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Adventures in the Caribbean UTRGV student takes part in tsunami research

Environmental sciences senior Carlos Nuñez sits by the trench he dug to look at a stratigraphic record near Bumber Well Pond in Anegada, an island in the British Virgin Islands. Courtesy Photo

In February, UTRGV environmental sciences senior Carlos Nuñez traveled to Anegada of the British Virgin Islands to conduct field work on tsunamis.

“Basically, what we were doing over there was looking at sand deposits, looking at coral heads, looking at limestone boulders,” Nuñez said.

Nuñez was invited by Brian Atwater, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist and affiliated professor at the University of Washington, to join a research team in Anegada to find evidence of high energy wave deposits.

“Our big purpose was to try to learn about the kinds of earthquakes and tsunamis that can be generated along the Puerto Rico trench,” Atwater said during a phone interview with the Rider last Thursday.

Atwater said the broad goal was to see if they can make distinctions between different types of storms. The team mapped the island surface for evidence of extreme waves that brought in corals and clam shells.

Nuñez’s field role was equal to the rest of the research team. It included making observations, doing physical work, providing safety and doing chores in the house the team shared.

Before studying tsunamis in Anegada, Nuñez was researching hurricanes on South Padre Island.

“I was looking at deposits of hurricanes, and taking cores out of the Laguna Madre,” Nuñez said.

It was his research at UTRGV and his interest to further his education that helped him get the opportunity to work with Atwater.

“I sent him an email asking for opportunities for students, for graduate studies. We talked on the phone, and we talked a bit about my interests, and what the research I was doing here at UTRGV,” Nuñez said. “He was really interested and he mentioned the possibility of me helping them in Anegada. So I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”

Atwater said what stood out to him the most during their conversation was Nuñez’s drive.

“His enthusiasm and initiative got me thinking that doing some field work on this island would be very good experience for him,” Atwater said. “I needed enthusiastic people who didn’t mind getting thorns stuck in them.”

Besides conducting research for his studies, Nuñez assists with data collection as an intern for the UTRGV Office of Sustainability. His other duties include assisting with events, running booths and planting trees.

“He’s a very energetic, bright young man who’s willing to help with anything or try anything,” said Office of Sustainability Grant Writer Deborah Fitzwater-Dewey. “He doesn’t shy away from assignments.”

Atwater and Nuñez have been exchanging emails about Nuñez’s senior project that is based on his work in Anegada. Nuñez collected sand samples, and took photos of a cylindrical sand grain from an algae stem he found.

“The reason that that work is important is that we’re trying to figure out how far inland the water went. … We need fingerprints in the sand that say that the sand came from the beach or from offshore,” Atwater said. “This particular kind of sand grain that Carlos has been looking at looks like it may be one of those fingerprints.”

Nuñez plans to enter graduate school in Fall 2017 so he can continue to study tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes. He is interested in helping the environment with problems that lie ahead due to climate change.

“I think it’s really important to help the environment and conserve nature, not only for us but for future generations,” he said.

Nuñez’s advice to other students comes from advice he has been given and has contributed to his own experiences.

“All these adventures started just by me sending an email. Definitely don’t be afraid to talk to your professors, don’t be afraid to ask them for student opportunities, don’t be afraid to email other professors in other schools in other countries. You never know if they’re looking for someone to help them with their research,” he said. “Take a chance, and try to talk to people as much. Try to make connections in the field you want to work in.”

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