Channing Bolt receives SMART scholarship from the Department of Defense

Channing Bolt

Channing Bolt pipettes water samples that will be analyzed using a Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer. She uses this instrument to measure trace metals concentrations in the samples. Photo courtesy of Channing Bolt.

by Lauren Frisch

College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences PhD student Channing Bolt recently received the Science, Math, and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship from the Department of Defense.

The SMART scholarship has paired Bolt with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific). SSC Pacific will provide Bolt with four years of full academic support and practical experience through summer internships. In return, Bolt will fulfill an additional four years of service with SSC Pacific as a full-time civilian employee.

“This is an amazing opportunity for me,” Bolt said. “I am lucky to have this support to work on my degree and know I’ll have a great job to look forward to after I graduate.”

Bolt works with trace metals, which are elements found in very small concentrations in the marine environment. They have important environmental applications because they are essential nutrients as well as toxins. SSC Pacific is responsible for monitoring trace metals concentrations within DoD harbors to ensure compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards. SSC Pacific’s trace metal lab also helps develop practical products and resources for the Navy.

Bolt interned at SSC Pacific’s trace metals laboratory for four summers while working towards her Bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at Humboldt State University. One summer she helped develop a compact, low energy water filtration system that can be utilized by troops in remote regions or during times of crisis relief. She has also worked on projects to analyze trace metals concentrations in DoD harbors.

Bolt anticipates she will work on similar projects as a civilian employee.

While at CFOS, Bolt is studying the cycling of bioactive trace metals in sea ice.  Bioactive metals are involved in biological processes. These elements can be required nutrients for phytoplankton and sea ice algae at the base of the food web, but some can be toxic for these microorganisms even at small concentrations. Additionally, trace metals can accumulate up the food chain, where they can impact other marine organisms.

“In particular, I want to look at how trace metals are incorporated in sea ice during periods of growth, and how these elements are released when ice melts,” Bolt said.

Current changes in Arctic sea ice dynamics can alter the distribution of trace metals in Arctic surface waters. Bolt’s research will increase the understanding of how Arctic marine food availability and security may be affected by changing trace metal distributions.

Another focus of Bolt’s dissertation deals with rare earth elements in the Arctic Ocean. Rare earth elements are a group of elements with similar chemical properties that are typically studied in a group because they tend to change in predictable, measurable ways. Deviations from expected behavior can reveal important information about biogeochemical processes in the marine environment.

“We want to investigate the usefulness of rare earth elements as effective geochemical tracers of Arctic processes – from changing hydrology to anthropogenic influences,” Bolt explains.

This aspect of Bolt’s research will provide baseline information on the distribution of these elements in Arctic sea ice and snow, and will add to current knowledge of how chemicals flow naturally thorough the Arctic marine environment.

Bolt is currently beginning to analyze samples. She hopes her graduate studies and career with the DoD will allow her to better understand the role of sea ice in chemical cycling in the Arctic.

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Channing Bolt, cebolt@alaska.edu, 858-212-3288

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