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Leigha Peterson

Commencement speaker, May 2019

Leigha Peterson ’19, ’14, ’11 is the first student to earn a doctoral degree from Coastal Carolina University. Peterson graduated in May 2019 with a Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Science: Coastal and Marine Systems Science, which was CCU’s first Ph.D. degree, established in 2014.

Peterson is also the first to earn all three levels of undergraduate and postgraduate education from Coastal Carolina University, having received a master’s degree in coastal marine and wetlands studies in August 2014 and a bachelor’s degree in marine science in December 2011. She has served as a lecturer of physical oceanography and introductory marine science courses in the Department of Marine Science at CCU since 2017.

A native of Ocean City, Md., Peterson has focused her research in three technical areas: groundwater discharge, hydrocarbon transport, and water mass mixing. She is skilled in identifying areas of active groundwater discharge using geochemical and geophysical tools and has been lecturing on hydrographic techniques and hydrogeology for over three years. She has developed methods to study hydrocarbon discharge in marine environments and specializes in chemically tracing water masses in coastal and open ocean environments to understand the environmental impacts associated with fluid transport.

Peterson has participated in research trips to Antarctica, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, Jamaica, Canada and elsewhere in pursuit of her studies. In 2013, she spent 47 days at the Palmer research station in Antarctica, where the sun didn’t set during her entire visit.

Peterson has co-written approximately 25 research papers and presentations in her field of study. The title of her doctoral dissertation is “Evaluating fluid fluxes from deep-sea seepage habitats.” While earning her Ph.D., she was named CCU’s first doctoral student representative, serving as a liaison between administrators and doctoral students. During her collegiate career, she was also a Nelson Fellowship recipient, a sustainability representative, a student research coordinator and a recruitment counselor for her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi.