Research Projects for New Students
Many other faculty are interested in attracting students to study with them. Several have proposals pending that may be funded by the time admissions decisions are made. Funding may also come from internal MIT-WHOI fellowship sources, or external Fellowship sources for which prospective students are encouraged to apply. See list at https://mit.whoi.edu/admissions/funding/graduate-fellowship-opportunities/
We encourage prospective students to explore faculty's research areas of interest and contact them directly. When contacting them, please state your research interests and include your CV and an unofficial transcript.
2023-2024 Research Projects:
- The Biogeochemical Ocean Observing and Model lab boom.science, led by Dr. David (Roo) Nicholson is seeking a Ph.D. student to join a newly funded NOAA project on carbon dioxide uptake associated with ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE). OAE is a carbon dioxide removal approach that enhances the ocean’s natural ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere, which is a critical part of Earth’s carbon cycle and a moderating influence on climate change. The project is a collaboration with Drs. Robert Todd (WHOI), Adam Subhas (WHOI), Yui Takeshita (MBARI) and Kasia Zaba (Marine Robotic Vehicles - Systems LLC) and will be closely coordinated with the LOC-NESS project led by Dr. Subhas (locness.whoi.edu). The team will use five ocean gliders to track alkalinity released by a field trial in the Gulf of Maine. The gliders will track a patch of seawater with elevated alkalinity and ‘tagged’ with an inert dye and monitor changes in pH. Ultimately, the project seeks to develop robust methodologies for quantifying ocean carbon uptake and ecological feedbacks using autonomous underwater systems and sensors. Applicants from a wide range disciplinary and demographic backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Strong quantitative skills and training in chemical, physical or earth science and/or engineering are desired.
- Drs. Malcolm Scully, Anna Michel and David (Roo) Nicholson are seeking a doctoral student to be part of an NSF-funded study entitled “Physical Control of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Flux in Estuaries.” This highly interdisciplinary project seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of how physical and biogeochemical processes interact in estuaries to modulate atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange. We will make unprecedented measurements of the spatial and temporal variations in pCO2 and dissolved oxygen (DO) in the Hudson River estuary from a moored array and from ship-based surveys, to resolve variability in the along- and across-estuary directions. These measurements will include both the surface and sub-surface distribution of dissolved gases, and their distribution will be related to variations in vertical density stratification and estuarine circulation. Direct covariance atmospheric CO2 flux and water column turbulence measurements will be made from a fixed tower that spans the air-sea interface at a location where near surface turbulence is likely impacted by wind, waves, and tides, and is significantly modified by variations in vertical density stratification. These data will provide a quantitative model for the gas transfer velocity, which will be used to estimate atmospheric fluxes from the spatially resolved measurements of surface pCO2. The proposed measurements will address two long-standing research needs that contribute to the large uncertainties in estuarine CO2 emissions: 1) spatial and temporal heterogeneity in surface pCO2 values, and 2) poorly constrained gas transfer velocities. The proposed research addresses these two fundamental uncertainties, both of which are strongly modulated by physical processes, and a new conceptual model for gas exchange that is hypothesized to be applicable to a wide range of estuaries will be tested. This project will include extensive field work on the Hudson River in both 2024 and 2025. We welcome students from physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, applied ocean physics, and engineering.
- Arctic coastal zones are experiencing especially rapid changes due to the loss of sea ice cover, which has increased the duration of wave exposure and strength of wave energy reaching the coast. Dr. Maddie Smith is seeking a doctoral student to participate in research to understand the impact of waves on new ice formation in the fall, which plays a critical role in the coupled Arctic coastal system and coastline buffering. This work would include a research cruise in the Alaskan Arctic with collaborators at Oregon State University and the University of Washington. Previous field experience is not necessary; students from diverse background are encouraged to apply.
- Drs. Julia Guimond, Christopher Piecuch, and Catherine Walker are seeking a doctoral student to start in the Summer or Fall of 2023 and work on a project entitled “Global High-Resolution Estimates and Projections of Vertical Land Motion Using Observation-Informed Statistical Model”. The project will involve collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (in collaboration with Dr. Benjamin Hamlington) and NOAA National Ocean Service (in collaboration with Dr. William Sweet). The goal of the project is to use observations and models to better constrain past and future coastal subsidence and land loss, which worsen the effects of sea-level rise. The student will have the opportunity to gain experience with Bayesian methods as well as remote sensing, in-situ data, proxy records in the context of sea level and coastal impacts.
