Dawn Wright
Author: Dawn Wright
2021

Dawn Wright

Oceanographer

Tubeworm Barbecues and Bioluminescent Ballets

meet dawn

Dawn Wright is Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) and a Professor of Geography and Oceanography at Oregon State University, on the faculty since 1995. She is a leading authority in the application of Geographic Information System (GIS) data to ocean and coastal science. Raised on Maui, Hawaii, she has completed oceanographic fieldwork in the East Pacific Rise, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Juan de Fuca Ridge, the Tonga Trench, and on volcanoes under the Japan Sea, the Indian Ocean, and in American Samoa.

Tubeworm Barbecues and Bioluminescent Ballets
Nominated by: Arnella Trent MN'10
Class of 2021 Location Oregon, USA
Dawn at sea
Dawn at sea Author: Generous Films

Early in my career, I was fortunate to be involved in several important explorations of the fast-spreading East Pacific Rise. This included providing data management and mapping support for the discovery of the Tubeworm Barbecue, which in 1991 represented the closest that any scientific team had actually come to witnessing a deep-sea volcanic eruption. My subsequent doctoral thesis contributed new insights into how deep-sea hot spring communities are affected by undersea eruptions, and it pioneered new analytical techniques for mapping these areas.

“But, I’ve found that when you display integrity and excellence, and give yourself an opportunity to just sit down with people, we can all find a way to relate, regardless of background.”

- Dawn Wright

In 1991, it was a great thrill to make my first dive in Woods Hole’s DSV Alvin. As we descended through the translucent blue of the euphotic zone into complete darkness, we were treated to an underwater fireworks show as bioluminescent siphonophores danced and crashed into each other. Upon reaching the ocean floor, my excitement hit a crescendo as the pilot suddenly turned on Alvin’s lights to reveal an alien volcanic landscape that was so still it seemed we could just exit the sub and walk around.

In my professional career, I have experienced that scientists of color continue to live and struggle on a daily basis with a spectrum of challenges ranging from unconscious bias to overt racism. I worked not just at 100%, but 110%, 120%, or 150%, in part to debunk the questioning of skeptical colleagues. But, I’ve found that when you display integrity and excellence, and give yourself an opportunity to just sit down with people, we can all find a way to relate, regardless of background.

never stop exploring

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