Dr. Katlin Bowman Adamczyk is an American oceanographer who studies human impacts on the ocean. She has completed over a dozen expeditions spanning the globe including a 65-day journey to the North Pole, thousands of miles of hydrographic transects in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and seafloor exploration via human and remotely operated deep-sea vehicles. Katlin is recognized as an expert in the field of mercury biogeochemistry and has completed several projects investigating marine plastic debris for the National Geographic Society. Recently, she spent six weeks in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean, working with a team of independent scientists to measure the environmental impacts of a pilot deep-sea mining operation. She works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, California.
During my first years of college I considered abandoning my environmental sciences major to pursue a career in medicine. I spent a year volunteering in the emergency room of a children’s hospital, then a summer in rural Kenya doing public health field work. But then at the end of my sophomore year I was hired to work in an oceanography lab and sent offshore to work in the North Atlantic Ocean.
I was a 20-year-old girl from the midwest who had only twice visited the coast. Suddenly I found myself at sea operating an A-frame and running taglines on sediment coring equipment. I learned how to read acoustics data and collected mud from a mile below the ocean surface. I worked through seasickness, occasionally running below deck to be sick before making my way back to the lab to set up more experiments.
I woke up every day surrounded by nothing but a blue horizon, and stole away moments on overnight shifts to lay on deck and watch shooting stars. It was thrilling, I was hooked. This was the adventure I had been seeking when I chose my major.
“One of the great challenges I face in my work is understanding how humans are changing an ocean we are only just beginning to understand.“
Better yet, the research focused on understanding how mercury cycles through the ocean and ultimately accumulates in top predators like tuna and swordfish. Humans are exposed to mercury through consumption of marine fish, which has been associated with neurotoxicity and cardiovascular disease.
For me the ocean was a link between my two interests, understanding how the natural world works and protecting human health. Mercury is a unique contaminant that can remain airborne for months, traveling the globe, and as such my work has taken me to far reaches of the planet from the North Pole to the remote Pacific and the deepest darkest depths of the ocean.