CAFA PI Spotlight Series

Meet some of the scientists working to advance understanding of climate‐related impacts on fisheries and fishing communities to inform sustainable resource management as part of the Climate and Fisheries Adaptation (CAFA) Program. We asked some of the 2020 PIs:

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in fisheries science? 
  • What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing a career in your field? 
  • What is your background and interests outside of work?

Click on the links below to learn what they had to say.

Sort by: Last Name | Project | Year

Dr. Desiree Tommasi

Dr. Desiree Tomassi is a Project Scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in the Fisheries Resources Division.

Can you tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish?

With climate change ocean conditions are changing, impacting marine species and the fishing communities dependent on them. Our project aims to assess how climate change is affecting the forage fish assemblage along the West Coast of the US. Forage fish, like sardine or anchovy, in their role as prey, transfer energy from plankton to top predators and are key to sustaining healthy marine ecosystems. Using a multidisciplinary approach involving oceanographic, ecosystem, and economic models, our work will quantify how changes in forage fish will affect the fisheries that target them, as well as the protected species, such as sea lions, and commercially important fish species, such as tunas, that depend on them as prey. We will also develop novel management strategies for forage fish and assess their performance in reducing climate change impacts on the forage species assemblage and the ecosystem and fishing communities they sustain.

What drew you to your current field of study?

Some of my fondest memories are of summers spent by the sea growing up in Italy. I’ve always loved to be on the water and knew I wanted to be an oceanographer from an early age. For my master’s and PhD research in Canada, British Columbia, I worked closely with First Nation people researching sockeye salmon and the plankton they feed on. I could see that climate was affecting fish and the people who depend on them and that pushed me to research how to better integrate climate information with fisheries biology to improve how we manage fisheries.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

Working with a great team of collaborators and interacting with many stakeholders and seeing how engaged they are and willing to share their knowledge to safeguard their fisheries and ecosystem.

What ways do you think we could engage/interest more people in this field or in science in general?

I think people are innately curious and interested in science. In San Diego in particular, where folks often interact with the sea, from going recreational fishing, to going to the dog beach, to the food they eat, people are interested in this field. Scientists could do a better job of engaging with communities and making science more approachable. To enable that the scientific enterprise should reward and facilitate outreach efforts more.

What message would you like to give to the next generation of scientists?

Go out of your bubble, explore, talk to people from different backgrounds. It will inspire you in your work and help develop innovative solutions and approaches.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

Playing soccer with my two boys and scouting for the best gelato place in San Diego.

Dr. Marysia Szymkowiak

Dr. Szymkowiak is a Research Social Scientist with the Economic and Social Sciences Research Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Can you tell us about your work in the GOA-CLIM project and what you hope to accomplish?

My project is a component of the Gulf of Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling Project (GOA-CLIM), focusing on how fisheries stakeholders and fishing communities will respond to climate change impacts. Through iterative efforts across fishing communities in the Gulf of Alaska, we will examine how participants perceive ecosystem change in their fisheries, how they can respond, and what the impediments to that adaptation may be.

What drew you to your current field of study?

Fisheries are one of the last occupations that we have where humans are totally at the whims of nature. The people that choose to do that for their life's work are also very unique. The intersection of these two things - man and the sea - in a highly variable and unpredictable environment is fascinating to study.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

My work allows me to interact a lot with fishermen, who always teach me something new about the marine ecosystem within which I live - the Gulf of Alaska. Fishermen also view fishing as a lifestyle rather than just an occupation, which means they think about their choices more holistically. That also makes trying to understand how policies or environmental changes may affect them much more interesting than if we just assumed everything was an economic choice. For many fishermen, there isn't much outside of fishing (and often being a certain type of fisherman - species and gear) that they could see themselves doing.

What ways do you think we could engage/interest more people in this field or in science in general?

I think all kids are scientists. They are curious, experimental, unbounded. In a world where the pace of ecosystem change may be faster than the pace of science, we need to think about how to adapt all of our systems - education, science, management, etc. - to be more like our kids, willing to try, to change, and to make big discoveries.

What message would you like to give to the next generation of scientists?

Bring back the Renaissance (Wo)man. In addition to strong training in a given field, learn as much as you can about how other fields and other forms of knowledge think and learn. There is tremendous value to being outside of a given disciplinary box and to understanding how other forms of knowledge take shape.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

I have two small kids so much of my world is about making them thrive. When I get a break, I like to run up a mountain in the amazing backyard of Southeast Alaska.

