College of Engineering News Room

Mauricio Arias Receives Gulf Research Program Award from National Academies of Sciences

Mauricio Arias, assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, is one of eight scientists selected for the Gulf Research Program's Environmental Production and Stewardship track of the 2021 Early-Career Research Fellowship (ECRF), announced by the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine today. During the two-year program, starting this month, fellows will pursue research that advances understanding of the changing ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico and its U.S. coastal zones.

The Gulf is home to several ecosystems, including estuaries, oyster reefs, beaches and dunes, mangroves, and offshore shoals and banks. These ecosystems are instrumental to the socio-economic and cultural life of the region, providing benefits such as food, clean air and water, recreational opportunities and tourism, and raw materials.

However, these ecosystems will continue to shift with climate change, urbanization, and increased demand for food, water, and energy. For example, climate change may influence the sustainability of the water supply for ecosystems, which will have implications for the Gulf region’s residents and marine life. There is a critical need to predict and anticipate these changes to allocate natural resources in an equitable way, while protecting the environment.

marurcio arias

"I will use this opportunity to solidify my research in the Gulf of Mexico, which currently looks at how to minimize loads of plastics and nutrients from our waterways," said Mauricio. "One of the great benefits of this program is that it funds the fellow, not specific projects, so how I get to diversify the use of the funds. I also look forward to the opportunity to learn from my designated mentor, Distinguish Professor Susan Bell (Dept of Integrated Biology), who is a world renowned expert in Gulf coastal ecosystems." 

The ECRF Fellows will investigate specific issues related to the Gulf’s changing ecosystems, with the goal of producing research that informs decisions that enhance environmental protection and stewardship. Their research might consider how different ecosystems interact with one another; identify critical thresholds that, if met, may reduce or eliminate ecosystem services; and guide stakeholders in weighing trade-offs among the various ecosystem services to make better-informed decisions.

The ECRF award is not attached to a specific project, which allows fellows to explore bold, untested research ideas that they might not otherwise be able to pursue. All fellows are investigators, faculty members, clinician scientists, or scientific team leads at colleges, universities, and research institutions. Each fellow will receive a $76,000 financial award, mentoring support, and a built-in community of current and past cohorts.

“Research that enhances environmental protection and stewardship requires both multidisciplinary thinking and the ability to build strong relationships with decision-makers. These exceptional fellows embody those qualities through their perseverance, creativity, and inventiveness,” said Karena Mary Mothershed, senior program manager for the GRP’s Board on Gulf Education and Engagement. “One of the most unique aspects of the ECRF is that it supports people, not projects — and we’re excited to be a part of our fellows’ continued success and professional growth.”

The incoming class of fellows is actively working on research projects related to ecosystem changes, including:

  • Characterizing and quantifying the types of microplastics and understanding how they get into the ocean;
  • Understanding the interactions between water and coastal ecosystems, as well as the trade-offs between water infrastructure and environmental health; and
  • Developing ocean modeling tools to visualize risks to coral reef ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and extreme rainfall along the Texas coast.