By John Ballou
The Gardner News Sports Editor
Ladue (far left), with field hockey teammate McKenzie Woerner and Jordan Callahan and Sam Curtin from the cross country/track & field teams, are Stonehill's four student-athletes participating in the SURE program this summer.
When Taylor Ladue first enrolled at Stonehill College she had every intention of pursuing and earning a degree in chemical engineering.
But Ladue's interests as well as her plans changed.
"At first I was a chemical engineering major and I was interested in the chemical industry because when I was younger I found out my skin reacted differently to sunscreens and I did research into how to make better sunscreens," said Ladue, who has subsequently switch her major to environmental science. "With the climate crisis and how much it has been in the news lately, I decided I wanted to do more research-based work in helping the environment. I became more interested in seeing how we can fix those problems."
And Ladue, a forward on the Skyhawks field hockey team, isn't sitting around waiting until she has her degree to get started, either. The rising junior is one of four Stonehill student-athletes, and 49 students in general, to have been selected to participate in the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program this summer.
According to the college, the SURE program is an opportunity for students who have completed their first year at Stonehill to perform significant, publishable research under the guidance of and in collaboration with an experienced faculty researcher. The experience is meant to help Stonehill students "solidify and define career choices both through graduate school decisions and post-college employment."
Since late May, Ladue has worked alongside Kristin Burkholder, an assistant professor of Environmental Science, on a project regarding how and when subsurface nutrients within the Gulf of Maine get to the surface. The productivity of the gulf relies on those nutrients, which are important to photosynthesis production, and though researchers know that the nutrients arrive in the Gulf of Maine via the Northeast Channel — a deep-water channel which connects the gulf with the Atlantic Ocean — questions still remain as to how the nutrients eventually make their way to the surface.
Ladue and Burkholder are using computer models to try and find answers to those questions.
"We're working with a computer model to try and emulate what is going on in the real ocean," said Ladue. "Currently I am working with observational data from the Gulf of Maine Regional Ocean Model System — which is the older version of the model that was used in previous research — and the EASTROMS model (East Regional Ocean Model System), which is a higher resolution model that provides a longer time period of date collection. I am working with temperature, depth and some velocity field data to see if the model data accurately displays the temperature and velocity field readings at given depths provided by the observational data, or what is actually happening in the ocean.
"The big picture goal in the coming weeks," continued Ladue, "is for me to create a time series, a time vs. temperature graph, that will show how the temperature is changing throughout the years at a given depth in the observational data and the GOMROMS and EASTROMS data. By doing so, we will be able to see if the models are accurately representing what is happening in the ocean."
Ladue said the research she and her professor are working on has many real-life implications.
"Research in ocean model validation is very important for the ecosystems and economies that rely on the Gulf of Maine," said Ladue, who conducts all of her work on her laptop on the Stonehill College campus in Easton. "Essentially, if we are able to prove that an ocean model can accurately represent the real ocean currently and into the future, we can see how changes in subsurface properties — temperature and velocity for example —will affect the movement of nutrients that numerous organisms rely on to live.
"If there's changes to how the nutrients move throughout the water this will also affect the economies that rely on the shellfish/seafood industries if there are changes to how organisms receive their nutrients and where they receive them, etc.," Ladue added. "Overall, ocean modeling systems are crucial worldwide in predicting how the oceans will change over time, which will help us in adapting to the changes that are likely to come or are already happening."
Ladue, who said she had to fill out an application which explained the research topic to apply for the SURE program and inevitably needed to be approved by a panel at the school in order to participate, said she and Burkholder are approximately at the halfway point of their research program which ends on July 26.
According to a press release from the college, the researchers are planning on producing a podcast in order to summarize their work and share it with the general public as well as sharing their work at the Regional Association for Research on the Gulf of Maine conference in New England this fall as well as at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego in the spring of 2020.
Ladue, who has plans to study abroad during the spring of 2020, said she will likely missed the conference in San Diego, but she is planning on attending the Gulf of Maine 2050 International Symposium in Portland, Maine with Burkholder this November.
"It's an amazing opportunity because, first, I have never had the experience of presenting work to experts in the field so it is definitely exciting," she said. "Secondly, I hope to pursue a career in research in the future so this will be great practice and will expose me to how research conferences work."
Ladue said she's enjoyed the summer research experience so much that she would recommend the SURE program to her sister,Lauren, a rising sophomore and midfielder for the Skyhawks.
"I definitely would, especially since she's a biology major," said Taylor. "There's plenty of majors doing research with professors in a wide range of studies here and I think it would definitely be something that would interest her in the future."