(Aug. 6, 2019) -- UTSA geology assistant professor Alexis Godet has received more than half a million dollars to study the resilience of ancient reef systems to contribute to the understanding of the threats on modern reefs. Experts predict that 100% of coral reefs, the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, will be threatened by 2050. Godet hopes to help reverse this trend.
Godet has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award of $550,462 to support his five-year project, “CAREER: Environmental forcing on the resilience of carbonate platforms during the Early Cretaceous super greenhouse period”. The funding will allow him to expand on his research into the impact of ancient environmental conditions on shallow marine ecosystems.
The UTSA researcher reports that about 75% of coral reefs are currently in danger due to human activity, pollution and climate change. He believes that studying the Earth’s history has the potential to identify mitigation processes for similar crises.
“About 120 million years ago, the atmospheric content of greenhouse gases increased dramatically. Under such conditions, reef ecosystems dominated by large bivalves either survived, adapted or disappeared,” explained Godet, who is an assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Geological Sciences. “This project will test the hypothesis that the resilience of reef ecosystems was favored at low latitudes by examining four locations along a transect from the ancient equator to subtropical latitudes. It will bring some insights about how modern ecosystems could adapt, or not.”
During the course of this grant, a total of five master’s students will conduct field work in France, Italy and Oman, while most of the laboratory work will be done on UTSA Main Campus. Godet and his students will gather rock samples to produce data (rock slabs, thin sections, pictures, geochemical data, etc.). Godet plans to integrate this new data into his teaching curriculum.
To complete the project, Godet will collaborate with researchers at UTSA, the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), the University of Ferrara (Italy), the University of Perpignan (France) and Texas A&M University, College Station.
The CAREER project also includes an educational component. Godet will train a diverse pipeline of future researchers in the geology field.
Each summer, over the next five years, two undergraduate students from the Alamo Colleges District will be invited to intern in Godet’s research group on the UTSA campus for one month. In total, 10 undergraduate students will get early research experience through the program.
“Diverse perspectives are so important to advancing science,” said Godet. “This will hopefully give the students a sense of belonging and will retain them in a geology major, a field of STEM with a pretty low diversity.”
Godet studies how carbonate rocks are formed (sedimentology) and how they have been transformed (diagenesis) since their deposition in ancient oceans. He is particularly interested in rocks dated back to the Cretaceous period. This CAREER project advances previous research Godet performed in Tunisia, where he studied the record of environmental changes during the same time-period and the impact on marine ecosystems.
In addition to this project, Godet will lead the university’s efforts to test, use and teach MOVE software at UTSA. This geological software will facilitate the study of the geometry of rock deposits in the subsurface while also helping UTSA students and researchers better identify underground fluids such as groundwater, oil and gas. UTSA received this in-kind software donation estimated at $2.2 million from Petroleum Experts, a European company.
The NSF CAREER Award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Unlike most research grants, this award requires both strong scholarly research and a significant plan for education and mentorship. Godet joins four other UTSA faculty who recently were awarded an NSF CAREER Award, one of the NSF’s most prestigious programs.
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