Research Highlight: A Break from the Past

Veteran physical oceanographer Janet Sprintall of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego can remember being the only woman aboard research cruises when she began her career. Many older members of the oceanographic community recall when women weren’t allowed to take part in research cruises at all.

Earlier this month, during a cruise leg on board R/V Roger Revelle transecting a stretch of the Indian Ocean in the Bay of Bengal, it struck Sprintall as progress when she noted that 15 of 32 members of her science party are women. The party includes Sprintall herself as chief scientist and physical oceanographer Sabine Mecking of the University of Washington as co-chief.

Sprintall hopes the break from the past inspires young women interested in science to seek out opportunities to take part in field research like this.

“Some of us remember not too long ago being the only woman on board,” Sprintall wrote in a field note sent back to Scripps, “but now at least the number of women on our cruise hopefully reflects a growing interest in the observational aspect of oceanography.”

Sprintall leads a portion of the U.S. Global Ocean Carbon and Repeat Hydrography program, which is revisiting routes traveled previously by researchers during the World Ocean Circulation Experiment of the 1990s. The cruise is part of an ongoing monitoring program to measure properties of the world oceans such as carbon dioxide and freshwater concentrations. The team is conducting surface-to-seafloor sampling of seawater to measure amounts of carbon as well as a host of other gases and metals while taking temperature and salinity readings.

This leg of the cruise began on March 22 in Fremantle, Australia, and concludes on May 2, when Revelle ports in Phuket, Thailand.

— Robert Monroe



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