Dr. James Ruzicka

Dr. Ruzicka is a Research Scientist at the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in the Ecosystem Science Division.

Can you tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish?

We are working to improve models that can simulate the entire ecosystem from physics to fisheries. In an incremental process, we are building upon an existing model of the Northern California Current ecosystem off Oregon and Washington to better represent the response of individual living groups to changes in temperature. We are also looking at how changes in the condition of forage, prey animals, affects the productivity of key species like salmon and hake. We will then use the model to simulate how the ecosystem will change under expected climate change conditions and simulate how changes in fishing effort by one fishing fleet will affect other fleets and species.

What drew you to your current field of study?

I like seeing how the different living components of a food web can function together and keep its order indefinitely. I want to know how changes at any part in the food web can affect the rest, and I want to learn how we can manage ecosystems to keep productive and diverse food webs.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

When I build a computer model, I like to see how I can make a complex program simpler, run faster, and produce more realistic results when compared to observations made in the ocean. I also like going to sea to help collect data on oceanographic cruises.

What ways do you think we could engage/interest more people in this field or in science in general?

People become more engaged with ecological science when we can learn enough about ecosystem behavior to make practical suggestions that are likely to lead to more resilient, biodiverse, and productive ocean communities and sustainable fisheries.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a similar field of study?

Study statistics, a little computer programming, and math. Study basic physiology and ecology. More specialized skills and knowledge are often best gained practically and cumulatively while working on undergraduate and graduate student projects.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

I like mountain trekking and backpacking.

Dr. Lisa Kerr

Dr. Lisa Kerr is a Senior Research Scientist in Fisheries Science at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Can you tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish?

Over the last forty years, the waters of the Northeast U.S have warmed at an unprecedented rate and this warming has already led to geographic shifts and impacted productivity of economically and culturally important fish stocks. Due to the rapid pace of change in the region, there is a critical need to develop and apply science, knowledge, and tools that can help support fisheries decision-making. One of the critical questions facing the region is: How do we sustainably harvest our fishery resources as their productivity and distribution changes due to ocean warming? The goal of our NCLIM research is to develop an integrated modeling framework to inform marine resource decision-making under projected climate change in the Northeast U.S. The framework will integrate climate, ocean, population, and human dimensions models and be used to inform fisheries decision challenges for species that have demonstrated shifts in distribution and changes in productivity.

What drew you to your current field of study?

I enjoy the challenge of conducting management strategy evaluation (MSE)-which involves integrating understanding of ecosystem processes and drivers, fish population dynamics, fisheries and their associated economic impacts, and management. MSE also involves working closely with stakeholders to help them realize their vision for their fishery.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

I enjoy serving as a science advisor and advising on the best available science to support sustainable fisheries management. It is very rewarding to see science contribute to improvements in our fisheries management.

What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

I hope the future of science is diverse and inclusive with more women in leadership positions.

What message would you like to give to the next generation of scientists?

I would advise the next generation of scientists to think about fusion-working across disciplines (e.g. computer science and fisheries) has great potential to yield new and interesting research directions.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

I enjoy hanging out with my kids-3 boys-so there is never a dull moment!

Dr. Anne Hollowed

Dr. Anne Hollowed a Senior Scientist with the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center. She leads the Status of Stocks and Multispecies Assessment program and currently serves as co-chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee.

Can you tell us about your work in the ACLIM project and what you hope to accomplish?

The Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling project is an interdisciplinary research project targeted at understanding the implications of climate change on marine ecosystems in the Bering Sea. The project integrates downscaled ocean model projections with social-ecological models to assess the performance of current and alternative management strategies. The project represents a research partnership between the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA's Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Climate Program Office, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

What drew you to your current field of study?

Concerns about the implications of climate change on living marine resources.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

The research is designed to provide the science needed to inform decision makers of the implications of different management strategies with respect to the National Standards of the Fisheries Management and Conservation Act.

What ways do you think we could engage/interest more people in this field or in science in general?

Large interdisciplinary research projects like ACLIM provide a forum for community engagement. The products of these projects inform decision makers, the international research community and the public of the implications of climate change on the world’s oceans.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a similar field of study?

