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Happy to have you back, everybody. Welcome to Ocean Solutions, a NOISE lab podcast. I'm Dr. Morgan Reed Raven, a biogeochemist and professor at the university of California, Santa Barbara. In this podcast, we've been talking with inspirational individuals working on some of the largest issues of our time at the intersection of climate, ocean conservation and human wellbeing.
This 10th episode is the conclusion of our first season, which means if you've been enjoying the show, be sure to subscribe to ocean solutions on Spotify, Stitcher, or Apple podcasts so that you get the second season when it arrives. Ratings and reviews also really help us connect all of our amazing speakers. We have folks all over who might be wondering what's going on with our oceans? What can we do about it? And how could I get involved? And hey, while we're self promoting for a minute. Did you know that the band behind our theme song dust on the radio is also on Spotify. And that it's also me. So my band and I made this album when I was in grad school, it's called halfway to the stars. Why not check it out? Dust on the radio.
Morgan Raven: [00:01:24]
for the final, an episode of this season of the ocean solutions podcast, I was really hoping to interview an earth scientist who like myself uses Earth's past to learn about its future. Along the way we've talked with lawyers, planners, policy makers, data analysts, engineers, and activists, but I'll be honest. My personal love is really basic research. And so we're bringing it home to oceanography and geoscience research here. And specifically, we get to talk about parts of the ocean, where there is no dissolved oxygen regions. Like this are expanding in many parts of the ocean as we speak. So today I am here with dr. Raquel Bryant, currently a postdoctoral research fellow and a geo sciences, future faculty fellow in the geology and geophysics department at Texas a and M. Thank you so much for talking with me today. Raquel.
Raquel Bryant: [00:02:30] hi. I'm really excited to talk about anoxia and forums and just, geology in general. Thank you.
Morgan Raven: [00:02:37] Fantastic to get us started. Could you introduce us to a big picture question or process that you're trying to address with your research?
Raquel Bryant: [00:02:46] Yeah, so I am a paleo oceanographer. And to me that means my job is to tell stories about ancient oceans and. That means as a geologist, I have a few tools to do that. Mainly the rock record or the archive that the earth is constantly leaving behind, the sediments. and to me, since I'm a paleo biologist, what's really fascinating.
And the best tool I have to tell stories about ancient oceans are fossils. And in particular, I study, a fossil called foraminifera they're unicellular. protists and they make shells out of calcium carbonate. So they have hard parts and that's how they become a part of the rock record or the fossil record.
And so a big picture idea that I'm trying to understand, or the big story I'm trying to tell with what happens to the ocean when it loses oxygen, what happens to our global climate system when it's really warm and what are all the cascading implications for? All the little critters and organisms that live in the ocean, but also for a longterm climate health of the planet.
Morgan Raven: [00:03:55] Yeah. So what causes anoxia in the ocean today?
Raquel Bryant: [00:04:00] Think about anoxia in the ocean. There are three kind of realms that come to mind. So the first is our planet is warming and warm fluids. Like a water mass don't hold as much gas. So. No matter what condition it is because of really cool things about physics. When a water mass is warmer, just doesn't have the ability to hold as much dissolved gases and that's any kind of gas.
So a cooler water mass will have more oxygen than a warmer watermass. the second thing is idea of eutrophication. So, adding lots and lots of nutrients, giving, nutrients surplus to the water column. and this is kind of a signal to primary producers to produce. They have something that usually they're limited by.
They have a big flux of it and it makes them kind of go crazy. And primary producers have one job in the ocean that's supposed to synthesize and create organic matter. And so it's not these primary producers that drive down the levels of oxygen. But they create all this food for heterotrophs, the critters and other organisms that eat all that organic matter.
And then they respired just like us human beings. And that's what drives the oxygen down in the water column. And when we think about today, a lot of different human processes, like related to agriculture or, you know, maintaining gardens and lawns. A lot of this has put a lot of nutrients into our terrestrial systems, which then runs off into the ocean.
So that's kind of what causes eutrophication in our modern world. And the final thing I think about it's something, kind of more big earth science idea, and it's. Our ocean is moving all the time. There's this big kind of, we call it a conveyor belt that circulates water masses through the whole globe.
And when this process is disrupted, waters can get kind of stagnant. They stay in one place When they get stagnant, they start to lose their oxygen. So that's another, kind of an opposite. Think about just disrupting or changing ocean circulation and all these things happen at different scales, different timescales, but also maybe something's more local, something else happening to the whole ocean or different regions.
