Undergraduate Research In Marine Science

Capstone Experience

Students in the marine science program at Kutztown University are required to carry out undergraduate research under the supervision of a faculty advisor or to participate in a discipline-related internship.

The Marine Science Program at Kutztown University considers student-faculty research to be an integral component of an undergraduate’s education. Participation by students in this endeavor gives them hands-on, real-world experience solving scientific problems and greatly increases their marketability. Faculty provide a wide range of projects tailored to the interests of students. Students from KU have presented their undergraduate research projects at local, regional, and national meetings of professional societies and their research is published in leading academic journals.

Quotation Mark

Not only did I learn to swim during undergraduate research, but I also learned how to use a vast variety of practical tools and scientific equipment. The opportunity to present at a conference allowed me to connect with professionals from my field and develop scientific communication skills all while building confidence about my future.

Bojan Milinic, KU class of 2019, Geology and Environmental Science/Geology Major
Dr. Adrienne Oakley- Marine Geology

Current Research: Investigating the Effects of Sea Level Rise and Environmental Change along the Barrier Islands and Salt Marshes of the Southern Delmarva Peninsula

At Kutztown University, I have an active coastal marine geology research program involving undergraduates. My research group studies coastal processes: erosion and sediment transport, barrier island formation and movement, and salt marsh evolution and restoration on the Eastern Shore of VA on the Delmarva Peninsula.  This region is experiencing sea level rise at twice the global average and is often threatened by large coastal storms such as hurricanes and Nor'Easters.  As sea level continues to rise, coastal zones will experience more frequent instances of intensive erosion and sustained flooding that threaten existing infrastructure, natural habitats, and communities. 

To create resilient and sustainable coastal communities, restore salt marshes, and protect infrastructure on barrier islands, we must understand both the current conditions along the shoreline and the underlying geologic history of the region.

This research project is a collaborative effort between Kutztown University undergrad students and faculty, Shippensburg University students and faculty, the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS), and NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF).

Our results have been included in environment assessment reports and have contributed to NASA’s decision to retrofit and relocate necessary infrastructure for both higher water table levels and future erosional events on Wallops Island. We are currently working with FWS to study and restore Swan Cove Pool, a tidal pool and salt marsh on Assateague Island. 

Check out our "Postcard from the Field!"

Jurassic Ocean Crust Magnetic Survey

From November 4-December 17, 2011 five Kutztown undergraduate students joined me on an NSF funded Marine Geophysical research cruise. Along with researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Texas A&M, we journeyed to the Western Pacific to study the oldest seafloor on the planet with the goal of investigating the history of Earth's geomagnetic field.

 You can read more about our expedition in our blog!

Small group of students looking at a split sediment core in the lab.
Students standing in a group around a tall tripod, which one student is standing on, in front of a lake- vibracoring in Swan Cove Pool on Assateague Island
Students and Dr. Oakley in the Marine Geology lab, inputting data on separate systems
Group of male students on the deck of a research vessel wearing safety gear
Students in lab looking at colorful monitoring screens
Dr. Wendy Ryan- Marine Biology

Current Research: Zooplankton Energetics in the Face of Climate Change

Zooplankton form a key link in marine food webs by eating phytoplankton and in turn being eaten by larger invertebrates and fishes.  The focus of this research is to quantitatively evaluate the oxygen consumption of various zooplankton as a measure of the amount of energy they expend when exposed to one or more environmental stressors. This research utilizes a novel microrespirometer system developed by Nancy M. Butler and Wendy L. Ryan that measures the oxygen consumption rate of individual zooplankton in the size range of 3-10mm!

The objectives for this project include 1) completing direct measurements of the metabolic rates of diverse taxa of zooplankton; 2) examining the metabolic responses of zooplankton under conditions associated with climate change and/or the ingestion of microplastics; and 3) determining if the metabolic rate of various zooplankton changes in response to exposure to high hydrostatic pressures (due to diurnal vertical migration) and if these responses differ between taxa.

Previous Research: Long-term Study of Marine Mammal Behaviors at Mystic Aquarium

The goals of this project were to: 1) conduct a long-term study of the behaviors of marine mammals (Beluga whales, seals, and sea lions) housed in outdoor aquarium exhibits to determine if they are influenced by seasonal change; 2) study the behaviors of these marine mammals in response to changing group composition; 3) provide opportunities for dedicated KU undergraduate students to become part of a researcher team; and 4) develop teaching materials that to help pre-college students gain an appreciation for the process of science using actual project questions and data. 

 This project ran from March 2011 through December 2014 and resulted in numerous conference presentations, along with three publications to date.

