Ralph Rayburn Scholarship awarded to doctoral student modeling ‘dead zones’

September 02, 2016

By Cindie Powell

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A Texas A&M University doctoral student who is using numerical modeling to study hypoxic events in the Gulf of Mexico has been named the 2016 recipient of the Ralph Rayburn ’69 Texas Sea Grant Scholarship.

Veronica Ruiz Xomchuk received $1,500 from the fund established to honor Texas Sea Grant’s late Associate Director and Extension Program leader, who died unexpectedly in 2008. The scholarship is administered by the university’s Department of Oceanography and is awarded once per year to an outstanding graduate student within the department.

A hypoxic area, or a “dead zone,” is one that has a reduced level of oxygen in the water. At such low oxygen concentrations, marine life can suffocate and die. One of the largest dead zones in the world forms off the coast of Louisiana every spring.

“This topic is an issue that has immediate economic impact for the northern coast of the Gulf, as it affects fisheries and other ecological functions in the region,” Ruiz said. “But more than that, after finishing my degree, I will have left a contribution in this research field, and I will have gained valuable skills to investigate a wide range of coastal ocean problems with numerical simulations.”

Ruiz is a native of Guayaquil, a port city in Ecuador. Earlier this year, her country was hit by a 7.8 earthquake that caused massive destruction. Ruiz was in College Station when the earthquake struck, but she says that the disaster makes her even more grateful for the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in oceanography at Texas A&M.

 “As an oceanographer, as a scientist, I’ll be able to contribute to the restoration of my country, which might take up to 20 or 30 years,” she said. “I’m really grateful for the additional support from this scholarship while trying to pursue my dream.”

Ruiz holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and a Master of Science in Marine and Lacustrine Sciences from Universiteit Gent (Ghent University) in Belgium. She is beginning her third year of study toward her Ph.D. with her adviser Dr. Robert Hetland, a professor in the Department of Oceanography, where she also works as a teaching assistant.

A graduate of Texas A&M, Rayburn first joined Texas Sea Grant in 1978 as a marine agent for Aransas and San Patricio Counties. He later spent several years as executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association and with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in a number of capacities, including as director of intergovernmental affairs. He returned to Texas Sea Grant in 1999. Through his association with these three organizations, he worked tirelessly for the protection of Texas' marine resources, but he is also remembered for his integrity, professionalism, work ethic and outgoing personality.

PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Robert Hetland, professor in the Texas A&M University Department of Oceanography, and Veronica Ruiz Xomchuk, recipient of the Ralph Rayburn '69 Texas Sea Grant Scholarship. Photo by Tiffany Evans/Texas Sea Grant.

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.