Scientist Interview: meet Natalie Monacci

Natalie Monacci is the Deputy Director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks where she has been managing all OARC activities since 2010. Natalie took some time to answer some questions about her interests and insights.

Q: What drew you to the study of ocean acidification in Alaska?

As a chemical oceanographer, my specialty has always been the carbon cycle, though in various forms.  Really old carbon, new carbon, in the mud, from plants.   Now, I focus on carbon in the water.  This was new for me when I started working at the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) seven years ago.  My interest in OA has persisted because there is still so much to figure out.

Q: Tell us more about your role — what element do you work on and where?

My official title is Deputy Director of OARC, which means I work on all of our projects.  I handle logistics, equipment maintenance, and data collection.   Our group has two basic means of data collection: collecting discrete water samples, these we bring back and analyze at the lab in Fairbanks; and deploying autonomous sensors, which are logging data while at sea.  Both of these approaches require a lot of planning and calibration.  We work on all three coasts, Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and the Arctic Ocean, so we have a lot coming and going across the state at any given time.

Q: What are some of the most notable things you’ve learned about OA in Alaska or in general? 

I have learned and relearned that Alaska is a really big and dynamic place.  Our oceans have it all, near shore, deep water, coral reefs, major rivers, sea ice.  You can see very different characteristics as you move from Southeast to the Arctic.  All of our oceans are connected, but there can be distinct characteristics in each region.  It is a lot of water to cover.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges in your work? 

One of my first big projects at OARC was launching the Alaska OA Mooring Network.  The sensors we were working with had never been deployed in high latitudes.  We were hoping for success, while bracing for failure.  We got both.  Learning to move chemistry from a laboratory environment to a sensor you leave in the ocean, while expecting it to not only work, but also to be precise and accurate, has definitely been challenging for our field.  Add ice, wind, and waves and you will have all your engineering partners on speed dial.

Q: What is a really memorable moment from your time in the field or in the lab?

One day my phone rang and it was a fisherman who read my phone number off a sticker on one of our moorings.  We spoke for over an hour about all the sensors we had attached to our surface buoy.  I see that same level of interest in all the communities we work with.  It is rewarding and propelling to be working on a project that Alaskans and the general public really care about.

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