But when we think about the Cretaceous, kind of all three of these things are happening in different ways. And that's why we know our worlds was really different and maybe that's really just how warm it was, but we all also know that we're warming our world. And so maybe every day, we're inching towards a world.
That's more like the Cretaceous.
Morgan Raven: [00:06:30] What was the Cretaceous? Like it was broadly warmer. Right.
Raquel Bryant: [00:06:36] really cool thing that I like to point out to people is that we're used to having a North pole and a South pole. And immediately, when you think of that, maybe some people think of like Santa Claus, but you think of ice. You think of Coles, you think of big glaciers, whether it's on Greenland or Antarctica, the Cretaceous.
We have a lot of evidence that suggests that there weren't permanent ice sheets. During this time period, especially in the late Cretaceous, the time interval that I study and that might seem like, okay, well it was just cooler there. No, it was warm there too. Like there's a fossil reptilians at crocodiles, fossil Palm trees that were found at the South pole.
So not only was it, they're not permanent ice cover, like there is today, but it was a tropical environment where, animals that today we see being restricted in their range of types of organisms. Thrived in , these locations. So it was a completely different world. And as a painter stenographer, that makes me think about this global conveyor belt that I brought up before the, ocean conveyor belt is driven by changes or differences in density related to temperature and salinity.
And that gradient is actually controlled by. the glaciers at the North pole and the South pole, it contributes to, forming deep waters and intermediate waters that actually drive that kind of kickstart that conveyor belt. So when you think about a time when the earth was a lot warmer and there was less of a difference between, the temperature at the equator versus the polls, kind of begs the question, how did ocean circulation work?
What kind of kick-started ocean circulation then.
Morgan Raven: [00:08:10] Yeah. So today, right in the poles, we have this formation of deep water on the ice edge. And you're saying that in the absence of that process, there's this huge question of how do you even start stirring the ocean? so is this then, do you see the Cretaceous as kind of an end member?
the extreme version that we really are going toward, or are there some other important differences that you think would put us in a different scenario?
Raquel Bryant: [00:08:35] yeah, I think the cool thing about the geologic record is that we have different examples of warm times in Earth's history that we can draw from for different reasons. So a lot of my colleagues study the PETM, which was about 45 million years ago. And what's. useful about that is continental configuration was a little more similar to what it was today and there's less things to constrain and relating that to our world.
But as you mentioned, what, to me, the Cretaceous is like the end member kind of worst case scenario. If you look at the different projections of what our world is like how much carbon we're going to be admitting. If we take the worst case scenario, we don't do anything. We just produce more and we keep burning more.
It could happen. I think that's a really important question, especially when we're thinking about, like building worlds in the future, understanding where we were, where our system has been. That's really the only way we can theorize about what can happen in the future.
Morgan Raven: [00:09:31] Was the Cretaceous hot because of CO2 also.
Raquel Bryant: [00:09:35] Yeah. So there's different, proxies for reconstructing CO2 in the past. There's, different geochemical proxies that you can look at fossil leaves. and there's also modelers who kind of take all that information and, use different statistics and cool modeling methods to come up with estimates of pCO2.
in the past, And the conservative estimates are at least like 500 parts per million, in the atmosphere. And at the very top some estimates are more than a thousand parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. So yeah, elevated CO2 levels, definitely driving a lot of the warmth and the Cretaceous.
Morgan Raven: [00:10:11] Although those are high numbers, they're not that high.
Raquel Bryant: [00:10:15] far off. No, they're not.
I remember when we broke 400, it must have been at the end of my undergrad. And that was like, everyone was actually like, it was a big deal. And I remember being like, Oh, I wanted to study the Cretaceous forever and being like, Oh, it's, you know, an extreme analog.
And like every year at the end of my PhD, I'm like, we're at like four 15 extreme analog. Like we're really. Inching towards this end member.
Morgan Raven: [00:10:41] Yeah, absolutely. So what would you like to know about the Cretaceous? If you could know anything about the Cretaceous.
Raquel Bryant: [00:10:48] I would definitely want to go back in time, was like a CTD or even just a bucket. I just want a sample of Cretaceous seawater. because I have this feeling that , just geochemical, it's completely different than what seawater looks like today. Cause there's a lot of unknown questions we have about why and how organisms bio mineralized. So forams are biomineralisers, they make their hard parts.
and a lot of it probably has to do with the environment that they're in. And if you're a Marine microorganism, your environment is just the water mass that you're chilling. And I want the temperature. I want solidity. I want the, carbonized hope composition of dissolved, inorganic carbon, organic matter, all of it I'm interested.
