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UMass Amherst PhD Student Marsha Allen

Marsha Allen PhD ’23: “The World Needs More Hydrogeologists.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

For Marsha Allen PhD ’23, home is where the inspiration is. Allen is working on her dissertation with the goal of preventing water shortages on her native island of Tobago.

Tobago, along with much of the Caribbean, has experienced a massive drought over the past decade, spurred by shifts in the climate. UMass Hydrogeology Professor David Boutt’s 2014 studies of new potential groundwater in the island provide a basis for Allen’s research. “Dr. Boutt is one of the best hydrologists in the country right now—it’s amazing I got to work with him,” Allen said.

Allen plans to use geochemistry, climate, and groundwater modeling to meticulously illustrate the amount of water stored in its subsurface over time. “It’s become imperative to understand and use potable water sustainability. We see many countries or regions in the world experience drastic shifts in climate, leading to severe drought or severe flooding,” she said. “My research is directly related to climate change, since it completely shifts the amount of groundwater stored in the surface. Quantifying the amount of water in the subsurface at any period in time is important to sustainable water management for all countries.”

Allen hopes that cataloging conditions will inform local officials on how to adequately budget water usage to avoid shortages for the island’s population. “If we know how much water is stored based on the change in the rainfall, we can calculate well-pumping rates and create sustainability models for each island based on rainfall,” she said.

Working on her PhD is the latest chapter in Allen’s academic career; she earned a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College at age 30 in 2010 and earned her master’s degree from Brooklyn College in 2016 before coming to UMass in 2017. “Neither of my parents studied past the age of thirteen. Getting my education was something that I had to do,” she said.

After completing her PhD, Allen hopes to become an expert in managing water usage on islands. “The world needs more hydrogeologists,” she said.