Engage in interdisciplinary research early in your career.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

Visiting my children and grandchildren, and generally enjoying nature.

Dr. Lorenzo Ciannelli

Dr. Cianelli is a professor of Fisheries Oceanography at Oregon State University in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Can you tell us about your project and what you hope to accomplish?

This project is a unique opportunity to understand how changing ocean conditions, fishing effort, and prey quality affect the abundance of commercially exploited species in the California Current marine ecosystem. With this study I also hope to further develop an existing modeling framework (ECOTRAN) in ways that can incorporate changing ocean conditions, and be applied to other systems or species. Last but not least, I am excited about the opportunity to engage with colleagues, students, post-docs, who work on similar issues in the east and west coast, and to learn from their projects.

What drew you to your current field of study?

I was born and raised on a small island in south Italy, Ischia, where I lived in proximity to the ocean and to fishermen. Connecting with artisanal fishermen, I experienced first hand the variability of commercial catches, and I have been motivated to understand what drives it.

What is a rewarding aspect of the work you do?

Working with students.

What ways do you think we could engage/interest more people in this field or in science in general?

Stories and narratives like this, about not only the science, but also the people behind it, make the process of doing science more 'human', and can hopefully attract more people to it. Outreaching to schools, and talking about the wonderful things of the ocean, such as the currents, the fish, the ice, the eggs, the larvae, the microbes, not only the challenges that oceans face, is also a way to attract more people to it.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a similar field of study?

Go for it! It is a lot of fun, and is worth it.

What do you like to do outside of your research interests?

Spend time with my family, travel, cook, eat, swim.

Women's History Month: A conversation with Dr. Lucy Hutyra

  • 26 March 2020

In honor of Women's History Month, NOAA is highlighting a few of its female scientists and funded researchers who are making significant strides in the climate sciences and other science fields. The following interview is with Dr. Lucy Hutyra, an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. Her research is funded, in part, by NOAA Climate Program Office’s Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle and Climate (AC4) Program. She studies exchange processes between the atmosphere and biosphere, focusing on the terrestrial carbon cycle and the impact humans have on it.

Dr. Lucy Hutyra with her Boston, Massachusetts field site behind her. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lucy Hutyra. 

When did you first become interested in science and ecology? 

I didn't have a lifelong goal of being a scientist or professor. I was the first in my family to attend college. My parents were immigrants and they didn’t have a lot of experience or guidance to offer, other than advising, “Education is good so get one.” They strongly pushed education, particularly for me, the only girl in the family. However, they didn’t really push me in a specific direction.

For my undergraduate and master’s degrees, I focused on forest ecology because I liked to be outside and it was fun. I was probably about 23 or 24 years old when I started to focus on the carbon cycle and realized I might want a career in science. I was working as a research technician at a Harvard University lab, doing a lot of field work to understand the carbon exchange in the Harvard Forest and analyzing the data. During my three years as a technician, I also worked in forests in Canada, Brazil, and Bhutan. It was an incredible experience to work in such completely different ecosystems — from tropical to temperate to boreal — and do different kinds of work, from atmospheric measurements on a tower to digging soil pits to understand how much the soils were contributing to the CO₂ that the tower was seeing. When I was doing that work, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do long-term. I was just enjoying the moment. For the first time in my life, I was also shaping what the next steps of the experiment were going to be. I started to feel ownership over the project. That sense of discovery and innovation took hold. And then I decided to pursue a PhD and it went from there. It just sort of happened. I found a passion.

Dr. Lucy Hutyra making field measurements of soil CO₂ fluxes in the Harvard Forest site in Petersham, Massachusetts with Andrew Reinmann (CUNY) and Ian Smith (Boston University PhD student). Photo courtesy of Dr. Lucy Hutyra (image taken before 2020).
 

Your PhD thesis at Harvard focused on Carbon and Water Exchange in Amazon rainforests. How did your experience working in the Amazon rainforests shape your interests? 

During my PhD, I worked in Brazil’s Tapajós National Forest, near a town called Santarém, which is the third-largest city in the Brazilian Amazon. That area was rapidly developing. Forests were being replaced with soybean fields and massive industrial scale agriculture was coming.  Santarém is at the confluence of two major rivers, which makes for very easy transport of crops. 

