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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI grad student earns prestigious NOAA scholarship

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

New Jersey native launches research on Nile Delta fisheries

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- September 29, 2005 -- Autumn Oczkowski, a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, has been awarded the prestigious Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The scholarship pays for her tuition for the next four years and provides a $20,000 stipend annually as well. Just four Foster Scholarships are awarded each year.

“I didn’t think I had much of a chance to get this scholarship since it’s extremely selective, so I’m very excited and honored to have been awarded it,” said Oczkowski, a 27-year-old native of Cinnaminson, N.J. “It’s a total affirmation of my choice of career. It makes me feel like I can do anything now.”

The URI graduate student earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and a master’s degree in earth sciences from the University of New Hampshire. At URI she is launching a research program to understand how the population boom in the Nile River delta region of Egypt may be affecting the productivity of the offshore fishery.

According to Oczkowski, completion of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River in 1964 limited the fresh water and nutrients that flowed into the eastern Mediterranean, causing a dramatic decline in fish populations and causing the fishing industry in the region to plummet. But by the early 1980s fish stocks began to rebound.

“My advisor formed the hypothesis that the growing human population in the region resulted in an increased volume of fertilizers and wastewater to run off into the Mediterranean, and it is the nutrients in the run-off that has helped restore the fishery,” she said. “So I’m going to use stable isotopes to attempt to determine the sources of nutrients supporting the fishery to try and identify why the fishery rebounded.”

Oczkowski has already begun collaborating with Egyptian scientists, and she will make her first trip to Egypt in November.

As she wrote in her scholarship application, “this dissertation research builds upon my interdisciplinary scientific background, research experiences, and my strongly held belief that the Nile River story is an important and unexplored key to understanding many of the linkages between large-scale human modifications of hydrologic and terrestrial systems and the coastal environment.”

Photo credit Michael salerno Photography