Next Generation: Hannah Morrissette

October 2, 2019

Name: Hannah Morrissette
Advisor: Dr. Raleigh Hood, Horn Point Laboratory

What is the focus of your research?
I study marsh biogeochemistry, specifically what happens to dissolved organic matter (DOM)— microscopic organic compounds—once it gets into marsh soils, such as what characteristics and factors most affect how it changes, how fast it moves, which portions stay in the soils, which are released, and why. I use my own field observations, lab experiments, and numerical modeling formulations to answer these questions.

How will it make a difference?
Ultimately my goal is to create a more accurate model to predict how compounds in the sediment move and change throughout the system. This research has major implications for sea-level rise and salt intrusion into the marshes. Higher levels of salt in the marsh soils could really alter the chemistry of the wetlands and what is coming out of them. With 10 million people living on or near the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and more 120 million living on the shores across the U.S., this is relevant to a large portion of our population.

What influenced your career path in science?
My mother. She studied geology in school and has always had that classic, incessant scientific curiosity that stuck with me growing up. From a young age my sisters and I were digging for certain kinds of rocks and creating our own “experiments” with water and food coloring.  All three of us went into a STEM field, so she must have been a big influence.

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES? 
Anyone who knows my advisor, Dr. Raleigh Hood, knows him for his relentless enthusiasm for not only his direct field of research in oceanography but any scientific field he can learn about.  He can make anyone feel like they are on the brink of becoming the next [legendary oceanographer] Sylvia Earle. I was interested in what he and his lab studied, but his passion as an advisor was really what sold me about coming to work with his group.

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
Having the chance to be involved with the student community and different research experiences. I have been a part of many organizations during my time at UMCES, such as the Graduate Student Organization, Society for Women in Marine Science, Scientific Communication Committee, and more.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
Be aware of your own individual responsibility. It’s easy to say “I’m just one person…how much of an effect can I have?”. But it’s absolutely essential to understand that every little thing you do to help the environment adds up with all the other actions being taken across the globe. We have a lot of difficult work ahead of us, and it will take everyone.

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
Never stop asking questions! If you see something that interests you, ask about it. Even if you don’t see anything particularly interesting, don’t settle or wait for something to fall in your lap. Ask what else is out there for you. Work hard and create your own opportunities. STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is an incredibly fun and rewarding set of career fields with so many options. Just get involved as much as you can as early as you can, and you’ll find it.

Have you received a scholarship, grant, travel award or gift from a donor? What did it allow you to do and why was that important? 
My original grant from the National Science Foundation Department of Environmental Biology funds the first three years of my degree, then a Horn Point Fellowship covers the rest. I’ve also received the Izaak Walton League award, which allowed me to participate in a six-week long Indian Ocean research cruise.  Horn Point Student Travel Scholarships have supported my participation in several research conferences. All of these opportunities have strengthened my research skills, increased my networking capabilities, and fostered a productive career.

What are your future plans?
I plan on pursuing a career in coastal conservation. My passion is understanding how humans are changing our coastlines and how we should adapt to conserve and restore these environments. My previous research experiences working with mangroves, and now with marshes, have solidified my interest in coastal ecosystems, and my recent conservation internship at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation exposed me to a wide array of conservation fields I intend to explore. I am very proud of what I have been able to accomplish so far in my career and cannot wait to see what comes next.