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Elka T. PorterElka Porter

assistant professor
Division of Science, Information Arts and Technologies

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Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park
B.S. ("Vordiplom"), M.S. ("Diplom"), Christian-Albrechts Universität (Kiel, Germany)

Growing up on the North Sea coast in Northern Germany with the Wadden Sea as my backyard, I became interested in the marine sciences at a young age. While in a Diplom (M.S.) program at the Christian-Albrechts Universität, in Kiel, Germany, I had the chance to participate in an exchange year at Brown University that transformed my life. Excursions to the rocky coast and the professors at Brown got me further excited about the marine sciences. In the summers, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. That did it for me! I was hooked.

Back in Germany, I finished my Diplom degree before joining the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program at the University of Maryland, College Park, for my Ph.D. After a brief stint as a research assistant for Ken Sebens studying corals and accompanying a saturation Hydrolab mission in the Florida Keys, I became interested in the effect of oysters and water flow on sediment-water interactions, a topic that is extremely important for water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay. This theme is an integral part of my research to this day.

After a post-doc studying physical-biological-chemical interactions and several years teaching courses such as the Ecology of the Chesapeake Bay, I am now at UB. One of my goals is to give students summer research opportunities like I had at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In summer 2013, a student accompanied me to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center for my summer research. The study ultimately resulted in her honor’s thesis. More recently, for the past several summers, I have been doing my summer research at the Patuxent Environmental & Aquatic Research Laboratory (PEARL) in St. Leonard, Southern Maryland.

My research deals with the effect of water flow and organisms on sediment-water interactions (or benthic-pelagic coupling processes) and subsequent effects on water quality. In some of my experiments, I use shear turbulence resuspension mesocosms (STURM), special tanks that I designed and that I set up in the summer of 2015 at the PEARL, for summer research. Due to climate change, the frequency and magnitude of storms is predicted to increase and I can mimic storms and tidal resuspension in my experiments. For the past two summers, my students and I have successfully run STURM experiments at the PEARL.

In the STURM tanks, I can mimic realistic tidal and episodic resuspension without overmixing the water column, add infaunal organisms such as hard clams, and observe the effect of water flow and organisms on water quality and ecosystem processes. In addition, I have found, for example, that four weeks of tidal resuspension compared to non-resuspension decreased water clarity, released nutrients into the water column with subsequent increases in phytoplankton abundance, decreased microphytobenthos biomass, induced a small brown tide bloom and changed what macrofauna grew up in the sediments. Overall, tidal resuspension can decrease water quality and change a bottom-dominated system into one that is controlled by the water column. Moreover, I also examine the effect of water flow and organisms on sediment-water interactions in smaller-scale approaches. Students interested in this type of research should contact me.

Learn more about the PEARL STURM.