- Dr. Catherine Rychert is seeking a graduate student to work on a funded NSF project entitled, "Mantle Dynamics and Plate Tectonics Constrained by Converted and Reflected Seismic Wave Imaging Beneath Hotspots,” for summer or fall 2024 enrolment in the Woods Hole - MIT joint program. The student will use novel techniques to image mantle seismic discontinuities beneath a classic continental hotspot - Yellowstone, a classic oceanic hotspot -Hawaii, and a non-hotspot, beneath the Atlantic. Discontinuities of particular interest include the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary and the mantle transition zone. Imaging results will be compared with experimental predictions for material properties to achieve a better understanding of Earth’s interior dynamics in these exciting places. This work is in collaboration with Peter Shearer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
- Dr. Catherine Rychert and Dr. Nicholas Harmon are seeking a graduate student to work on an NSF project entitled, "Origin and Evolution of the Oceanic Lithosphere at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge,” for summer or fall 2024 enrolment in the Woods Hole - MIT joint program. The student will use novel techniques to image the mantle using a unique broadband ocean bottom seismic dataset. The student will perform joint inversions of different types of seismic and/or magnetotelluric datasets to achieve a synoptic view of mantle and crustal dynamics in the region. A step increase in our understanding of the lithosphere-asthenosphere system will be achieved via comparisons to other oceanic datasets. There are also broad implications for climate and hazard.
- Dr. Catherine Rychert and Dr. Nicholas Harmon are seeking a graduate student to work on an NSF project entitled, "Geophysical and geochemical investigation of links between Earth’s deep and shallow volatile cycles,” for summer or fall 2024 enrolment in the Woods Hole - MIT joint program. The student will use a new SS precursor imaging approach to image mantle transition zone, the gatekeeper of the mantle, to determine mantle flow patterns. Links with geochemistry will provide a wholistic and interdisciplinary view of the volatile cycles of the Earth. This in turn has broad implications for our understanding of climate and hazard. The project is in collaboration with Katie Kelley at University of Rhode Island.
- Dr Catherine Rychert and Dr. Nicholas Harmon are seeking a graduate student to work on an NSF project entitled, “Disentangling oceanographic and solid Earth signals for a better understanding of tectonics, hazard, and climate”, for summer or fall 2024 enrollment in the Woods Hole – MIT joint program. The oceans and the solid-Earth are intricately linked, but typically studied separately. The student will use a comprehensive suite of mooring full water depth oceanographic data and high precision ocean bottom pressure data from the RAPID/MOCA and MOVE mooring arrays to study geodetic seafloor motions and their influence on observational constraints of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) slow-down. This project provides a better understanding of the “pulse” of climate change and vertical tectonic motions associated with active plate tectonics and earthquake hazard at the MOVE array in the Lesser Antilles. This project is in conjunction with Matthias Lankhorst and Uwe Send at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and international partners at the National Oceanography Center, UK and University of Hamburg, Germany.
The following are examples of research projects that were available to new students for the 2022-2023 academic year. Research projects available for the 2023-2024 academic year will be added soon.
Applied Ocean Science and Engineering
The MSEAS group at MIT has graduate student positions available. Our research vision is to develop and transform ocean modeling, data assimilation and inference schemes to quantify regional ocean dynamics on multiple scales. Our group creates and utilizes new models and methods for multiscale modeling, uncertainty quantification, data assimilation and the guidance of autonomous vehicles. We then apply these advances to better understand physical, acoustical and biological interactions. Our environment is collaborative within a lively group of students and researchers. We seek both fundamental and applied contributions to build knowledge and benefit society. Our present research projects are outlined here: http://mseas.mit.edu/research and our recent publications here http://mseas.mit.edu/publications.
Subduction zones are the interface between Earth’s interior (crust and mantle) and exterior (atmosphere and oceans), where carbon and other volatile elements are actively moved between terrestrial reservoirs by plate tectonics. Dr. Pete Barry is seeking a doctoral student to study the volcanic fluid and gas emissions in the Andean Convergent Margin (ACM). Specifically, a position is available on an NSF funded project to gain a better understanding of the deep carbon cycle and natural carbon sequestration processes in Earth’s crust. This project will characterize the extent of mineralogical and biological carbon sequestration along the geologically well-studied ACM, using an integrated isotope approach (noble gases and stable isotopes). Extensive field campaigns and mass spectrometry work will be a cornerstone of this project. More information on the Barry Lab and the research group can be found at https://www2.whoi.edu/staff/pbarry/
Deep ocean circulation plays a key role in global climate change over a range of timescales, and neodymium (Nd) isotopes have the potential to trace these processes. Dr. Sophie Hines is seeking a doctoral student to investigate the mechanisms that set the Nd isotopic composition of North Atlantic Deep Water, a global Nd isotopic endmember that is implicated in major climate transitions in the past. This position is part of an NSF-funded project (with collaborators at University of Delaware and California State University Bakersfield) that will involve a research cruise to the Labrador Sea. In addition, the student will be trained in trace metal chemistry and mass spectrometry. Students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply. More information can be found at hineslab.whoi.edu.
