Meadhdh Moriarty has a background in the aquatic sciences, but where her real passion lies is in mathematics.
Moriarty (her first name pronounced “Maeve”) holds a Bachelor of Science in Marine Sciences from the National University in Galway, Ireland and a Master of Science in Biodiversity and Conservation from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. She joined APU in the spring as a Fulbright Scholar working under Dr. Brad Harris.
“The reason I love the marine environment is because we know so little about it,” Moriarty said. “I want to work on problems that are really complex, and I love the idea of getting to work on or have knowledge of an area we can’t see.”
To solve complex problems, Moriarty uses a specific type of math: Spatial statistics. Her research focuses on changes in species distribution for temperate marine fish in Europe.
“Basically, I’m looking at where the fish are, are they mating, and if they’re mating, why?” Moriarty said. “It’s all about how fish are moving, how they interact with their environment and the overall distribution of fish.”
To help visualize their interactions, Moriarty creates models to hypothesize what would happen if there were changes in the environment.
“Take temperature for instance. If that changes could the fish cope or no?” Moriarty said. “If the temperature rises 10 degrees in the water what might my fish map look like? What might the community of fish look like?”
Path to Alaska Pacific University
Moriarty’s interest in marine science comes from her family’s equestrian work growing up. Every day her family would take the horses to the beach for exercise, and it was during that time she noticed the power of tidal changes.
“One day it might be [really] sandy and then the next there’s been a dump of mud. So, you have to pick a different track, because the natural race course that was there is now gone,” Moriarty said. “I was so interested in how it was always changing and moving. It’s such a dynamic environment that we know so little about.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree, Moriarty became a scuba instructor in the Canary Islands, she taught children in India and researched rhinos in South Africa. So, what do all three have in common? As Moriarty explains, it’s the discovery of new information.
“I enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of shedding some light on previously unknown areas,” said Moriarty.
A year before applying for the Fulbright Scholarship, Moriarty began her pursuit for an academic mentor and research partner. That search led her to APU, the FAST Lab, and Dr. Brad Harris – splitting her time between Alaska and the FAST Lab affiliate at Cornell University.
“Brad is an internationally respected scientist, an expert in his field, and incredible with spatial statistics and GIS. So, having an opportunity to work with him made it a no-brainer,” Moriarty said. “When I visited in 2016 I could see myself working here.”
After deciding on APU, her academic plans came together rather quickly. She submitted her research plan, goals, and a personal statement to the Fulbright Committee and within a few months graciously accepted a Fulbright Scholarship.
During her time at APU, Moriarty helped the FAST Lab in numerous ways. She spent time helping with clam surveys, restocked a lagoon with juvenile salmon, worked with young women in STEM-related fields, engaged in science outreach, and mentored APU students. As she explained, APU’s approach to experiential learning and fieldwork provided exceptional balance during her time on campus.
“A lot of what I do as a Fulbright [Scholar] isn’t necessarily academics,” Moriarty explained. “Part of the Fulbright ideology is the exchange of ideas, networking, and giving back to the community that you are in.”
Moriarty plans to publish her research findings and use those publications as a catalyst for obtaining her Ph.D. Once her Ph.D. is complete, she hopes to find a job as a principal investigator.
“That’s where you’re running a lab, applying for grants, and getting to ask the really interesting questions with a team of people to help you answer [them],” Moriarty said.
Moriarty plans to take the knowledge gained while at APU – including Alaska’s fisheries management policies – back to the United Kingdom to try to influence policy changes.
“The Alaskan counsels are world class,” Moriarty said. “There is so much community buy-in, and as a result, their fishers are reducing habitat impact, [they] are interested in making sure the fisheries policies that are implemented are good for the environment and are generally well educated and not fearful of the scientific process. Taking that home, changing people’s perceptions and getting their involvement is something I’m [really] interested in.”