Nishchitha Silva '19: Passion for ocean sciences

Listening to wonderful stories about rivers and reservoirs as a child in Sri Lanka influenced Nishchitha's career path.

Nish Silva discusses his research with his peer Janne Haugen at the 2019 Intercampus Marine Science Research Symposium.
  • School: SMAST
  • Class: 2019
  • Degree: MS in Marine Science and Technology
  • Department: Estuarine and Ocean Sciences
  • Advisor: Avijit Gangopadhyay
  • Home residence: Ragama, Sri Lanka
  • Graduate Student Association: Representative

"My roots are from Sri Lanka, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean," says Nishchitha Silva, who will soon walk across the stage to accept his MS in Marine Science and Technology from UMass Dartmouth. "In Sri Lanka, our country owns an ocean more than six times bigger than the land we own, which fascinated me as a child."

Nish says his father’s career as a limnologist exposed him to wonderful stories about rivers and reservoirs. "This stimulated my interests in learning about aquatic ecosystems. Hearing my father’s stories made me want to learn more about this type of ecology." So he entered an undergrad program at the Uva Wellassa University of Sri Lanka where he studied aquatic resources technology. "The oceanography and marine science courses made me passionate about transitioning my studies from streams and reservoirs to the vast ocean."

After completing his program at Uva Wellassa, Nish decided to further his studies with a focus on ocean sciences. "I researched various academic institution with ocean science programs and decided to reach out to SMAST. Dr. Avijit Gangopadhyay took interest and he asked me to work in his lab as a research assistant while I pursued my graduate studies," he says.

Engaging in research

At SMAST, Nish studied the Gulf Stream’s Warm Core Rings (GS WCRs) as part of his master’s program. "My work involves understanding the seasonal and interannual variability of GS WCRs. It also involved developing a year-by-year database based on GS charts, and observations by previous analysts and myself, and analyzing regime changes in WCR formations. I also applied survival analysis, which is a method employed by medical statisticians to understand the persistence of WCRs."

GS runs along east coast’s shelf of United States until Cape Hatteras and detaches from its shelf-long path towards deeper Atlantic Ocean. "With the flowing toward deeper waters, the Gulf Stream starts meandering. The meandering nature engulfs warm and salty waters of the Sargasso Sea into meandering crests," Nish explains. "This looping eventually pinches away as independent rings forming warm core rings of Gulf Stream. These WCRs maintain their activity for a period of time in the slope sea region. These rings have the ability to impact temperature and salinity distribution in the slope and shelf sea region."

In abstract, he studied the 38-year period of these WCR formations to understand the seasonal pattern of these formations.

Image of the Gulf Stream’s Warm Core Ring formation locations based on a 38-year period from 1980 through 2017. Photo courtesy Nish Silva.

Studying at SMAST

Nish says his experience at SMAST has been wonderful. "Starting graduate school in a completely different country is always challenging, but the SMAST community of faculty, fellow students, and support staff made my transition very smooth, particularly my advisor Professor Avijit Gangopadhyay."

"I see the SMAST community as a wonderful family of people who help each other progress toward their goals. Words cannot express my gratitude for the support they’ve given to help me complete my master of science degree. Studying at SMAST made me a well-rounded person in the context of marine science. The opportunity to network and share experiences with various research communities further developed my career trajectory, including opening a path to different aspects of marine science."

Next steps

Nish plans to continue to advance his knowledge and research portfolio as a PhD candidate. "This fall, I begin my doctoral studies in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. I will study the response of ocean dynamics to the global and regional climate change."

Partial list of publications

Gangopadhyay A., Gawarkiewicz G., Bisagni J.J., Silva E.N.S., Monim M., J. Clark. 2019. A Census of the Warm Core Rings of the Gulf Stream: 1980-2017 (In Preparation)

Gangopadhyay A., Gawarkiewicz G., Silva E.N.S., Monim M., J. Clark. 2018. An Observed Regime Shift in the Formation of Warm Core Rings from the Gulf Stream (Under revision)

Muthuwatta L., Sood A., McCartney M., Silva N.S., Opere A. 2018. Understanding the impacts of climate change in the Tana river basin, Kenya. Proc IAHS 379:37-42.

SIlva E.I.L. and Silva E.N.S. 2017. Mini-hydro, an injurious novel threat to highland forest ecosystems of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Forester 38:67-73.

Silva E.I.L., Manthrithilake H., Pitigala D., Silva E.N.S. 2014. Environmental flow in Sri Lanka: Ancient anicuts versus modern dams. Sri Lanka Journal of Aquatic Sciences 19:3-14.

Silva E.I.L., Rott E., Thumpela I., Athukorala N., Silva E.N.S. 2013. Species composition and relative dominance of reservoir phytoplankton in Sri Lanka: Indicators of environmental quality. International Journal of Biological Science and Engineering 4(4):92-102.

Silva E.I.L. and Silva E.N.S. 2016. Handbook on small hydropower development and environment: A case study on Sri Lanka. 1st ed. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Water Resources Science and Technology.

Silva E.N.S, Liyanage N.P.P., Jayamanne S.C. 2016. Negombo lagoon sea entrance - vulnerable to climate change? Neela Haritha, The Climate Change Magazine of Sri Lanka 1:52-53.


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