Margaret Lindeman is a third-year PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. She grew up in the Hudson Valley and Brooklyn, New York, and obtained her bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.
Lindeman is now studying physical oceanography with a focus on ice-ocean interactions in the lab of Fiamma Straneo, a professor in the Climate, Atmospheric Science, and Physical Oceanography Division. Her research concentrates on studying the role of the ocean in driving ice loss in Greenland, and the impact of the melting ice on the ocean. We talked with Lindeman to see what brought her to Scripps, what sparked her interest in oceanography, and more.
explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps to pursue a PhD?
Margaret Lindeman: In physical oceanography, Scripps has both a stellar research reputation and a strong commitment to education. Ultimately, I chose to attend Scripps in order to do research with my advisor, Fiamma Straneo, in a multidisciplinary powerhouse where I could collaborate with and draw on the expertise of other ocean and climate researchers. I was also drawn to apply by the first-year curriculum, which helped to fill gaps in my knowledge as well as build camaraderie with other students who I hope will be my lifelong colleagues. Plus, I’d never lived anywhere like Southern California before!
en: What are you researching at Scripps and how did you become interested in this field?
ML: My group’s research centers around ice-ocean interactions in Greenland’s fjords. Greenland is blanketed by an ice sheet over a mile thick in the center, and the ice flows under its own weight toward the coasts. It splits into smaller glaciers which are funneled into narrow inlets called fjords. When a glacier reaches the ocean, the ocean can melt it directly; pieces can break off, forming icebergs; or the glacier can begin to float, forming an ice shelf. Greenland is losing more and more of its ice, causing sea level to rise around the world. We are studying the role of the ocean in driving this ice loss, as well the impact of the melting ice on the ocean.
Right now, I’m studying ocean currents and warming in a remote fjord in northeastern Greenland, where the ocean is covered by an ice shelf as thick as the length of a football field. This makes it very interesting (and challenging) to research! At this location, most of the ice loss is driven by ocean melting, so we’re trying to understand how the ocean properties are changing over time in order to determine how fast and why the ice shelf is thinning.
I’ve always been interested in climate and the environment, but I first became interested in this field as an undergrad when I learned that future projections of global sea-level rise were very uncertain, largely because of the ice sheets. I did fieldwork in Greenland for the first time in 2014 and after that I was hooked.
en: What’s life like as a Scripps student?
ML: All of the ocean data I’m analyzing for my PhD are collected by sensors in the field, either from a ship while we’re there or by a buoy that transmits its data throughout the year. So instead of collecting samples that I need to analyze in a lab, when I’m at Scripps I spend most of my time at my computer. I read papers to get context for my study area and the types of processes that might be important, and then write code to do calculations and visualize what’s going on in our ocean observations.
My officemate, Bobby, and I are working on different projects in the same group, so we often talk about work throughout the day. Most of our group sits in the same building and we all meet once a week, plus often spontaneously for lunch or coffee. Some days I also attend class meetings or help to organize seminars, and I always try to get outside at some point!
en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work?
ML: Fieldwork is my favorite part of my research. In August, Straneo, postdoc Donald Slater, and I joined eight other scientists aboard the MV Adolf Jensen in Sermilik Fjord, in southeast Greenland. We spent 2 weeks making measurements of big icebergs and the ocean around them, which I’ll work on for the next part of my thesis. There are always logistical challenges and lots of factors out of your control in the field, but it was an intense and rewarding experience. Greenland is a spectacular place and the people we met there, including the crew of the boat, were helpful and welcoming. I feel so lucky to get to spend time there, and participating in collecting the data makes the work of processing and analyzing it feel more meaningful.
en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?
ML: Collin Roesler, one of my undergraduate advisors, taught me what oceanography was during my first week at Bowdoin College, a small college near the Maine coast. It’s impossible to imagine what I would be doing now without her, and my other mentors (including faculty and staff at Bowdoin and other institutions where I had the good fortune to do research as an undergrad) who encouraged me to pursue this wild dream of going to grad school and becoming a scientist.
Since starting my PhD, I have found mentorship in all kinds of places, some unexpected. My advisor is an amazing mentor, and she collaborates with excellent researchers and postdocs who are also consistently great people. The other students I know are some of my biggest role models.
en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?
ML: There is so much to do as a PhD student and a finite amount of time to do it all! I tend to overcommit myself because there are so many things I care about doing in addition to research. This takes time management over days, weeks, and years, plus thoughtful delegation and sometimes saying “no.” Those are skills I’m still working on.
en: What are your future plans?
ML: Right now, I’m enjoying doing research about Greenland, finding creative ways to communicate about climate science, and trying to make the sciences more inclusive through Scripps activities and outreach. I feel like there’s plenty more to do before I plan my next steps, but I hope to find a career path that lets me continue doing what I love.
About Scripps Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.
About UC San Diego
At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.