Brown University – Profiles in Summer Research: Michael Demanche

[SOURCE: Brown University]
August 17, 2017 Media contact: Kevin Stacey

Combining data collection in the field with work in lab, Michael Demanche is developing techniques for using satellites to monitor a key environmental indicator in Narragansett Bay.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Like many people in the Ocean State, Michael Demanche spent a good bit of this summer out on the waters of Narragansett Bay. He wasn’t swimming or paddle boarding or kayaking, however — he was performing water column surveys as part of a summer research project that may bring new technologies to bear in monitoring the health of the bay.

“Going out on the water is the best part of the whole thing,” said the senior geology-biology concentrator at Brown. “It’s a great way to see the state, just sailing up and down the bay.”

Sightseeing aside, Demanche’s research project, supported by an Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award (UTRA), aims to use data from water surveys in the bay to calibrate imaging data from Earth-sensing satellites. The goal is to see whether satellite images could be useful in monitoring the bay for algal blooms — explosions of plant growth that occur when excess nitrogen and phosphorus find their way into the water. When the blooms die, they sink to the bottom where they decompose, a process that soaks up dissolved oxygen in the water, sometimes leading to fish kills and other disruptions to marine life.

The work grew out of Demanche’s passion for the natural world, which he discovered as his time at Brown progressed. When he arrived as a first-year student, Demanche was a biology/premed concentrator. But he discovered that it simply wasn’t right for him.

“I wasn’t as in love with it as some of my peers were,” he said. “I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it.”

So Demanche decided to take a semester off from school to think about what to do next.

“I hiked the Appalachian trail,” he said. “I talked to a lot of people who were interested in the outdoors and natural spaces and that got me thinking about what I really value.”

When he returned, he started taking classes in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences (DEEPS) and eventually established a concentration in the department’s geology-biology track.

During his coursework, Demanche found out about an ongoing project spearheaded by Warren Prell, an emeritus professor in DEEPS. For more than a decade, Prell has been partnering the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the University of Rhode Island to collect water column data from nearly 80 stations around the bay. The sampling, which is done each summer, collects data on key attributes of the water column, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll….

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