About

Excavation at Makauwahi Cave, Kaua'i (photo by Lida Pigott-Burney)
Excavation at Makauwahi Cave, Kaua’i (photo by Lida Pigott-Burney)

When I was three, I rampaged around the backyard in a SCUBA mask, snorkel, and stethoscope, immersed in an alter ego my parents dubbed “the undersea doctor.”  I may have lost the stethoscope, but the undersea doctor is becoming reality.

As an undergraduate, I studied Science of Earth Systems and double-majored in English.  Science taught me how to read the stories hidden in the natural world, and English taught me to translate them.  I accidentally (or inevitably) minored in Marine Biology along the way.  I was lucky enough to do field work in both the Gulf of Maine and Hawai’i, and these experiences taught me to appreciate the beauty and fragility of nature.

The wreck of the Yongala, Australia
The wreck of the S.S. Yongala, Australia, August 2015.

For my master’s degree, I moved to the University of Arizona, studying oceans at a university in the middle of the desert!  My research focused on climate records from corals in the northern Great Barrier Reef.  These corals grow layers, like tree rings, that record the ocean’s temperature, salinity, acidity, and coral growth rate. This research combined a series of methods (geochemistry, coral growth banding, and luminescence) to gain more insight into how climate variability has affected historical coral growth.

Documenting coral health along a transect in Majuro, Marshall Islands, July 2016.
Documenting coral health along a transect in Majuro, Marshall Islands, July 2016 (Photo by Diane Thompson).
Striking a superman pose (using my arm for scale) next to a large Porites coral in Arno Atoll, Marshall Islands, June 2016 (Photo by Kalena De Brum).
Striking a superman pose (using my arm for scale) next to a large coral in Arno Atoll, Marshall Islands, June 2016 (Photo by Kalena De Brum).

As a Ph.D. student at Boston University, I am continuing similar coral research in the Marshall Islands, a low-lying Pacific island nation.  Since temperature records from the Marshalls are short and sparse, we use coral paleoclimate records to reconstruct past temperatures, putting current climate trends into historical context.  We completed reef surveys of Majuro and Arno Atolls in summer 2016.  This summer, I look forward to joining an international team of scientists to collect coral cores from the most promising reef sites.  I’ve dreamt of studying the Marshall Islands since high school, and feel lucky every day to be turning this dream into reality!

This blog is written for anyone who can picture their younger selves running around in a snorkel and stethoscope.