Thursday, January 22, 2009

Women in Science and real-time Oceanography

The New York Times ran an article recently, "In ‘Geek Chic’ and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science". Boiled down, the article explains that while the number of women in the sciences has grown in leaps and bounds over the decades, there are still not enough. Those women that do manage to make a career in the sciences, do so at a cost of higher rates of divorce and fewer children. With President Obama's stating in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place”, many scientists are hopeful not only for more research funds, but changes in policy to support women who choose science as a career.

Why does this matter?
In addition to running that connects Spanish-speaking tutors and students for academic support in Math and Science among other subjects, I have a special interest in this topic because the woman in my life is a budding scientist in Physical Oceanography. Physical Oceanography examines "oceanic motions, from small-scale mixing processes to basin-wide circulation patterns...that requires a thorough understanding of fluid mechanics and the laws of thermodynamics." In layman terms, understanding these processes and how they interact with the atmosphere are incredibly important if we are to reveal the truth and consequences of global warming.

Being located in Argentina, the research topic for her thesis has centered around chlorophyl phytoplankton blooms in the Patagonian Sea, (a crucial link in the food chain) where she authored a chapter for the Conservation of the Patagonia Sea, (in Spanish, Exec Summary is in English)

Currently she is at sea on the RV Revelle for the DIMES project, a joint US/UK field program to study mixing in the Southern Ocean. What has been fascinating is keeping track of their progress through real-time updates and Surf Swell forecasts. The ship is even equipped with a few webcams that snap photos in various sectors of the ship every 10 minutes. So one can see what a real oceanographic research expedition is all about. I am guessing once Telefe (a local broadcast channel) gets a look at this, we will have our next season of Big Brother mercilessly upon on us. :-S

So to all those interested in the sciences, it does not necessarily mean a life in a lab or behind a computer (though those options exist as well). Oceanography is a rapidly growing field and as the article "Sea of Dreams" in Nature magazine does a good job of pointing out, new careers are opening in environmental, commercial ventures, government, international agencies and more.

P.S. The pictures of the icebergs they are passing and the equipment they are deploying are particularly impressive.

No comments: