systems, including the vulnerability of coastal marine ecosystems to episodic events like storms and hurricanes, nutrients and the accumulation of thermal stress. This research is integral to the coral reef research dynamics, disease, and demographics (3D) research focus by providing necessary data on physical and biological oceanographic processes that aids in our understanding of coastal ecosystem dynamics and resiliency.
Dr. Sennai Habtes, Research Assistant Professor of Biological Oceanography, is the lead researcher for the coastal oceanography program, and The Coastal Oceanography Lab or, “Ocean Lab,” at UVI. His research is focused on using timeseries data to study patterns in, and impacts to marine organisms in tropical and subtropical regions. The Ocean Lab is involved in a range of oceanographic research activities surrounding the USVI, including: management of two coastal ocean buoy systems which are part of the CARICOOS buoy network; deployment and recovery for a host of oceanographic sensors and monthly sampling of zooplankton and oceanographic data for the the VI-EPSCoR Brewers Bay Ecosystem Analysis Program; a multi-disciplinary project with the NOAA NMFS SEFSC Fisheries Oceanography for Recruitment Climate and Ecosystem Studies (FORCES) lab on the physical processes affecting reef fish spawning and recruitment in the US Caribbean; and an exciting new project with Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes and the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service (VIMAS) focused on reducing marine debris in the USVI. In addition, Dr. Habtes is a member of the teaching faculty within the Marine and Environmental Science program and College of Science and Mathematics here at UVI.
Small-island ecosystems depend critically on the interactions between land and sea and watersheds play a key role in this relationship. A watershed is the land area that drains into a common outlet like a gut and then on into the sea. Alterations to watersheds have major impacts on nearshore marine waters. Changes to the land can be linked to marine sedimentation, water quality and ecosystem health, all elements of high importance and relevance to island communities.
Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes, Research Assistant Professor of Watershed Ecology and Director of the Virgin Islands Water Resources Research Institute (VI WRRI), is dedicated to watershed dynamics research and helps build UVI's research capacity. Additionally, Dr. Grimes creates opportunities for integration and expansion of coral reef research groups as well as the Environmental Analysis Laboratory (EAL) and the Institute for Geocomputational Analysis and Statistics (GeoCAS). She naturally collaborates closely with essential local agencies, such as Coastal Zone Management, Division of Fish and Wildlife and other units of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
The challenges faced by communities because of climate change have less to do with the scientific understanding of the problem than how such challenges are perceived by the community. The significance of community and citizen participation in managing environmental and natural resources cannot be underestimated. We are exploring, investigating and identifying the key factors that promote knowledge assimilation, facilitate adaptive governance and enable or inhibit the emergence of social-ecological stewardship.