Brytne Okuhata, graduate research assistant

‘Ike Wai’s Brytne Okuhata selected for the Harold T. Stearns Fellowship Award

Brytne Okuhata, a graduate research assistant working on the ‘Ike Wai project, was recently selected for a $1,800 award through the Harold T. Stearns Fellowship to support her research developing two groundwater models for West Hawai‘i Island and collecting groundwater samples for age dating to use in these models to better understand groundwater transportation.

Okuhata’s ‘Ike Wai faculty advisor, Aly El-Kadi, professor of hydrology with University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) Department of Earth Sciences and researcher with the Water Resources Research Center, spoke about the importance of the research and the role it plays in understanding the hydrogeology of Hawai‘i Island.

“Brytne is an excellent, hardworking student that is making great progress in her research towards her Ph.D. degree,” said El-Kadi.

He explains that the objective of Okuhata’s work is to identify the sources of contamination detected in the aquifer systems, which includes onsite waste disposal systems and agricultural activities. “Identifying such sources will help in achieving a better understanding of transport processes through model calibration, and ultimately towards a better management of groundwater resources.”

The Harold T. Stearns Fellowship supports research on and around the Pacific Islands through annual awards for research in areas such as geologic mapping, hydrologic studies, or geochemical, petrologic and radiometric studies of limestone and volcanic rocks. Undergraduate and graduate students in the UHM Earth Sciences Department applied for this opportunity where Okuhata’s proposal was ranked highest among the proposals submitted.

This award will help fund laboratory costs for analyzing groundwater samples at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Biogeochemical Stable Isotope Facility. Okuhata explains that the models she is developing aims to connect the dots between all of the ‘Ike Wai teams to see how Hawai‘i’s groundwater system works and to provide stakeholders with tools for future water management.

Okuhata said, “By winning this award, I feel like I’m slowly growing into an independent scientist. I’m grateful that my department believes in my research and that they awarded this funding. The lab analyses from this award will provide an additional perspective as we continue to develop our models, and I’m hoping it will also help the other ‘Ike Wai teams as they continue to analyze and interpret all of their great data.”