Morgan Raven: [00:11:31] cool. So before we dig into your methods in more detail and they're super fun. So I want to talk about those a lot. What would we do with this information as humans thinking about climate change, thinking about what's coming at us, making plans, let's imagine we had a totally rational policy making world.
What might we do with information about the Cretaceous?
Raquel Bryant: [00:11:54] Yeah, I like this question because this is something that I personally don't research. I'm really focused on just finding, Patterns of biotic change in the past. understanding the ocean more just in general, how it responds.
on what timescales does it respond and react to perturbations? That's just going to be invaluable information as we creep. More and more into this climate crisis that we're in because there's so many unknowns about how warming the earth will change locally. Right. We can say like, Oh, on average, the planet is going to warm one degree, two degrees, third degree there and a half.
But what does that mean for. Boston versus, Island nations in the Pacific ocean, it's going to mean different things. And if we can't constrain, how the ocean behaves in general, we're not going to be able to understand those really regional local effects either. And something that I've been looking at in my dissertation too, is the effect of rapid sea level rise on ocean communities.
So Marine life. even though it's not on the timescale of, sea level rise over a generation of people, understanding how that affects like productivity and the ocean that has larger scale implications for, , fishing and actually like feeding people in industry.
If we're not really understanding how. This climate forcing could restructure ocean biosphere. Then we're never going to be able to predict or make policy that protects people or centers the most vulnerable people. when we're assessing like what the implications of warmer planning could be.
The ocean's behavior is kind of an unknown right now. And we're just forcing our climate system in one direction without knowing even the end member consequences of it.
Morgan Raven: [00:13:44] It seems like when you're talking about local effects, that this is a great transition into anoxia. We tend to, like you mentioned see anoxia in these specific locations. how might we be able to recognize it?
Raquel Bryant: [00:13:57] the big thing in the fossil record, that tips people off to anoxia is the preservation of a lot of organic matter. And the idea is if there's not a lot of oxygen in the water column, any organic matter that settles on sea floor. is preserved. It's not oxidized, not, broken back up into its constituents in the water column.
And there's some problems with that idea because it doesn't assume anything about productivity and how actually just the production of that organic matter could change and something that I'm really interested in and want to get into. especially as postdoc now is how productivity and oxygenation are linked or are they not?
lot of times we just assume increase in productivity, create that organic matter. Drive down oxygen, not a lot of oxygen preserves the organic matter. Well, like, is that really a fingerprint for anoxia or something that I'm interested in, in the Cretaceous? Does the biogeochemical cycle just function completely different?
And we're looking at signatures of what anoxia looks like today on really short time skills. and not thinking about how the ocean just could have cycled differently. those indicators might be actually telling us, a little bit more about changes. In the carbon cycle, not necessarily oxygenation in the water column,
today. you can measure things like oxygen. That's one big thing that we don't have from the Cretaceous. you can actually Use a lot of different instruments. I mentioned a CTD. That's kind of like a task that you can put down through the water column and see how different variables change through the water column.
And so if you're doing that once a year, over 10 years, you can actually see oxygen declining in the modern ocean. but I mentioned in the past, we don't have that same ability. But something that geochemists are doing, I'm not a geochemist, but I love to work with them and read about their work.
they can investigate redox chemistry through trace metals. So looking at, , iron and different, speciations to, reconstruct what the redox conditions were. So it's not like a perfect proxy either because sometimes the trace metals will tell you oxic, but there's a lot of organic matter preserves.
They might think an oxic, but there's bioturbation so there are things living there. Maybe those things are an obviously a tolerant, right? So that's why, to me, it's just so interesting because crustaceans is way unknown. We don't have that ability to measure it anymore. And it could have just worked differently back then.
Morgan Raven: [00:16:24] It's fascinating getting to think about this issue of scale, right? Where you might have a tool that works well on a modern system, because we're talking about these little tiny pockets of anoxia and that the rules really could potentially be a bit different in a very different world. Different nutrient fluxes, presumably different biology, presumably, and maybe a very large area that's being affected by anoxia and it in a different way than we see on the modern earth.
Raquel Bryant: [00:16:52] Yeah. And also in the Cretaceous sea level was a lot higher. Combination because of, you know, warmer waters are more expansive. there's a lot of vulcanism going on at this time. And, ocean basins are kind of opening up.
continents are configured differently. We have one big ocean and kind of like a medium-sized ocean. Then the Cretaceous, you have these inland seas that are kind of flooding as sea level is transgressing and regressing and cycling that way. And, Maybe they're not places where a lot of organic matter is being buried, but maybe there's big biogeochemical changes that are spurred because of the flooding that changes the whole ecosystem of the ocean.
