Multiculturalism in the Aquatic Sciences

Minorities in the Aquatic Sciences

Edwin Alfonso, Ph.D.

NRL/ASEE Guest Researcher
alfonso@nrlssc.navy.mil

Academic Preparation:

Ph.D., 2001 University of Puerto Rico, Marine Sciences, Physical Oceanography; M.S., 1995 University of Puerto Rico, Marine Sciences, Physical Oceanography; B.S., 1990 University of Puerto Rico, Theoretical Physics

Research/Professional Interests:

General Interests:

  • Internal tides,
  • coastal seiches,
  • ocean carbon cycle, and
  • coastal currents.

Particular Interest:

The impact of internal tides on phytoplankton primary productivity and optical properties.

Professional Experience & Affiliations:

  • NRL/ASEE Guest Researcher, Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, MS, 06/02-present.
  • Physics and Biology Teacher, Nuestra Señora del Carmen H.S., Hatillo, Puerto Rico, 08/98-12/98.
  • Physics Lecturer, Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, 01/97-12/97.
  • Auxiliary, Associate Researcher, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, 06/95-06/97.
  • Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography
  • American Geophysical Union

Biographical and Research Summary:

My interest is science started when I was just seven years old but I do not remember any particular event that triggered it. I was fascinated with astronomy and purchased my first telescope when I was twelve. I spent countless nights looking at the dark skies full of stars. Although members in my family did not pursue careers in science, they always supported me. In addition my science teachers strongly encouraged me to participate in science related activities. During junior high school my sister took me each Tuesday night to her high school science club meetings. One of the activities included astronomical observations in the school observatory (MIJOVI). I learned about the planets, Messier objects, astrophotography and solar astronomy. Once in high school I started my first research project in solar activity. My 10th grade teacher was fundamental to my first steps in research. The next year I was enrolled in a new school that specialized in science and mathematics (Centro Residencial de Oportunidades Educativas en Mayaguez). That year was frustrating; I did not like the school, the courses or the teachers. But our investigation counselor encouraged me to continue my research project. I did and won the State’s Grand Prize. Later, I participated in the 1984 and 1985 International Science Fairs, and in 1985 was designated as one of 40 Westinghouse Science Talent Search (nowadays Intel Science Talent Search) winners. During these science fairs I met several scientists, who convinced me that if I decided to pursue a career in astronomy, it would be necessary for me to master the principles of physics.

After finishing high school, I enrolled in the undergraduate physics program at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. After completing my bachelor's degree in theoretical physics, I was admitted to the University's graduate program in physics. It was during this time in my life that I reevaluated my career goals, with consideration given to Puerto Rico's limited job opportunities in the field of astronomy and my growing interest in theoretical and applied physics. This reevaluation process resulted in my decision to pursue a career in oceanography, a field that would allow me to further develop my interest in physics and utilize my scientific knowledge to investigate physical processes occurring in the deep seas surrounding my home, the island of Puerto Rico. After making this decision, I immediately applied for a transfer to the Marine Science graduate program at UPR. As a master's student in the Marine Science graduate program my attention was captured by the field of physical oceanography.

For my M.S. thesis I worked in the deployment and analysis of data from current meters, tide gauges, drogues to estimate the currents, waves and tidal regime in coastal waters of the west coast of Puerto Rico. The knowledge and skills gained during my master's research were later applied to my Ph.D. dissertation, for which I examined changes in primary productivity and optical properties within internal tides. These changes occur as a result of the surface tides losing energy due to interaction with seafloor topography (e.g. underwater mountains, sills and slopes). Islands with dramatic submarine topography such as Puerto Rico are ideal places to study this dissipation mechanism of tidal energy. Puerto Rico is a great place to do research but it is extremely difficult to find a job as a physical oceanographer.

Currently, I am an American Science and Engineering Education/Naval Research Laboratory postdoctorate fellow. My research interests revolve around the understanding of the coupling between deep water and shallow water processes and their impact on biologic and optical process in the sea. An initial step in achieving these goals is the estimation of the nonlinear-nonstationary internal tides and supertidal internal wave response to the spring-neap cycle of the barotropic tide. A key objective is to reveal the dependence of the baroclinic energy in shelf waters on changes in the barotropic forcing. As part of this effort I am working in the analysis of an extensive set of oceanographic measurements made in fall 2002 by investigators at the Naval Research Laboratory in a region of the Mid-Atlantic Bight near 39.3 N, 72.7 W. The observations were made in support of the Navy’s Shallow Water Acoustics Technology experiment.

I was born and raised on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. We islanders love and fear the sea, and are curious about what is beneath its surface. My profession allows me to embrace this islander nature while continuing to pursue my interest in science that even now continues to grow. For that I am grateful to God.