Campus News

NOAA funds UGA College of Public Health graduate program on ocean sciences and health policy

NOAA funds UGA College of Public Health graduate program on ocean sciences and health policy

Athens, Ga. – Led by faculty from the College of Public Health, the University of Georgia is now partnering with researchers from multiple agencies to host a new graduate training program. The program participants will investigate applications to human health and health policy related to aquatic/ocean sciences. A $518,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will support the creation of this new graduate education program. The goals of this initiative are to develop doctoral-level scientists who are trained in fundamental laboratory and field skills of marine and environmental sciences and who are engaged in human health applications of ocean science through exposure and involvement in public health policy.

Oceanic and coastal waters harbor and transport microorganisms and chemicals that cause disease or otherwise affect humans and other animals. Additionally, as modulators of climate, the oceans indirectly influence disease patterns and the distribution of many pathogens. The oceans are changing as a result of human activities: sea surface temperature is rising, fresh water supply to estuaries and coasts is being altered, chemical and microbial contamination is increasing. Furthermore, independent of greenhouse warming, increased CO2 in the atmosphere is leading to greater uptake of carbon dioxide by the ocean, which significantly reduces the pH of surface waters.

This graduate training initiative is an effort to respond to this need by training doctoral students to reach across traditional disciplines to understand better the linkages between the oceans and human health. This initiative will bring together for the first time, ocean, environmental and public health scientists at the University of Georgia and affiliated institutions to initiate such a graduate training program.

The Georgia Oceans and Health Initiative Graduate Training Consortium will matriculate students through existing programs at the university and will include novel courses designed to bridge ocean science and public health. Trainees will focus on environmental and human health issues related to chemical contaminants and human pathogens in marine ecosystems. Students’ research will build upon current research programs at UGA and will incorporate research performed during internships at collaborating NOAA laboratories into their research work. Students will explore the public health policy implications of their research by working directly with federal, state and local agencies.

The principal investigator responsible for engaging the university in this new area of graduate education is Erin Lipp, from the College of Public Health’s department of environmental health science. Co-PIs are Patricia Yager, marine science; Marsha Black, environmental health science; Aaron Peck, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography; James T. Hollibaugh, marine science; Monica Gaughan, health policy and management; and Dana Cole, Georgia Division of Public Health.

The training program will support three Ph.D. students throughout their graduate career. Additionally, two students per year from multiple science-based degree programs will have the opportunity to diverge from their primary research to explore policy and research associated with oceans and human health; thereby expanding exposure to the topic. At the end of grant period, nine students will be broadly trained in aquatic/ocean sciences and the application to human health and health policy. The additional benefit of this training program is the increased collaboration between UGA faculty in traditional natural and ocean sciences and public health, and increased collaboration with regional NOAA research scientists.