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. 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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

A conversation with climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel

  • 12 April 2022
A conversation with climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel

As a follow-up to the NOAA Climate Program Office (CPO) series celebrating Women’s History Month, CPO communications analyst Amber Liggett interviewed climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel. Kate has been funded by CPO’s Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program. She is also co-lead of the NOAA Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) Task Force. 

Kate is a Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Columbia Center for Climate Systems Research. Kate is a well-known science writer and storyteller based in New York City. 

In addition to discussing Women’s History Month, our interview explored Kate’s work with NOAA, her climate science career generally, and her extraordinary work as a public scientist. 

Can you describe your history working with NOAA, specifically your work/role on NOAA’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) task force? 

CMIP, the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, is the overall framework for different climate modeling groups. CMIP6 is a way to basically standardize the models— to have them all perform the same exact experiments with our models and to look at the diversity of responses to try to figure out what we understand, what we need to work on, and what we don't understand. The task force is designed to bring together researchers working on different aspects of climate models, and try to figure out what are common areas of research, what are things that we really need to understand, and how do we present our results in a way that is maximally useful for the people who need to hear and understand them.

CMIP6 has had many publications come out. I worked on one CMIP6 project from FY19-20 which was extended into FY21. The project was funded by MAPP and focused on drought reconstructions and what happens to drought risk as the world warms. Several publications, including one entitled “Projected Changes to Hydroclimate Seasonality in the Continental United States,” came out in 2021.

Your extensive climate research publications through NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences (GISS) date back to 2008. Do you have a favorite project and publication and why?

My favorite publication is one that came out in Nature in 2019 where we were looking at the risk of drought. It was my favorite because it combined several different lines of evidence—basic theoretical understanding, climate models, and tree ring-based reconstructions of past climates.

We were basically looking at what is the fingerprint that you would expect human activities to make on global drought conditions. We know that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn't just dry out the entire planet. Instead, it makes some regions rainy and some regions drier. And that gives you a characteristic spatial pattern. And we basically looked for that spatial pattern in reconstructions of past droughts. And we looked for it in recent observations. And what we could see very clearly was the emergence of this human fingerprint, or characteristic spatial pattern, on global drought conditions. That was really evident even as early as the beginning of the last century. 

In a previous interview (2017 Columbia News article), you mentioned that periods of climate extremes can influence human culture and politics–such as the rise of the Mongol Empire and the writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What other stories have you used successfully to reach people on the subject of climate? What makes these stories effective in engaging the public? 

The most painful thing for me has been the realization that it's not enough to be right. It's not enough to do good science. It's not enough to say things that are true, because people don't relate to graphs and equations and charts, people relate to stories. There's no one story that's going to resonate with everybody. There's no one story that's going to work on everybody. So that's why I think it's very, very important that we have a whole huge diversity of scientists speaking of talent-based stories, because the messenger matters too. People who aren't gonna listen to me may listen to you. Or somebody else. So I think that's why it's really important that we're all out there and we're all telling stories.

Can you share other stories that you’ve used that resonated with different audiences?

For folks who identify as conservative or fans of the free market, you can talk about the insurance industry or the military, both of which take climate change very seriously and incorporate it into their current and future plans. For people who are deeply invested in issues of economic and racial justice, you can talk about environmental justice: how climate change worsens existing inequalities and how climate solutions can help make the world fairer. For kids, you can talk about all the helpers who are working on ways to make the world better and get them excited about being a part of the solution. 

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication produces the Global Warming's Six Americas framework, which breaks the American public into six unique audiences, depending on their opinion on climate change. During public speaking, how do you use this framework? 

The Global Warming’s Six Americas survey is super fascinating. They do regular polling of the American public, and they essentially divide people into six categories, where you've got the alarmed, concerned, the cautious and all the way down to the hardcore deniers. And that bucket of hardcore deniers, that's a small fraction of the population. So in thinking of calibrating your message to reach that very tiny fraction of the population that really doesn't want to be convinced–I'm not sure that's a good use of our time. 

I think there's so many people, either in the middle who say, this seems like something that I'm receptive to hearing about, but I don't understand how this is going to affect me, or the people who are cautious or alarmed, or concerned, but don't know what to do. So I think it's much more effective, and it's much more satisfying to talk to people in those groups, because there's a lot more of them and it's not as frustrating. People haven't made up their minds. They're receptive. 

Kate giving a Ted Talk in 2017 titled Can clouds save us from climate change?

What are the greatest challenges in being a public scientist–a climate scientist who consistently enters the public eye and discusses issues outside the traditional medium of academic journals? 

I think that the traditional academic structure isn't very well set up to handle this. Being a public scientist doesn't belong in the traditional academic track. It does not help you achieve tenure. So, as a result, it can be kind of downgraded, or discouraged. I think that’s silly because what we do is really important, and people need to hear about it. But the fact that it doesn't really fit very well with the existing academic structure. 

We know that becoming a public science communicator does not speed a scientist’s progress towards academic tenure, so what professional benefits are there to being a public scientist? 

Being a good communicator makes you a better scientist. Our work is interdisciplinary–

spanning oceans, land, atmosphere, ice, ecosystems, and human and social systems. To ask and answer good questions, you need to be good at crossing these disciplinary lines. Clearly communicating what you’re studying and why it matters–it helps you talk to others and identify tools and methods that can help you in your work.

Kate teaching climate science students at Columbia University

What resources do you recommend for scientists who are entering the public eye for the first time and wish to become better communicators?

What helps me is to read a lot. You can't be a good writer unless you're a good reader. This is not just reading scientific papers, but news articles, fiction and poetry.

I think public speaking is scary and it's not for everybody. There's other ways you can be involved. If that is something that appeals to you, there's so much opportunity to practice. Lots of people want to hear what scientists have to say. You can talk at schools, you can talk in churches, community centers, and libraries. Practice doesn't make perfect, but practice makes better.

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

There can be a perception that you don't know what you're talking about. People assume that you don't know math, or you don't know physics, or you don't know how to code. I think in public communication, I get a lot of gendered blowback. The nasty names that I'm called are very gendered. 

But I've been very fortunate in my career to have really supportive, awesome mentors. So I feel really relieved and lucky about that. My mentors include the staff at PCMDI, which is at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Ben Santer, Karl Taylor, Celine Bonfils. They were amazing. Right now at NASA Goddard, Gavin Schmidt and my collaborator Been Cook have been fantastic. Then in the field, Gabriele Hegerl and Claudia Tebaldi, who are leading lights in the field of detection attribution, have just been incredible. So very very glad for all of those people. 

Women’s History Month honors women’s often overlooked contributions to American history. What does it mean to you? 

It's a chance to step back and evaluate the way we tell the story of science. A lot of times when we tell the story of how science has advanced, it's focused on great men. “This brilliant man discovered this thing nobody knew anything about before.” And that's how science works. Right? 

Science, however, is very collaborative. It's building on everything that's been done before. Now we have these Nobel Prizes, which are given to individual people. But most of the science that I do, and most of the science that I really admire, is done by really large research teams where everyone is working together. That's not to say that there haven't been individual women who've made incredible contributions to their fields. Eunice Foote was one of the first to suggest that there might be a greenhouse effect. 

So I think Women’s History Month is a chance to reevaluate the whole way that we tell the story of science to make it more accurate and more reflective of how it's actually done.

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