I got to watch the landscape around our experimental forest completely transform, and that experience actually shaped a lot of what I do now. Since then, a lot of my work has become local. I’m thinking about greenhouse gases in cities, rather than in remote forest locations. It was watching the transformations in the Amazon landscapes that really pushed me to work at the local scale. Not that the Amazon isn’t important, but I wanted to feel like my science was having an impact on the sustainability and viability of the ecosystem where I live.

Map showing the location of Brazil’s Tapajós National Forest near Santarém. Source: Google Maps. 

As you mentioned, a lot of your work now at Boston University focuses on urban greenhouse gases. What do you enjoy most about working in this space?

I’m very passionate about doing science that makes a difference. Over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are concentrated in cities, so the policies that are enacted in cities make a huge difference to our atmospheric greenhouse gas burden. My lab’s research focuses on studying whether and how the policies that cities and states are putting forth for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are working. Are the pledges, for example, of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2040 being manifested in the atmosphere? We’ve worked for the last 10 years to figure out how to measure that — the gases in the atmosphere, in the city, in the areas surrounding the city — and think about where the gases are coming from and how air is transported. We’ve also learned about the role of the biosphere in cities and what nature-based solutions or urban greening initiatives might actually mean for a city, its climate action plan, and the air quality and the atmospheric composition in cities. 

We ended up spending a tremendous amount of energy on building urban fossil fuel emissions inventories which didn’t exist. It’s been really fascinating to realize what we know and what we don’t know about emissions. For a long time, the atmospheric community assumed that emissions were perfectly known, but it turns out they are not. It’s an incredibly exciting space to be working in. I think we’ve influenced local and national public policy with our scientific observations and insights. 

Your project CO₂ Urban Synthesis and Analysis (CO₂-USA), funded by CPO’s AC4 Program, has developed urban emissions inventories. What is the impact of this project? 

Across the United States, there are a number of cities that have atmospheric measurement networks for CO₂, methane, and some additional gases. The cities involved in CO₂-USA — for example, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, District of Columbia, Baltimore, Boston, and Portland, Oregon — are very different in terms of what greenhouse gas policies are being enacted, what their emissions profile looks like, and what the ecosystem in and surrounding them looks like. So, we are trying to bring cities around the United States together to do a comparative analysis of greenhouse gas emissions trends, patterns, and uncertainties. We’ve built a harmonized emissions dataset so that we can analyze these atmospheric observations with consistent emissions estimates in terms of what we think is coming from the ground compared with what we are measuring in the air. 

The transportation emissions product that we built for CO₂-USA was picked up by the media. People around the country could look at what the trends in emissions were in cities across the United States. That dataset was downloaded over 20,000 times. It was a reach I never imagined was possible. People that know nothing about atmospheric sciences or greenhouse gases could see these trends in their neighborhood and what their behavior in the transportation sector really translated to.

The most important thing we are doing in CO₂-USA is bringing the scientists as well as the stakeholders from these cities together. In many cases, the people who are making policy decisions about climate action and sustainability had no idea that there were these massive networks of observations present in their city that are relevant to the policies they are trying to set. Through the CO₂-USA project, we have tried to synthesize the science and individual insights from the cities and merge it with the policy understanding. In many cases there’s immediate utility for those insights.

Can you share some insights you’ve learned so far about urban greening initiatives from your research? 

Recently, we have been finding an acceleration in the cycling of carbon dioxide by ecosystems in cities. We have found that urban trees are much more efficient at growing and capturing carbon than their country cousins. In fact, they are about 4 times as efficient if you control for size and species. This means that these urban trees are going to have a very large influence on atmospheric CO₂. Plants in cities are growing in an environment, in terms of temperature and CO₂, that’s more favorable. Urban trees have a longer growing season and they are being beautifully fertilized by all of those fossil fuel emissions. There are some negatives associated with those emissions — ozone and other pollutants that could affect the tree — but it seems that the benefits are outweighing them. If we assume that a plant in a city performs as our standard textbook models predict, we are going to underestimate how much CO₂ will be taken up. That really has turned some of my thinking on its head.

Dr. Lucy Hutyra on her Boston rooftop tower measuring urban greenhouse gases and meteorology. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lucy Hutyra (image taken before 2020).
 

