Mines student sets sail to study remote marine ecosystems

Nicholas Rummel is sailing on the SSV Robert C. Seamans research vessel.

A Colorado School of Mines student sailed across the Pacific Ocean to conduct research near the remote Phoenix Islands.

Nicholas Rummel, a rising senior in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, participated in an eight-week program with SEA Semester where he conducted research in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). PIPA is one of the last remaining coral wildernesses on Earth. Roughly the size of California, it is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site in the world located about halfway between Hawaii and Fiji.

"I chose SEA’s Protecting the Phoenix Islands program because I wanted to be pushed outside of my comfort zone in both physically and academically," Rummel said. "This program gave me the flexibility to apply skills and passion to an environmental problem that I feel is important to the global community."

Rummel, along with 23 other undergraduate students from across the U.S., collected samples from the marine environment to study the impact of El Niño, a large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction connected to a periodic warming in the sea’s surface temperatures across the Equatorial Pacific that affects weather patterns and ocean conditions, and assess the effects of climate change. The results will contribute to a greater understanding of the marine ecosystem and environmental management goals.

"One aspect of my research required me to pull on a geostatistical method called kriging in order to have a better understanding of tuna larvae populations," Rummel said. "Mines and the research I have done in my undergraduate career here at Mines prepared me well to get a lot done on a short voyage."

The SEA Semester program started in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on June 12, where students developed their own research projects in ocean science or conservation policy and completed preparatory coursework. For the next five weeks, Rummel sailed roughly 800 nautical miles aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, one of the most sophisticated research sailing school vessels ever built in the United States, before returning to America Samoa for the program’s conclusion on August 11.

Read about Rummel's experience on the SEA Semester blog.

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