Seattle-based chemical oceanographer studies ocean acidification, the ways that carbon dioxide builds up in the oceans.

Share story

Dr. Jessica Cross

What do you do? I am an Arctic chemical oceanographer at the Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research [in a joint appointment with NOAA in Seattle and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks]. A chemical oceanographer studies all the different ways that chemistry changes in the oceans. I focus on the chemistry of carbon — that can range from watching patterns in phytoplankton photosynthesis to monitoring the impacts of climate change. In particular, I study the ways that carbon dioxide from human emissions builds up in the oceans, a chemical process called ocean acidification.

How did you get started in that field? I wanted to be a writer when I grew up! I found my interest in science late, through a new undergraduate research program at Rhodes College that studied the ways that proteins fold. A summer internship at the University of Miami led me to marine science, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What is a typical day like? At sea, there are no typical days! Sometimes we deploy instruments over the side of the ship; sometimes, we anchor our icebreaker to an ice floe, and go out onto the ice to take samples. Sometimes, we sit at our desks in Seattle and analyze data, or pilot autonomous ocean vehicles out in the ocean to collect data for us.

What’s the best part of the job? Ocean acidification is a very important issue for the Arctic and the state of Alaska because it could hurt the ecosystem, and Alaskans rely on these ocean communities in many ways. My favorite part about my job is knowing that I get to make a difference, by helping local fishermen and businesses understand how acidification could impact them.

What surprises people about what you do? Many people are surprised to learn that the Arctic can be a very beautiful place, especially during the long summer hours. We see seals, walrus, sea lions, whales and polar bears (still holding out for the very rare narwhal!), and very pretty sunsets over water and ice. It can be very cold, though — sometimes our camera shutters freeze while we are trying to capture the view.

Do you have a cool job or know someone in the Puget Sound area who does? Email us with your recommendations for people to feature in Cool Jobs.