Meet the next generation of deep-sea researchers: Alexis Weinnig

Alexis M. Weinnig
Department of Biology, Temple University

I am a PhD Candidate at Temple University in Dr. Erik Cordes’ deep-sea ecology laboratory. Before starting my PhD at Temple University, I completed a M.Sc. in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology at San Francisco State University and the California Academy of Sciences (2015). To date, I have participated in ten research cruises using submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in the Gulf of Mexico, the Central Pacific, and in the Atlantic Ocean off of the Southeastern United States.

Much of my dissertation research involves understanding how humans are influencing deep-sea coral communities. In one particular project, we address how species cope with multiple stressors in their environment through a study on the influence of temperature and pH on the phenotypic response of Lophelia pertusa to oil and dispersant exposure. Assessments of coral health are recorded during and after exposures by examining both the physiological and transcriptomic response of the coral. While there are numerous studies highlighting the effects of climate change variables or oil and chemical dispersant exposure on marine organisms independently, there are very few multi-stressor studies of their combined effects despite the clear need for these studies. This work is important and timely as it will inform the types of responses considered in future oil spills. The response of reef-building corals to oil and dispersant exposure can be short-lived and difficult to visually observe. Therefore, impact assessments should occur soon after exposure to environmental pollutants, and metrics beyond the simple visual assessment of coral health should be developed for future impact assessments.

In addition to research, I believe it is our job as scientist to engage the public and foster partnerships with individuals/groups that can help us convey our science in new and exciting ways. This can be accomplished in many ways; from formal education, to working with artists and film makers. I have been involved with various forms of outreach including telepresence enabled ship-to-shore interactions and contributing written and verbal content for the NOAA Okeanos Explorer website.

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