UNH Space Grant Fellowships
Provide Opportunity For Diverse Research
Grad Student Travels to Mexico
to Study Sinkholes Essential to Mayan Culture
Contact: David Sims
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
May 27, 2004
DURHAM, N.H. -- As a 2003-04 New Hampshire Space Grant Consortium
(NHSGC) fellow, Ryan Huntley traveled to the Yucatan Peninsula
in Mexico to conduct studies on the unique limestone sinkholes
and caves known as "cenotes" that pepper the region and
were a sacred and essential part of the ancient Mayan culture.
In an area some 30 kilometers inland from Cancun, Huntley, whose
NHSGC research is part of his master's degree work in Natural Resources
at the University of New Hampshire, sought to characterize the
vegetation associated with the cenotes using "remotely sensed" satellite
imagery and physical and morphological analyses of leaf samples.
"Cenotes are important for biological as well as historical
and cultural reasons. They were very sacred to the Mayan who used
them for drinking water as well as sacrificial sites," Huntley,
of Durham, says. "These are unique habitats, they haven't
been studied in much detail except by cave divers, and they are
at risk because of population growth and development."
Huntley hopes to add to the body of knowledge that will help
preserve the cenotes. Of the tuition, travel expenses, and stipend
provided by his NHSGC fellowship, Huntley says, "I wouldn't
have been able to do any of the Yucatan studies without the help
of Space Grant."
Huntley, along with four other NHSGC fellows from last year,
and four incoming fellows, were recently recognized at a ceremony
at UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS)
- headquarters for NHSGC.
Another key aspect of Huntley's work, and Space Grant's mission,
is to engage K-12 students. His research will provide students
with a rich variety of scientific, cultural, and historical information.
Barry Rock, professor in UNH's Department of Natural Resources
and EOS and Huntley's advisor, says, "One of the interesting
aspects of his work involves Mayan archeological studies in the
same area. Since the ancient Maya used 'raised field' cultivation
methods and accessed water from the cenotes associated with his
study sites, there may well be considerable application of his
findings to the study of Mayan populations in this area between
200 BC and 300 AD - the time of Mayan occupation in this area.”
Other Space Grant fellows are Elizabeth Blaisdell of New Castle,
(evaluation of the global effects of small-scale water impoundment
on sea levels), Lorna Ellis of Durham, (software design for managing
satellite data from an instrument built at UNH), Peter Ingraham
of Waltham, Mass. (remote sensing for conservation land management),
and Daniel Seaton of Cambridge, Mass. (high energy phenomena in
the solar corona).
New fellows welcomed were Michael Adams of Merrimack, Shane Bradt
of Ballston Lake, N.Y., Kirsten Lloyd of Newark, Del., and Kristin
Simunac of Shawnee, Kan.
Space Grant Graduate Fellowships provide support for studies
in space-related disciplines at UNH.
NHSGC, part of a nationwide network of 52 consortia, is headquartered
at UNH, and also includes Dartmouth College, Plymouth State University,
N.H. Community Technical College, the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium,
and FIRST Place.