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cadet blogs

Excited About My Research Projects

(Academics, Class of 2017) Permanent link   All Posts
Culp Photo It’s been a while! I feel like I have a tendency to pull out the “I’m busy” excuse fairly frequently, as do most cadets here… but, I actually have been very busy keeping up with my schoolwork and extracurriculars during the last few weeks of the semester. This semester has been particularly enjoyable for me on the academic side because the focus of my major, Marine and Environmental Sciences, has started to shift from short-term objective assignments to larger, more time-consuming projects requiring much more critical thinking and analysis. Case in point, my project for Geospatial Sciences (a class involving a lot of map-making and working with computers). My partner Tasha and I took on a project with Mystic Aquarium to track the presence of beluga whales in New England waters. Belugas usually live much further up north, around the St. Lawrence River and other areas in Canada and Greenland. However, occasionally some swim down into New England. We wanted to see what, if any, environmental factors were influencing that behavior. We had to collect data from stranding networks, newspapers, blogs, etc. detailing any sightings of belugas, and plug those points into a map. Then, we worked with the MatLab programming software to import sea surface temperature and chlorophyll concentration data into the maps. Overall, the data collection process took most of the last half to three-quarters of the semester; it’s harder to locate this information and make it a compatible format than you might realize!


We put it all together, and made the incredibly important discovery of… no evident correlation between these factors and beluga presence. But, even if we didn’t answer all of life’s beluga mysteries, we did contribute to Mystic Aquarium’s mission, and that was pretty neat! There’s also the chance to keep working on this outside of the scheduled curriculum as an independent research project, which I’m planning on for next semester. In addition, I spent time this semester researching fish in the Thames River, which involved some trawling and seining action, and writing an extensive paper on the invasion of Nile perch in Lake Victoria in Uganda; again, both deeply involved and open-ended research opportunities. Meanwhile, I kept myself involved in the physics side of the department by working with one of the instructors on research of the magnetic fields produced by solar flares (or, in actuality, working out numerous bugs with the IDL programming language). These sorts of projects, and the chance to continue researching next year on my own, are really what made this semester such a blast for me. They demanded much time and effort, and often late nights, but some splendid products and opportunities came out of them. Plus, I just really get a kick out of being so focused on science. It makes me that much more excited for my classes next semester and for the new challenges that await!


More about Abby.