This is something we’re still very much working on, but it’s been really exciting because it suggests that some of these nature-based solutions of “plant a million trees” in cities — which a few years ago I may have thought was a bit of greenwashing — are going to have a much bigger impact than I would’ve expected. In addition to carbon uptake, we are also finding that if the trees are well-irrigated, they exchange water at a higher rate. So, it turns out we may have been underestimating some of the cooling benefits in terms of evapotranspiration provided by these trees. I’m interested in understanding what the influence of these higher-performing trees is on the energy budget and what heat mitigation that they might be able to offer for the urban heat island effect.

Last year, at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting, renowned environmental scientist and former NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, called for “a renewed social contract for science.” She asked the scientific community to consider “our obligations as scientists [and] our responsibilities to society, to each other, to future generations.” What responsibilities do scientists have to society?

We have an obligation to do more than basic, fundamental scientific research that we publish in disciplinary journals. Society needs our science today and tomorrow to inform policy and make sound decisions. My interactions with the stakeholder and the policy communities has inspired and motivated my work. They have research needs and are really important and interesting. Now is the time for solution-oriented science. That may mean we have to leave the comfort of the lab and engage in different kinds of challenges. It takes determination and a plan to have your science reach the right people to solve problems. Odds are, they are not reading our disciplinary journals.

You’ve accomplished a lot in your career. Did you have any significant mentors?

Through connections and suggestions from advisors and professors in undergrad and graduate school, I applied for a position with Professor Steve Wofsy at Harvard. I was completely unqualified, but he hired me. Steve proved to be the most amazing mentor that any student could ask for. He offered opinions without telling me what to do. He shaped the rest of my life. I still call him up regularly for advice. I’ve tried to mimic some of his approaches to mentorship with my own students. 

There was a female postdoc when I was at Harvard who ended up having two children during her postdoc years there. At the time, Harvard didn’t have a postdoc maternity policy. I watched Steve’s audacity, as he pushed university administration to create one. And he helped get one. Today, my first female postdoc to have a baby is due next month. So, I looked into what my university's maternity leave policy was and I wanted more. Following Steve’s lead, I had the audacity to go to my vice president for research and ask for change. And my university is now working behind the scenes to improve the postdoc maternity leave policy. If I succeed in this, it will be one of my biggest accomplishments.

As a mentor now yourself, what advice would you give to your younger self or to a woman just starting out in her career?

Don’t accept “No.” It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to accept “No” as an answer. Sometimes, when you actually appeal a decision, you can reverse it. You have to pick your battles, but know that you don’t have to accept the status quo in policies or in manuscript reviews. I now feel empowered to appeal decisions. 

What challenges have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated field?

Just like practically every woman I know, I still suffer from imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is unfortunate, but it is also normal. There were things that I think I got because they needed a woman on a committee and they couldn't find one so they asked me. I would be the only woman on a committee and I would think I didn’t belong there because they were trying to get some kind of gender balance and they achieved it with my help. Maybe that was true, but once I joined the committee, my voice was equal to everybody else’s. Ultimately, I changed some of the committee’s directions and policies. We have to know where the limits of our knowledge are, but we also have to acknowledge that we’ve gotten to where we are for a reason. We need to stop beating ourselves up. 

I think my biggest challenge as a woman came when I had a baby. My university had generous faculty maternity leave policies, but that was the hardest period of my career. It wasn’t hard just during the period of maternity leave. The challenges extended for years. The single biggest challenge I had during that time was how to navigate travel. I could do everything in the office, but a lot of building a career, advocating for research, and highlighting research findings requires that you travel. I curtailed my travel for 5 years because it was just too hard until my son went to kindergarten. My university didn’t give me a budget to take a nanny with me when I traveled. So, in those years I was limited. And those years are really important in shaping a career because they establish your reputation and career. They just happen to coincide with many women’s prime childbearing years.

Dr. Lucy Hutyra with her budding scientist son Quinn. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lucy Hutyra.
 

Does your son like trees too?

My son loves trees and being outside. I have a really cool kid. He is 7 years old now. He is adventurous. We go hiking, biking, and swimming. I keep trying to get him to think about something other than geology, but he has built a rock museum in his room which has thousands of specimens. It’s really something. He has multiple microscopes and loves rocks. He’s also just starting to learn about climate change now. At the women’s science march we made posters for him and his friends about air pollution. The passion with which he advocates for the environment is amazing.

 
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