Student Spotlight: Isamar Cortes – Environmental Science and Management PhD

Student Spotlight: Isamar Cortes – Environmental Science and Management PhD


My research explores the effects of evaporation and precipitation on mangrove island morphology. So, I specifically study mangrove islands. Mangroves are a type of halophytic tree, meaning that they can survive in saline water. So, you’ll actually see them along the coastlines of tropical ecosystems, tropical islands in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic. They’re usually the interface between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Now, what I study is how evaporation and precipitation affect their soil stress concentration on the island. And, basically what that means is that – although they live in salt water, if you increase the salinity or the soil stress concentration, they begin to die off. So, with increasing evaporation rates, if you have a ratio where evaporation is greater than precipitation, you’re taking out the fresh water from that ecosystem, which increases the soil stress, thus decreasing the mangrove island area. The goal of my research is to see if there is an effect where climate change is actually affecting magrove systems, at least on a both spatial and temporal scale. So, right now I am looking at the Caribbean, but I am hoping to expand my model and my satellite imagery analysis to include other areas as well. During the year, I’ll be working on my research, specifically with my advisor and during the summers, I’ll be working at NASA Goddard, complimenting my research with the research of one of my NASA faculty advisors down there. And, NASA plays a role in that all of the funding that they provide is also geared towards publishing and conferences, so I will be presenting my work at several conferences within the next few years and I’ll also be publishing a lot of it as well. Working at NASA Goddard is going to give me the opportunity to actually see NASA’s culture. And, with the opportunity to actually network with other NASA scientists, just to kind of check out their research as well to see what they are doing. There are a few mangrove scientists in NASA Goddard right now that I’ll be meeting, which is really exciting because I’ll be able to compliment my work. Every year, they require me to go to the SREB Conference, which is the Southern Regional Education Board Conference, and that is a lot of professional development and figuring out how to grow into the academic role. When I got here, I did a double major in my undergrad in Sustainability Science and Geography because I wanted sort of like an earth science type of background. And then, I stayed for my Master’s because I met my current advisor during my final year in undergrad, and I really liked the research project that he thought would be a good fit for me. I stayed with the Ph.D because I realized that I just really like research, I really like science. I don’t think I’d be where I am without Montclair, they’ve guided me literally every step of the way. I mean, I’ve been here since I was 18, you know? So, I can’t complain!

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