Ono laboratory for Stable Isotope Geochemistry (based at MIT) is seeking a doctoral student to join the team to explore rock weathering as a sink of carbon dioxide. Burning fossil fuels and the cement industry adds approximately 30 Gt CO2 per year. Weathering rocks is a natural process that consumes about 1.5Gt of CO2 per year. The project seems to investigate a way to accelerate rock weathering as part of a mitigation strategy for increasing atmospheric CO2. The student would design and test biological and chemical catalysts, and conduct laboratory experiments to investigate the rates of mineral carbonation.
Marine Geology and Geophysics
Dr. Veronique Le Roux is seeking a doctoral student to be part of an NSF-funded interdisciplinary study (collaboration with Scripps and BC) on water/volatiles in lower crustal cumulates from arc settings. The student will be primarily trained in using and developing secondary ion mass spectrometry techniques and other geochemical techniques (e.g., SEM-EDS, LA-ICP-MS, EPMA etc.), with opportunities to contribute to discussion related to rheology and numerical modeling of crustal foundering, as part of the larger collaborative project. The goal is to use exposed terranes of lower crustal cumulates to determine the water contents of arc roots and primary arc magmas, building on novel results from our preliminary study. The Le Roux lab strongly encourages people of diverse backgrounds to reach out and apply.
Dr. Catherine Rychert is seeking one or more graduate students to work on an NSF funded project entitled, "Mantle Dynamics and Plate Tectonics Constrained by Converted and Reflected Seismic Wave Imaging Beneath Hotspots,” for summer or fall 2023 enrolment in the Woods Hole - MIT joint program. The student will use novel techniques to image mantle seismic discontinuities beneath a classic continental hotspot - Yellowstone, a classic oceanic hotspot -Hawaii, and a non-hotspot, beneath the Atlantic. Discontinuities of particular interest include the lithosphere-asthenosphere boundary and the mantle transition zone. Imaging results will be compared with experimental predictions for material properties to achieve a better understanding of Earth’s interior dynamics in these exciting places. This work is in collaboration with Peter Shearer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Drs. Veronique Le Roux and Andrew Cross are seeking a doctoral student to work on an NSF-funded project entitled “Strength of the Oceanic Lower Crust: New Experimental and Microstructural Constraints”. The project will involve high-pressure laboratory deformation experiments on aggregates of plagioclase and clinopyroxene at Brown University (in collaboration with Dr. Greg Hirth), and microstructural and geochemical analyses of lower crustal rocks from the Southwest Indian Ridge, using SEM, EBSD, EPMA, and LA-ICP-MS methods. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to determine how ductile deformation, and the strength of the oceanic lower crust, influence the nucleation and longevity of detachment faulting along ultraslow-spreading mid-ocean ridges. The student will also have the opportunity to help develop numerical models of oceanic detachment faulting and mid-ocean spreading in collaboration with researchers at Boston College (led by Dr. Mark Behn).
Dr. Amala Mahadevan is seeking a doctoral student for the following project.
Quantitative approaches for oceanic microbial ecosystems and carbon cycling
Oceanic ecosystems are crucial for the ocean’s biological pump and the sequestration of carbon. However, the diversity of microbial organisms and nonliving organic matter is so large, that it is difficult to exhaustively include processes that affect the cycling of carbon. We are limited in our knowledge of rates of transfer (growth/ decay) of carbon pools and organisms and the models that we design are sensitive to these. We also face the challenge of representing physical processes at small scales (from centimeters to meters) and environmental variability (from tens of meters to kilometer scales) in global carbon cycle models. Further, the organisms and microbial communities respond to ocean transport and physics. Hence, new approaches are needed to deal with the diversity of function and process, as well as scale, in models for microbial ecosystems and the carbon cycle. The PhD student will explore mathematically tractable approaches to modeling the complexity of oceanic microbial ecosystems, so as to make progress in understanding the carbon cycle, which is intrinsic to the earth’s climate. The research will be interdisciplinary, including physical oceanography, mathematics and microbial biology, There will be opportunities for field work and collaboration with other scientists on the project. This position is dependent on a pending proposal.