Tracing my interest in oceanography back to one defining moment is somewhat difficult. I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast called Nehalem. Nehalem is located near the tidal estuary of the Nehalem River and lies about two miles from the beach and the Pacific Ocean, so I literally spent my youth around, in, or on the water. A basic understanding of tides and weather became inherent to my friends and me as we planned our days around surfing, swimming, and exploring the local area.
Upon entering Neah-Kah-Nie High School, just south of Nehalem, my interest in understanding the ocean was increasingly fueled, by my desire to be able to find and surf better waves in the local area. In retrospect, it is very clear that had it not been for the sport of surfing, my career path would have been much different. Regardless, being able to see the beach from the high school is probably part of the reason that Neah-Kah-Nie was one of the first high schools in the area to offer courses in marine biology and oceanography. The oceanography course was an experimental online course through OSU.
The same science instructor, Mrs. Beth Gienger, who still coaches NOSB teams today, informed our class one day that there was an oceanography quiz bowl scheduled to be held at Oregon State University in the early months of 1998. That year five of us ended up competing in the inaugural NOSB competition at OSU. In 1999 we won the regional competition and headed off to Washington D.C. To be honest I can’t recall how we did in the national competition, but it wasn’t real well. It was a great trip, though. Good enough to inspire us to study for the next year, where I captained the team to win the regional competition and on to the 2000 NOSB Finals in Baltimore, where we tied for seventh place. It was a great experience and wrapped up my senior year in high school quite nicely.
Perhaps the most exciting and beneficial aspect of NOSB, to me, was the opportunity to meet, mingle, and exchange ideas with other students interested in ocean sciences; in addition to college professors who actually took us seriously based on our academic ability. Perhaps most memorable was my meeting with the current Oceanographer of the Navy, and having a frank discussion with him about the possibilities of oceanographic careers in that branch of the service – college was, after all, coming up.
I’ll spare you the details of college hunting, but suffice to say that I did a lot of looking and finally settled on OSU (and not the Navy), in large part because of the good impression I had received of the university’s academics through my participation in NOSB. One interesting thing about Oregon State, however, is that it does not have an undergraduate major in oceanography. You have to settle on another major and minor in oceanography, and this is what I did, starting in fall of 2000. Along the way I participated in the Sea Education Associations semester at SEA out of Woods Hole where I received my first opportunity to do seagoing oceanographic research, albeit from a sailing vessel. I also received an opportunity to work as an intern for a professor in the oceanography department, Dr. Martin Fisk, in a study of deep-living microorganisms that NASA could use as proxies in their search for extraterrestrial life. Quite an interesting topic and it ended up getting me an offer to be a graduate student for another professor in the department. So, finishing up my undergraduate degree in environmental science in the fall of 2003, I went on to start graduate school in oceanography at Oregon State University’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (OSU/COAS) in the winter of 2004.
The goal of my graduate research was to assess the potential link between Cretaceous submarine volcanism and global oceanic anoxic events that occurred in the same relative time period. Simply put, did huge underwater volcanic eruptions cause the entire Cretaceous deep ocean to become oxygen depleted? My research involved crushing, powdering, dissolving, and running trace metal analysis of sediment samples collected by the Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP) or Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). My advisor, Dr. Robert Duncan, and I observed that anomalous ratios of certain metals were coincident in time with the undersea volcanic events and the formation of black shales in the sediment record, indicating that the processes were, indeed, related.
In addition to doing my regular research, my advisor felt that it was important for a graduate student in oceanography to acquire some seagoing experience, so he let me know of an opportunity to sail with another professor who was studying pillow basalts in the Gulf of Alaska (NOAA GOA 2004) as part of an interdisciplinary study of seamounts in that region. The cruise was an exciting opportunity for me to learn more about the practical side of acquiring oceanographic data, and also provided me with a unique opportunity to dive as a scientist on board the submersible Alvin- a dream job for almost any person interested in the oceans. It was a very memorable experience. Later in graduate school, my funding was getting short, so another professor offered to pay my tuition for a term if I went on a cruise for him, helping two of his technicians out with giant piston coring on a cruise to the Santa Barbara basin. It was an exciting trip, and later that winter I went on another coring trip between Tahiti and Oahu while preparing my graduate thesis for defense. I defended my thesis in June of 2006 and went to work as temporary sea going marine sediment coring technician.
Today, I continue to be employed by OSU as a Faculty Research Assistant (FRA) as a member of COAS’s Marine Geology Coring Group. My job as a sea going FRA is to support sediment coring operations on UNOLS (University National Oceanographic Laboratory System) ships. This means that I work with scientists from across the country, and sometimes other countries, to acquire sediment samples using giant piston corers, multicorers, gravity corers, or other sampling devices. Another aspect of my job is the development of new methodologies, maintenance of coring equipment, and preparation of shipments to and from research ships.
My position is exciting because it provides me with an opportunity to travel to many different places and to be an important part of many fascinating research projects. Since I have started working with the coring group, I have traveled from nearly 89 degrees north to almost 50 degrees south latitude in all three major oceans collecting samples to be used to examine topics as varied as oceanic plate motion, global climate change, and the seismic history of the western margin of Sumatra and Java (the area responsible for the devastating 2004 tsunami). I consider myself highly fortunate to be a part of all of these cutting-edge scientific undertakings.