Amanda working on plankton research in the lab
Fiddler crab larva under a microscope
Wendy and Sam observing a beluga whale in a glass tank at an aquarium

Recent Publications

(Italics indicate Kutztown University undergraduate student author)


Evanchuk, C., T. Williams, and W. Ryan.  In preparation.  Assessing the oxygen consumption of marine zooplankton following the ingestion of microplastics. Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Halteman, Danielle M. and Wendy L. Ryan. 2019. The Effect of Group Composition on the Social Behaviors of Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in an Artificial Environment.  Aquatic Mammals. 45(3), 303-310, DOI 10.1578/AM.45.3.2019.303

Weidman, T. and W. Ryan. 2017. The Effect of Abrupt Salinity Change on Oxygen Consumption in Crab Megalopae of Chincoteague Bay, USA. Invertebrate Reproduction and Development. DOI 10.1080/07924259.2017.1395369

Ryan, Wendy L. 2017.  Beluga Whales: Hypothesis Development and Evaluation. Science Scope 40(8):42-53.

Ryan, Wendy L. and Ezry St. Iago-McRae. 2016. Exploring Experimental Design: An Excel-Based Simulation Using Steller Sea Lion Behavior. Bioscene 4(1):32-38.

Oakley, A., Cornell, S., Bochicchio, C., Carney, J., and Sabetta, M., 2015, Using groundwater data sondes to produce high-quality in situ tide and wave hydrographs along Wallops Island, VA, Journal of Coastal Research, 31, 5, p. 1275-1283.

 Professional Presentations/Abstracts

Garnand, Alexandra, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, Bochicchio, Christopher, Bond, Thomas, and Sergent, Eric, Tracking Trends in Sand Grain Size Along a Barrier Island After a Major Beach Replenishment: Wallops Island, Eastern Shore, Virginia, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. GSA Southeastern Section Annual Meeting 2019, doi: 10.1130/abs/2019SE-327679

Krezdorn, Kyle, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, Milinic, B., Sutter, B., and Silveira Meyers, J., Investigating Environmental Changes in Swan Cove Pool, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague Island, VA, In Response to Barrier Island Rollover, Overwash, and Refuge Management. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, ISSN 0016-7592, GSA Northeastern Section Annual Meeting 2019, doi: 10.1130/abs/2019NE-328216

Garnand, Alexandra, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, Bochicchio, Christopher, Bond, Thomas, and Sergent, Eric, Analysis of barrier island sand grain size trends from 2011-2018 pre- and post- beach replenishment: Wallops Island, Virginia. AGU Fall Meeting, Abstract ID: OS11G-1473, 2018

Milinic, B., Sutter, B., Silveira Meyers, J., Oakley, A., Cornell, S., Bochicchio, C., Moriarty, S., Investigating the Initiation of Duplexing of the Mid-Atlantic’s Chincoteague-Assateague, Virginia Barrier Island System using Vibracore and GPR Records. AGU Fall Meeting, Abstract ID: OS11G-1484, 2018

Silveira Meyers, J., Cornell, S., Oakley, A., Milinic, B., Sutter, B., Analysis of Magnetic Susceptibility Signatures of Modern Coastal Sediments and Vibracores, Assateague & Wallops Island, Virginia. AGU Fall Meeting, Abstract ID: OS11G-1485, 2018

 Silveira Meyers, J., Cornell, S., Oakley, A., Characterizing Magnetic Susceptibility Signatures of Modern Barrier Island and Back Barrier Depositional Environments from Assateague, Chincoteague, and Wallops Islands, Virginia. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 50, No. 6. doi: 10.1130/abs/2018AM-324453, 2018

Garnand, Alexandra, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, Bond, Thomas, Sergent, Eric, and Bochicchio, Christopher, Sediment Grain Size Trends Pre- and Post- Beach Replenishment Along Wallops Island, Virginia From 2011-2017 at Monthly and Seasonal Resolution, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 50, No. 2, GSA Northeastern Section Annual Meeting, 2018 

Milinic, Bojan, Sutter, Brandon, Moriarty, Sarah, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, and Bochicchio, Christopher, Investigating Barrier Island Evolution Through Stratigraphic Analysis Of Vibracores From Assateague And Chincoteague Islands, VA, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 50, No. 2, GSA Northeastern Section Annual Meeting, 2018  

Sutter, Brandon, Milinic, Bojan, Moriarty, Sarah, Oakley, Adrienne, Cornell, Sean, Sherrod, Laura A., Bochicchio, Christopher, and Cooper, Adam T., Geophysical And Stratigraphic Investigation Of Assateague Island, Virginia: Unraveling The Evolution Of The Only Mid-Atlantic Duplexed Barrier Island System, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 50, No. 2, GSA Northeastern Section Annual Meeting, 2018  

Student Research: Blue Crab Larvae with Tammy Weidman