Simone Alin, NOAA PMEL


Chief Scientist, Leg 1, NOAA 2016 West Coast OA Cruise

Bio: My interest in the ocean traces back to fifth grade, when our class study of marine biology culminated in a field trip to the rocky tidepools of the Oregon coast. Charmed by the habits and colorful diversity of their inhabitants, I developed a lasting and inordinate fondness for aquatic invertebrates. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, I finally learned to swim so that I could pass the entry test for scuba lessons (from an Olympic swimming coach—true story!—I was not, however, his proudest work).  I spent many an hour diving offshore from Hopkins Marine Station, hunting nudibranchs and accumulating bedtime stories to tell my children a few decades later.

Graduate school took me to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, a hotspot of freshwater biodiversity.  For my PhD research, I used tiny fossil crustaceans in sediment cores to understand the recent history of human impact on the lake ecosystem through watershed deforestation. A Boren fellowship to study Swahili funded my time in East Africa, during the last major El Niño event of the 20th century. After deciding that microscope work didn’t suit me, I was fortunate to land a NOAA postdoctoral fellowship that allowed me delve into the biogeochemistry of carbon in large lakes and rivers around the world as an affiliate of universities in Minnesota and Washington. I trekked through Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, learning to measure the many mind-boggling forms of aqueous carbon.

Sometime between becoming disenchanted with sitting behind a microscope and diving into what happens when carbon and water meet, I recall wishing that I could couple my scientific interests in biodiversity and biogeochemistry. This wish came true when I was offered my dream job at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), where I now spend my days thinking about biogeochemistry in the service of protecting biodiversity. Monitoring what happens when CO2 gets absorbed into the oceans is an important aspect of this work. I’ve been interested in policy-relevant science throughout my career, and ocean acidification provides an unparalleled opportunity to forge partnerships across divisions of science and sectors of society. The biggest thrills of my job have occurred when opportunities arise to use science to protect ecosystems and people.

What I’m doing on this cruise: I’m the Chief Scientist for the first leg of this research cruise (May 5–21); which will survey coastal waters from Baja California, Mexico to San Francisco, California. I’ll coordinate between the captain and crew of the 274-foot NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown, the largest in NOAA’s fleet, and 20 scientists on leg 1 from government and university laboratories, collecting ocean data ranging from carbonate chemistry and temperature to samples of shell-forming plankton to indicators of harmful algal blooms. Planning the logistics of a cruise integrating both environmental and ecosystem observations turns out to be a big job!  For example, it took several meetings just to work out the ‘water budget’–how seawater samples collected at each sampling station are divvied up among the scientists for their respective research projects.