Christine Bassett, a doctoral student in The University of Alabama Department of Geological Sciences, recently received the prestigious recognition as a member of the 2020 class of NOAA Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship finalists. In the coming weeks, she will join fewer than 70 other students in Washington, D.C. to contribute their research and intellect to executive and legislative efforts toward climate change. The potential trajectory of this honor places Christine on a new path toward career success.
Christine completed two bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Science in geology and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, at the University of Georgia and thought a doctoral degree in anthropology was the direction she was headed. Christine was searching for a graduate program to help her make the greatest impact in understanding climate change and its effects on people. Her UGA adviser recognized the same drive he had seen in a previous student – Dr. Fred Andrus, a geology professor at The University of Alabama.
She gave Dr. Andrus a call. “We both knew instantly it was a good fit. Dr. Andrus explained his research that had just received a National Science Foundation grant, and they needed a grad student to do the dirty work of digging clams and processing shells in the lab.”
Relocating to Tuscaloosa, Christine pursued her master’s and doctorate in geology with steady determination and proof of success. She combines anthropology and geology to connect the past with what people are experiencing now due to climate change. “Anthropology looks at broad swaths of time as periods around 100 years or more. Geology lets me view seasonal microscale changes.”
She views those seasonal changes in the growth lines on butter clam and abalone shells. In order to retrieve the shells, Christine first had to secure her diving certification with an additional cold water specialty, not a common requirement for most graduate research. Her research includes the Unalaska Sea Ice Project, performing isotopic analysis on ancient clams found in archaeological middens (historical trash heaps). From the shells, she is able to extract sea surface temperatures and chemical make-up of the water the ancient clams lived in, developing a better understanding of how the animals and people of the Aleutian Islands adapted to a changing climate and forecasting how people might respond in the future.
While butter clams may be the shell of her start, Christine is furthering her research scope further south in the Pacific Ocean to the Channel Islands off of California’s southern coast. There, she is performing similar geochemical analysis on abalone shells, the iridescent shell often used for jewelry and buttons. Her analysis is a breakthrough development for scientists to better understand seasonal, local climate change through rising water levels and temperatures and their effect on abalone populations, continuing to paint a more robust picture.
“The story is that the research of these shells is needed to understand how the Pacific Ocean has aged and varied over 10,000 years across two localities. People who live along the coast, the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, they already feel climate change and they know it. People in the interior don’t realize how oceanic changes affect their daily lives. I want them to be able to see for themselves.”
Christine won UA’s 2017 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, presenting her research thesis with catching storytelling palatable for any audience. In Spring 2019, she was named a 2019 American Geophysical Union’s Voices for Science advocate, no doubt leading to the Knauss Fellowship. The fellowship is a competitive process that included several rounds of interviews through the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium before review by a national panel of experts.
“This made the blood, sweat and tears feel like it actually paid off,” sighed Christine. “Never give up. If you really want it, you find a way. I was rejected at first, but I asked for feedback and applied it, adjusting my application and research proposal to fit. I reapplied, and I’m here.”
Are you ready to join Christine and our other rising legends? The future is yours. The place is UA.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.