Student Research at BLE LTER


Science at the BLE LTER includes substantial field and analytical opportunities for graduate students as we jointly seek to understand how the strong seasonality in physical events drive biological processes that shape the complex nature of Arctic lagoon ecosystems. Graduate students and their research are an essential part of the BLE network. Students bring new ideas and perspectives into research and through their adept networking skills, enable productive interactions within the BLE LTER. The diverse science of the BLE LTER (from sea ice dynamics to benthic ecology) attracts graduate students across multiple disciplines that are based at several institutions across the U.S. Students interested in working on research initiatives within the BLE LTER are encouraged to contact the relevant investigators.


Emily Bristol
Fun times during water safety training.


Student Profiles


Emily Bristol

Emily Bristol (she/her)

The University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute

I'm a biogeochemist studying how Arctic ecosystems respond to climate change. In particular, I am interested in the linkages between terrestrial and aquatic carbon cycling, studying the fate of mobilized permafrost organic matter and consequences for greenhouse gas production. During my PhD, I will study shoreline erosion and groundwater inputs along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast. Currently, I am working to quantify erosional carbon and nutrient fluxes to the ocean, and using laboratory experiments to examine the biodegradability of permafrost organic matter in seawater.




Julio Ceniceros

Julio Ceniceros

The University of Texas at El Paso, Environmental Science & Engineering

My research interests include advancing our understanding of Arctic biophysical coastal dynamics and their subsequent impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Specifically, integrating field, laboratory, and remote sensing strategies for spatial data analysis using GIS and image processing technologies. Datasets and results from my research support enhanced modeling initiatives, create decision support tools, and the development of well-organized adaptation strategies for native communities. I'm passionate about keeping our Earth's environments healthy and love that I get to work in beautiful places like the Arctic and part of the scientific community that shares the same passion.




Stephen Escarzaga

Stephen Escarzaga

The University of Texas at El Paso, Environmental Science & Engineering

The overarching goal of my graduate research is to develop novel remote sensing approaches to advance understanding of how Arctic coastlines and near-shore environments are changing, particularly those along the Beaufort Coast of Northern Alaska. The motivation for me to conduct remote sensing research stems from my interest in all things geospatial. I enjoy spending hours panning and zooming around a dense point cloud model of a coastal bluff or a high-res orthomosaic of an entire ecosystem. What really makes this kind of work worth conducting is being able to observe environmental change at your fingertips. Coastal environments, as dynamic and rapidly changing as they are in the Arctic, are perfect subjects for remote sensing.




Daniel Fraser

Danny Fraser

The University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute

My research within the BLE LTER program will focus on the benthic communities of these Arctic lagoons, specifically on how their community structure varies spatially and temporally. This polar region is a unique place of extreme fluctuations in temperature and salinity, but benthic invertebrates still persist within short and efficient food webs that ultimately support coastal indigenous communities. I question how these benthic assemblages differ amongst lagoons of varying ocean connectivity and freshwater influence, as well as their resiliency throughout the Arctic’s three distinct annual periods; complete ice coverage in April, ice-breakup in June, and open water in August. It is rewarding work to be able to study the ecology of such resilient marine organisms within unique food webs that ultimately support the equally resilient people of the Iñupiat.




Natasha Griffin

Natasha Griffin

Oregon State University, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

I'm working with Dr. Byron Crump to better understand what microbes do in the Beaufort lagoons. My thesis focuses on tracking microbial activity across seasons in lagoon waters and sediments, as well as exploring how microbial processes relate to biogeochemical rates like nitrogen cycling and carbon fixation in the lagoons. My broader interests include ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, and science communication. When I'm not doing science, I love spending time on the Oregon coast or visiting the desert in my home state of Utah.




Brian Kim

Brian 승택 Kim (he/him)

College of William & Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

I am a biogeochemist studying benthic and pelagic nutrient cycling in Arctic lagoons. Transitioning from completely dark, ice-coveered, and hypersaline, to light, ice-free, and estuarine in a matter of months, these coastal ecosystems are highly variable. Yet somehow, these systems are very resilient and adaptive to these drastic changes. Specifically, I am interested in how nutrient dynamics, change and respond to these big shifts in order to support the ecosystem. By analyzing water column and sediment inorganic nutrients, utilizing intact sediment core incubations, and 15N isotope pairing experiments, I will assess how carbon and nitrogen cycling within these lagoons change throughout these extreme seasonal transitions. In addition to biogeochemistry, I am very passionate about science communication, outreach, and education. I have participated in numerous education programs (Kaktovik Oceanography Program, UTMSI Summer Science Camp, UTMSI Scientist in Residence) and manage the LTER graduate student instagram account.




Sasha Peterson

Sasha Peterson

The University of Texas at El Paso, Environmental Science & Engineering

At the nexus of land, sea, cryosphere, and atmosphere, Arctic coastal zones are likely the most critical in terms of rapid change as well as its vitality to local communities. Nearly half of the Beaufort coast is comprised of sheltered shorelines, and despite this protection erosion is rampant. My research aims to assess the drivers of erosion in Arctic lagoons and determine its associated impacts. The overarching goals of my research are: (1) determine spatiotemporal trends of erosion since the late 1940s in Beaufort coastal lagoons, (2) determine the transport and timing of thawing sediments from bluff face to lagoon, (3) improve spatiotemporal resolution of land-ocean transfer and fate of carbon via erosion, and (4) determine the role that the winter season plays on physiochemical properties and vulnerability of Arctic coasts. My research utilizes in situ soil collection, lab experiments, time-lapse imagery, and novel remote sensing using UAVs and satellite imagery.




Jacob Pratt

Jacob Pratt

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute

I'm a second-year graduate student studying bottomfast sea ice in Arctic coastal lagoons. I want to explore as much of the world as possible and I'm looking for a chance to get down to Antarctica next.

"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield." - Ernest Shackleton




Aquanette Sanders

Aquanette Sanders

The University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute

I am a PhD student in Marine Science. At UTMSI, my research interests include how permafrost thaws, causing thermokarst morphologies, and affecting the transport of nutrients and greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere in the Arctic. I graduated from the University of NC-Wilmington in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry. I hope to use my knowledge and position to inspire and educate minority children in STEM disciplines and help create a more diverse community of Arctic scientists in the future.




Alina

Alina Spera (she/her)

The University of Texas at El Paso, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I am a New Jersey native with educational and research background in marine science and biology. My research interests include ecology and biogeochemistry with a focus on studying rapidly changing coastal systems. My project as part of the BLE integrates high-frequency environmental sensor data with carbon chemistry to model and understand biogeochemical and ecological processes occurring in the Beaufort lagoons and nearby aquatic systems.

I am the current BLE student representative, advocating for the interests of all BLE-affiliated students.




Sydney Wilkinson

Sydney Wilkinson

University of Alaska Fairbanks, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences

My doctoral work focuses on aquatic systems and trophic linkages that shape food web form and function. I am interested in determining what energy sources (e.g., terrestrial, bacterial, phytoplanktonic) fuel food webs and how these sources change through time and space. I use biomarkers (e.g., stable isotopes, fatty acids) as tools to better understand trophic connectedness and resilience of food webs. It is important to me to work in environments experiencing rapid change to better understand the implications of climate change at a global scale.



Get involved

Interested in keeping up with the BLE student community? Sign up for the BLE student email group. The group serves as the communication channel and forum for reading seminars, professional development opportunities, and other banter. Email the BLE Information Management team at BLE-IM@utexas.edu to be added to the group.

Students interested in working on research initiatives within the BLE are encouraged to contact the relevant investigators.