Kristin Nielsen
Kristin Nielsen, assistant professor at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute

As one of the five scientists who have been selected for the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's Early-Career Research Fellowship in Human Health and Community Resilience, Kristin Nielsen, assistant professor at The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, will use her expertise to investigate how climate change is altering the potential for dietary contaminant exposure in remote Alaskan communities.

During the two-year program, which begins this month, the fellows will contribute to advancing health equity in the Gulf of Mexico region or Alaska by considering the effects of climate change on social determinants of health. These social determinants include air and water quality, housing, food security, transportation access, public safety and employment.

In addition to causing changes in the availability of fish, shellfish and marine mammals in remote subsistence communities, climate change can also alter the cycling, accumulation and bioavailability of contaminants present in these organisms. Nielsen's research will examine how various climate change-driven factors interact to influence contaminant exposure through subsistence fishing in Alaska Native communities, where marine mammals and large-bodied fish such as salmon and halibut make up a large proportion of people's diets. These remote communities are already particularly susceptible to food insecurity due to the lack of roads and agriculture, so it is important to understand how climate change may also impact food safety.

This work will be conducted in collaboration with social and environmental scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and representatives from several Alaska Native communities. The results can be used by public health officials tasked with weighing the risks and benefits of subsistence fish consumption in these unique communities as they work to protect public health and develop fish consumption advice in this rapidly changing environment.

The Gulf Research Program's Early-Career Research Fellowship helps early-career researchers during the critical pre-tenure phase of their careers. Fellows receive a $76,000 financial award and mentoring to provide them with independence, flexibility and built-in support as they take risks on untested research ideas, pursue unique collaborations, and build a network of colleagues.

The National Academies' Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements with the companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It seeks to enhance offshore energy system safety and protect human health and the environment by catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the nation. The program has $500 million for use over 30 years to fund grants, fellowships, and other activities in research and development, education and training, and monitoring and synthesis. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.