UD grad works on ocean acidification
Photo by Evan Krape and courtesy of Meredith Kurz January 16, 2019
Meredith Kurz helped NOAA during her time as a 2018 Knauss Fellow
After graduating with a master’s degree in marine policy from the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, Meredith Kurz wanted to work in an area combining science and public policy. Thanks to Sea Grant, she got that opportunity and much more.
Kurz has worked for the past year as an international liaison for coordination and capacity development at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Acidification Program. The role was Kurz’s assignment for her Dean John A. Knauss Fellowship, a prestigious program run by NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program.
Kurz was nominated for the Knauss Fellowship by the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and said that she was grateful for the opportunity as she was interested in exploring the intersection between climate and the ocean, as well as tackling the international aspects of ocean policy.
For her work as a Knauss Fellow, she represented NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program to the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, which allowed her to travel and interact with scientists from different countries and help them increase their ability to conduct ocean acidification research through sharing knowledge and resources.
Kurz worked on a project focused on building capacity in three different regions — Africa, Latin America and the Pacific islands — and training qualified applicants who were already trained scientists to measure ocean acidification with pieces of equipment purchased for them to use in their home countries with grant money from the U.S. Department of State and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
“I think it’s valuable to transfer knowledge and technology when the end result is for the common understanding of our ocean and the common good of managing it,” said Kurz. “There’s certain equipment that people use to observe ocean chemistry that’s fairly accessible, like temperature is easy to get, but it’s pretty difficult and time intensive to get alkalinity and to a certain extent, pH.”
Equipment capable of collecting good quality data on these parameters can be expensive and difficult to maintain.
When setting up the capacity building programs, the office first determined the set list of equipment that was the best quality and also the most cost effective and then grants that equipment to labs that send a scientist to the trainings.
At workshops organized by Kurz and her colleagues at a nonprofit called the Ocean Foundation, expert scientists showed the trainee scientists how to conduct the proper measurements in the lab, as well as how to properly process water samples to get the necessary chemical parameters. They also granted the trainee scientists a field pH sensor that could take continuous pH measurements in a location of significance. The scientists would then go out in the field and practice bottle sampling and using the pH sensor.
For one of these capacity trainings, Kurz traveled to Hawaii to train scientists from Pacific islands, such as Fiji, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea with Chris Sabine, a former NOAA employee and one of the leading scientists in the field.
“Because of this capacity training, a place like Vanuatu has someone there doing ocean acidification observations, and there has never been those chemistry observations in Vanuatu before so it’s very exciting,” said Kurz.
Kurz travelled to Santa Marta, Colombia for another capacity training session involving South American countries. In addition, she went to Poland for the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network’s 2018 executive council meeting, which was held at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oceanology.
She also travelled to Ottawa, Canada as the ocean acidification program has a direct bilateral relationship with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada. The purpose of that meeting was to coordinate research efforts to ensure the organizations aren’t overlapping with one another and provide assistance when needed.
“It’s also to ensure there’s no gaps in our coverage of ecosystems that cross our two countries’ borders and there’s a lot of work in that area in the Arctic,” Kurz said. “It’s expensive to get to the Arctic so we usually have to pool our resources.”
Kurz also worked on a Pier2Peer Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network (GOA-ON) program that matches early career scientists, particularly those working in developing countries, with senior scientists in the field. The senior scientists provide a variety of support ranging from proofreading funding proposals and postdoc applications, giving advice on setting up experiments or observations, checking for problems in data, or giving general professional development advice.
Kurz received applications from potential mentees and recruited potential mentors, and matched them based on their mutual research interests and what kind of support was needed by the mentee.
“This aspect of my job was interesting because it required me to build personal relationships with scientists from the whole spectrum of experience and diversity,” said Kurz who also wrote a monthly newsletter for the program members.
Kurz said that it was beneficial to get hands-on experience to see how a federal agency works during her time as a Knauss Fellow and that it was interesting getting to know scientists from different countries and learn about their priorities.
For her master’s degree, Kurz researched a climate change mitigation strategy known as blue carbon by measuring the value of carbon storage in wetlands along the east coast of the Delmarva Peninsula.
She said that she is thrilled with everything that Sea Grant has allowed her to do in her academic ventures.
“My graduate research was also Sea Grant-funded research so I’ve been benefiting from Sea Grant support for years,” said Kurz. “I love being involved in Sea Grant projects. It’s such a cool program and I really like that they do so much applied community-based science. You don’t see that as much in other grant programs so I like that and admire that about Sea Grant.”