Interview: Natalie Monacci

Natalie MonacciNatalie Monacci is the director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center (OARC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks a long time collaborator with AOOS. 

Q: You’ve been an AOOS partner for 14 years. How did the partnership start?
I began working at the Ocean Acidification Research Center in 2010.  My first position was the project manager for an ocean acidification mooring network.  AOOS was one of many groups supporting our efforts to deploy autonomous sensors on several locations around the state.  We ran into a lot of problems since the new technology had not been tested in freezing conditions and high latitudes.  I was grateful to work with a regional observing system that understood the challenges and could empathize with our roadblocks, or in this case, iceblocks.  AOOS also taught me a lot about how to explain these sorts of circumstances to funding programs that do not have offices in Alaska or the Arctic.

Q: Tell us about your role at CFOS and the focus of your work
I am a Research Staff member in the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.  I am a chemical oceanographer, so my training and interest lie in observing the pathways chemical components take in the ocean.  The first part of my career focused on organic carbon.  Now my study area is ocean acidification, so that is tracing inorganic carbon, but everything is connected.  Studying carbon overlaps a lot with other areas of marine chemistry such as oxygen and nitrogen.

Q: How have OARC and AOOS worked together over the years and what are some of the accomplishments?

Natalie on the GAKOA mooring in Resurrection Bay near Seward.

It took me about 3 years to get the ocean acidification mooring network launched and functioning smoothly. At that point I became the DeputyDirector and began to manage all the projects in the OARC research portfolio.  Our largest project AOOS funded at the time was a time series project monitoring ocean acidification along the GAK Line or Seward Line in the northern Gulf of Alaska.  UAF researchers have been monitoring these stations for more than 45 years.  My group added inorganic carbon chemistry monitoring from 2008 to 2017. A summary of that data was released this year.  The next big project I worked on with AOOS was the launch of the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network in 2016.  At the time I started working in this field, there were only a few people doing this work in our region.  That is not enough, Alaska is too big.  Now the AK OA Network is in its eighth year and several dozen researchers are participating.  We represent Tribes, communities, citizen scientists, agencies, and academics.  I am really proud to be a member.  Now I am the Director of the OARC, but I still do every type of job alongside any other staff or student working in the lab.  I sweep the floors, wash the sample bottles, work up the data, write the proposals and set goals for the future. There are few goals I have for the OARC that do not involve AOOS. Should Alaskan’s know me and the OARC? Probably not. I do hope they know about AOOS and the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network. These are one stop shops I want most people to know about.

Q: What are you excited about in the future?
Monitoring ocean acidification is a long game.  The ocean is absorbing the carbon dioxide we are emitting (which ultimately decreases seawater pH), but these numbers can be small relative to the huge effect natural processes have on carbon in the ocean.  Examples of natural effects are seasonal changes and biology.  This means it takes a long time to detect this human induced trend of the excess carbon dioxide in the ocean.  Our long term monitoring projects are now reaching the time where we will begin to see this emerge from the noise and I am really excited about this.  Researchers often say the hardest projects are long term time series.  It might not seem exciting to do the same thing every year and our funders have to be comfortable that the results or products won’t really come into focus for a long time.  Now add the invisibility of carbon and you really have to be imaginative.  We can see a lot of the effects of climate change.  We can see coastal erosion. We can see the ice disappearing.  We cannot see carbon dioxide.  I’m really excited to see the synthesis of so many people’s efforts start to come into view.  I think more people are realizing if you care about erosion and sea ice, you also have to care about carbon dioxide.

Q: Tell us about a memorable moment from your ocean acidification work
Back to launching the mooring network in the early days.  A lot was broken, a lot of the time.  This meant traveling around the state attempting to fix everything.  This also meant I was cold calling a lot of people.  Can you take me on your boat to this site?  Can I fit this piece of equipment in your float plane?  Can I sleep in your house?  This also meant I was able to visit these communities, work with the fishers, meet the teachers, learn with the youth, and they also got to see me.  I still keep in contact with many of the people I’ve met through field work.  Personalizing science and research is important.  The people are the most memorable.


The research vessel Tiglax collecting water samples in the Gulf of Alaska