Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - January/February 2011 - (Page 38)
exploring career options
oceanographer Ryan Moyer, PhD
Research Oceanographer U.S. Geological Survey
When asked about his early interests in the ocean, Ryan Moyer offers two childhood memories: vacations at the New Jersey shore, and seeing Jaws. “I think the point was to scare people,” he says, “but that movie got me really interested in sharks, boats, and the ocean.” That interest led him to earn degrees in marine science, marine biology, and geological science, and ultimately to his research position at USGS. Here, Moyer describes the interdisciplinary nature of his work, its rewards and challenges, and why he’s hopeful about the future of the world’s oceans.
did you go to college intending to become an oceanographer?
i did, but i wasn’t sure exactly what i wanted to focus on until late in college. in my senior year, i took a field class called Coral reef ecology at the marine science Consortium in Virginia. that was my first foray into coral reefs, and i fell in love. the year after graduation, i worked as a teaching assistant for that Coral reef ecology class. When i decided to pursue my master’s degree in marine biology, i applied to nova southeastern University, home of the national Coral reef institute. instead of just learning or teaching about coral reefs, i got to do research on them. then, for my Phd in geological science, i focused on records of carbon cycling in corals.
interview by Melissa Hartman
a wide diversity of people and projects. We have physical oceanographers who model tides and floods related to hurricanes, and produce coastal inundation and wave models for large storm events. We have ecologists who work in mangrove forests and the everglades. We have people like me, who look at integrated processes and how they affect organisms or an ecosystem. We have paleoceanographers who look at the biological and chemical composition of deeper sea sediments to infer changes over hundreds of thousands of years. We have some people who do microbiology on modern organisms, and we have some fish ecologists here. there are many different types of science an oceanographer can do.
Your current research focuses on ocean acidification. What is that, and why is it a problem?
Basically, ocean acidification is caused by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. the surface ocean takes up some of that extra carbon dioxide, which changes the water chemistry in such a way that it promotes dissolution of calcium carbonate and lowers the ph of the ocean. that’s where you get the term “ocean acidification.” We’re talking about a change in ph from maybe 8.3 in the past to 8.1 now, and possibly as low as 7.9 in the future. that might seem like a very small change, but the ph scale is logarithmic, not linear. a change of 0.1 is a tenfold change. even what seem like small changes can affect the entire ecosystem of the surface oceans. ocean acidification promotes dissolution of calcium carbonate, which is what coral skeletons and coral reefs are made of. it will affect anything in the ocean that builds a shell. this includes not just economically important species like oysters and scallops but plankton, which are at the base of the food web. and ocean acidification can affect the development of larvae of many species.
it seems like a big change from marine biology to geological science.
it is and it isn’t. When you work in the oceans, you need to know a bit about everything. there are waves and currents, so you need to know physics. You’re in a water environment, so chemistry is important. and so is geology: the composition of the bedrock influences water chemistry, and the shape of the basins influences the physics and the space available for life. it’s important for someone who wants to work in marine science to get interdisciplinary training. in my work, i focus mainly on biogeochemistry—a combination of three sciences.
What does your research entail?
i measure isotopes in coral skeletons. Corals grow their skeletons in annual bands, comparable to tree rings. You can measure changes in skeletal chemistry over the life history of a coral and infer the past chemistry of the ocean, because that’s what influences the chemistry in the coral skeleton. i use isotopes specific to changes in ph, so they can tell us how ph has changed over time. the physical properties of those annual bands
Your title is research oceanographer. What do usgs research oceanographers do?
i work at the st. Petersburg Coastal and marine science Center, which has
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - January/February 2011
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - January/february 2011
In My Own Words
Becoming Environmentally Eloquent
Bacteria vs. Polystyrene: Getting the Toxins Out
Feat of Clay
What Lies Beneath
Clean & Green?
Selected Opportunities & Resources
Making the Most of Public School
One Step Ahead
Exploring Career Options
Off the Shelf
Planning Ahead for College
Creative Minds Imagine
Mark Your Calendar
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - January/February 2011