NSF Issues CAREER Awards to Two Scripps Researchers


Two Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego researchers have received Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation to further their study of topics at the frontiers of geophysics and ocean chemistry.

Dave Stegman, an assistant professor of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps, is an expert in using high-performance computing and advanced four-dimensional visualization systems to explore the intricate details of how planets evolve and why Earth’s plate tectonics are unique to this planet.

Such research addresses the powerful geological forces that shape planets, from earthquake ruptures to mountain formations.

Stegman’s NSF Career Award, “Investigating fast motion of the Indian plate with geodynamic models,” will address some of the underlying mysteries of plate tectonics. The project will investigate the dynamic causes of an unusually rapid motion of the Indian plate between 70 million and 45 million years ago.

“By attempting to understand such an anomalously fast plate speed, our knowledge of how plate tectonics works, and how Earth evolved, will be improved,” said Stegman.

The project will build upon Stegman’s 2011 study with Scripps scientist Steve Cande that identified plumes of hot magma pushing up from Earth’s deep interior as a new driving mechanism of plate tectonics.

“Current observations suggest mantle plumes influence both plate motions as well as where plate boundaries form, but the underlying physical process for how and why is not yet known,” said Stegman.

Stegman believes the project will advance science’s knowledge of plate tectonics processes and Earth’s evolution, as well the capability to model plate tectonics in an unprecedented manner as a fully dynamic, time-dependent 3-D system.

A significant component of the project is an innovative educational aspect aimed at prospective Ph.D. students in the geodynamics field and an emphasis in increasing participation from members of underrepresented groups.

The NSF grant to Andreas Andersson, an assistant professor and chemical oceanographer, will help improve projections of CO2 chemistry in near-shore ocean waters by understanding how different benthic communities and biogeochemical processes modify seawater chemistry.

Scientists can accurately predict how surface seawater CO2 chemistry of the open ocean will change in response to rising atmospheric CO2, but in near-shore environments, this is much more challenging because a large influence from biological processes modifies seawater chemistry.

With the award for “Biogeochemical Modification of Seawater CO2 Chemistry in Near-Shore Environments: Effect of Ocean Acidification,” Andersson and his team will investigate contrasting benthic habitats ranging from tropical lagoons and coral reefs to temperate tide pools and kelp beds during summer and winter.

“There is a crucial gap in our knowledge of the extent near-shore benthic communities are able to modify seawater chemistry. Some communities may be able to partially offset the change in pH arising from ocean acidification whereas others may exacerbate this change,” said Andersson. “This grant gives us a great opportunity to evaluate the role of different benthic communities and also test a new methodology that essentially takes the pulse of these systems in term of their function and role in the cycling of carbon.”

As part of the grant, Andersson and colleagues will work with the San Diego-based Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI) to engage students from a local underserved community in science through a range of educational activities focused on ocean acidification, and also provide a moderate number of internships for students to engage in this research project. 

“ODI has done an amazing job in bringing students from a broad and diverse background into science, changing students lives by providing opportunities and inspiration to pursue higher education,” said Andersson. “I am very excited to be working with ODI.”

“Working with Dr. Andersson to integrate his exciting research into our curriculum will provide an opportunity for young people to directly engage locally in research that has global relevance,” said ODI Associate Director Lindsay Goodwin. “Internships working in his lab will enable students to envision themselves as scientists, a career path otherwise unknown to them. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities this partnership will bring!”

According to the NSF, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.



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