Hilary Palevsky ’07 is the seafaring type. She spent part of her Ph.D. years in the North Pacific aboard a Chinese container ship, collecting data on dissolved oxygen levels in the ocean. Earlier she taught marine science to K–12 students on two-masted schooners in Long Island Sound. She also spent a year as a Watson Fellow talking to fishermen, scientists and policymakers about Atlantic cod fishing.
Her current position, as a postdoctoral scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, is also, of course, ocean-focused. But instead of going out to sea to collect samples, she lets the data come to her.
Two thousand miles away, off the southeast coast of Greenland, three giant buoys float in a triangle, 12 miles to a side, each anchored to the ocean floor 9,000 feet below. Covering them are sensors that measure everything from temperature to salinity to dissolved oxygen.
The data are transmitted wirelessly—no ocean expeditions required. “These are up-and-coming techniques in the field of chemical oceanography,” says Palevsky, “and in interpreting the ocean’s role in the climate.”
Her focus is the data on dissolved oxygen—the amount of oxygen present in the water. She uses those measurements to calculate how much carbon from the atmosphere gets all the way down to the deepest parts of the ocean.
“Anything that sinks out of the surface can be sequestered from contact with the atmosphere on timescales from weeks to 1,000 years,” she says. Figuring out what proportion of carbon in the ocean may stay there for a millennium has important ramifications for climate change modeling.