Student Spotlight: Geosciences Ph.D. Candidate Andrés Garzón-Oechsle

Tuesday, Apr 28, 2020

Andrés Garzón-Oechsle is pursuing a Ph.D. in Geosciences. He works with faculty member Erik Johanson, Ph.D., in the Environmental Change Lab. Previously, he received a B.A. in Anthropology at Indiana University and an M.A. in Anthropology at FAU.

Why did you choose Geosciences? 

Geosciences was a natural transition for me from Anthropology as I mainly look into past human-environment interactions through the material culture left behind. Doing my master’s in anthropology/archaeology, I found myself using many of the methodologies and knowledge from the geosciences so it was a good fit.       

What are your research interests? 

For the last six years, I have been performing research and working for the Florida Atlantic University Anthropological Fieldschool in Ecuador. Our research involves understanding the magnitude and intensity of past human occupations in the cloud forests of Manabí in coastal Ecuador. We have uncovered hundreds of ancient settlements belonging to the Manteño civilization (900–1600 CE) under the thick canopy of the forest in areas that were thought to have been uninhabited or just lightly occupied. This discovery has merited new approaches so I am looking to implement UAV based laser scanning known as LiDAR to virtually remove the canopy and get a true understanding of the entire modified landscape, not just the residential areas. Complimentary to this, I want to perform microcharcoal particle analysis of column sediments from these landscape modifications, such as agricultural terraces, to understand the role of fire in agriculture of the Manteño in the cloud forest.  Finally, this information will allow for a better understanding of how the Manteño managed to accommodate and feed thousands of people in an environment that today is seen as wild and inhospitable.   

What do you like best about being at FAU and pursuing geosciences here?

For me, the greatest thing about being in FAU is the openness and willingness of many professors and departments to come together to facilitate my research. My project can be considered a collaborative project between three departments, two laboratories, and multiple professors. In Geosciences I have the ability to perform charcoal analysis in the  Environmental Change Lab  with the mentoring of Dr. Erik Johanson. In the Anthropology Department, I have the support and mentoring of Valentina Martinez and Dr. Micahel Harris who run the Fieldschool in Ecuador, which provides me with the installations, students, locals and laboratory for the field portion of the research  Finally, I have been closely working with Dr. Sudghar Nagarajan in the Geomatics department for over a year to improve on his drone-based laser scanning system with the goal of applying it in the cloud forest.        

What career are you interested in pursuing after you graduate?

After graduating I would like to remain in academia either in the U.S. or in Ecuador with the goal of continuing my research in the region and continuing the operation of the field school. Long-term I would like to be part of a process of creating a new generation of researchers from Manabi since ultimately they are the stewards of their fantastic and proud past.

Tags: science

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