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Research Project Description

Developing Adaptive Predictive Models for Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms
Research Participation Program
Office of Research and Development
National Exposure Research Laboratory
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Research Triangle Park, NC, or Cincinnati, OH

EPA-ORD/NERL-EERD-2014-01

Project Description:

A postgraduate/postdoctoral research project training opportunity is currently available at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research and Development (ORD), National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL). This appointment will be served in the Ecological Exposure Research Division (EERD) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, or Cincinnati, Ohio.

EERD focuses on understanding how pollutants or stressors come into contact with ecosystems, and how ecosystems and the plant and animal life within them respond to these exposures. This research informs decisions to support ecosystem protection and restoration by providing a sound biological foundation for ecological exposure science. Research is conducted at a variety of scales from molecular to ecosystem levels.

This research project focuses on development of tools and data to better understand the present and future distributions of invasive harmful algal bloom (HAB) species negatively impacting U.S. drinking water resources, through integration of predictive modeling with rapid, cost-effective monitoring.

Freshwater HABs are comprised of algae that produce a broad range of negative impacts on humans, animals and aquatic ecosystems, through the production of toxins or the deterioration of water quality through build-up of high biomass which degrades aesthetic, ecological, and recreational values. High biomass blooms can cause low oxygen events that kill fish and bottom dwelling organisms and block sunlight penetration, preventing the growth of other algae and disrupting food webs.

While freshwater HABs occur naturally, human actions that disturb ecosystems in the form of increased nutrient loadings and pollution and modified hydrology have been linked to the increased occurrence of some freshwater HABs. In addition, some HAB species such as Prymnesium parvum (P.parvum) are introduced species in many parts of their current range, and have seen their distributions altered in recent years as a result of human activity.

This training opportunity will involve the research participant in the following activities:

  • Developing and validating predictive models for forecasting the regional distribution of the Golden Alga P. parvum under alternative environmental scenarios (based on factors that may include land use, nutrient pollution and climate change), with initial focus on P. parvum distribution in drinking water reservoirs in the southern United States.
  • Developing and validating user-friendly monitoring tools, including (but not necessarily limited to) qPCR and other DNA-based methods, for rapidly and inexpensively assessing environmental samples for the presence of P. parvum.
  • Collaborating with local and regional water quality managers to deploy monitoring tools and collate presence/absence data with other collected environmental data in order to a) validate predictive models and b) inform development of next generation models with enhanced predictive capacity.

The research participant will have a unique opportunity to develop an adaptive predictive modeling framework designed to improve resource managers’ ability to forecast the distribution of harmful algae in drinking water sources and other systems. This framework will profit from a novel linked modeling/monitoring approach that will engage him/her in the development of both predictive models and user-friendly monitoring tools designed to enable rapid model validation. S/he will hone skills in predictive species distributional modeling and development of user-friendly monitoring tools, with a focus on integrating molecular methods with ecological models.

The research participant will interact with multiple EPA personnel involved in a broad research effort addressing various issues related to HABs. S/he will be actively involved in developing and maintaining relationships with natural resource managers engaged in HAB monitoring efforts. S/he will be encouraged to communicate research plans and results to these managers as well as through peer-reviewed publication and presentation at meetings of professional societies.

Qualifications:

Applicants must have received a master’s or doctoral degree in aquatic ecology, algal ecology, ecoinformatics, landscape or spatial ecology, or ecological genetics within five years of the desired starting date, or completion of all requirements for the degree should be expected prior to the starting date. Experience in general numerical and statistical modeling techniques is desirable.

The program is open to all qualified individuals without regard to race, sex, religion, color, age, physical or mental disability, national origin, or status as a Vietnam era or disabled veteran. U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status is preferred (but can also hold an appropriate visa status, however, an H1B visa is not appropriate).

The appointment is full time for one year and may be renewed for up to two additional years upon recommendation of EPA contingent on the availability of funds. The participant will receive a monthly stipend. The participant must show proof of health and medical insurance. This can be obtained through ORISE. The participant does not become an EPA employee.

Funding may be made available to reimburse a participant’s travel expenses to present the results of his/her research at scientific conferences. No funding will be made available to cover travel costs for pre-appointment visits, relocation costs, tuition and fees, or a participant's health insurance.

Technical Questions:

The contact person for this project is John Darling. He can be contacted at darling.john@epa.gov.

How to Apply:

An application can be found at http://orise.orau.gov/epa/applicants/application.htm. Please reference Project # EPA-ORD/NERL-EERD-2014-01 when calling or writing for information.