And it's cool because the earth has been through so many different oscillations. There's other times when like, continental basins were flooded and. Maybe not yet, but deep, deeper time than the Cretaceous is another, another there's other intervals of warmth. And also these continents being flooded that, in Oxy it looks different than two.
Morgan Raven: [00:17:52] Yeah. what do we know about the primary producers in the system? We're 95, a hundred million years ago. We're got dinosaurs on land. How different our primary producers in the ocean.
Raquel Bryant: [00:18:06] a lot of the primary producers that I'm familiar with are what we call calcareous nano, fossils, I don't say them because they're super, super tiny. They're even tinier than foraminifera. there are still like a very big diversity of microbial life in the Cretaceous.
And this is something I'm getting a lot more interested in now that I'm at A&M and there's like environmental microbiologists and oceanography department. But thinking about , For example, extreme files on hydrothermal events. this incredible diversity of microbial life in a place where to humans, where like, why would anybody want to live there?
That's the opposite of sulfur and just acidic, like no way, but it hosts this really cool, biome.
I really think that anoxia is not the catch all negative event. We think it is in the Cretaceous. Something about the ocean and the Marine community kind of primed it for it.
Morgan Raven: [00:18:58] I think we certainly have a pro oxygen bias as oxygen breathers, ourself. we tend to see that as the healthy community, that would be desirable, but there's this whole other world, right. Organisms that are perfectly happy to live under conditions. that we would find inhospitable.
Raquel Bryant: [00:19:13] Yeah. And I mean, tied to the origin of all life as well. Like the only reason we have oxygen in our atmosphere is because. Organisms put it there. That's not how our planet started out with life. Life began without oxygen in the atmosphere. it's really cool to thinking about is the Cretaceous ocean, a little closer to our primordial ocean thinking about the limits of life, the limits of life are also interacting with your environment.
Morgan Raven: [00:19:40] Yeah. Okay. So we've got a spot. In earth history, and we've got some rocks from there and we'd like to understand something about what that spot was like in time. besides total carbon contents, what are some other tools that people use to look at that you mentioned, trace metals already.
Raquel Bryant: [00:19:58] to me, a very big diagnostic thing I always want to do is look at the carbon isotopes of the organic matter itself, just to get an idea of kind of like where, and when we are, I found that, especially for perturbations, like OAE to chemo stratigraphy. So not just using the rocks to tell us when, but also using the geochemical signatures and especially the changes in the geochemical signatures to kind of tell us when we are and.
I really like to relate that to the change I see in the biosphere. , for my dissertation work, I was looking at oceanic anoxic event two, which was this globally observed shift in the carbon isotope signature of sediments and rocks. . Seen all over the world, this big shift at, around the same time, but also associated with that is a change in the benthic forums.
there's a big diversity event. and. At times when there was no benthics before all of a sudden, right at this carbon isotope excursion, there's a bunch of benthics coming out. So I'm really interested in take that one rock. Let's not just look at the forums or just look at the geochemistry. Let's look at it together and see what story can tell us together.
Anything else about the organic matter that's in there too. Is it more terrestrial, drived or Marine derived?
are there any, organic, biomarkers for anoxia, for example? So there's specific micro organisms that use particular, Chemicals to do photosynthesis in the absence of oxygen. And so these are things like chloral Bactine and Isobar near attain. Don't ask me how to spell them, but they can be a really great indicator of photosynthesis while there's an oxygen and Photics zone of the water column.
Morgan Raven: [00:21:44] So you called those biomarkers. What do you mean by that? Exactly.
Raquel Bryant: [00:21:48] there's a lot of different, definitions of this, depending on what field of study you're in, but definitely for right now, biomarkers are like, molecular fossils. So sediment is not only made up of like clay and mineral, but there's organic matter in there, especially in Marine sediments.
And so the, biomarkers can be, Particular lipids that tell us something interesting. And it's another tool paleoceanographers use to tell stories about the ocean. So one particular lipid, if you center that lipid, it might be telling you how, leaf waxes are changing. And that's telling you something about how much trust your input is coming into this pitch and a graphic system.
And maybe that's telling you something about the monsoon cycle. So that's why we call it a bio marker. I think about my forum, bio events is kind of biomarkers too, because it. It's using biology to Mark a change in the geologic record
Morgan Raven: [00:22:40] so how do you look at your forams? How do you learn things about them?
Raquel Bryant: [00:22:43] I look at forums under a light microscope, and sometimes if it's a particularly tiny forum, another tool that micropaleontologist uses a scanning electron microscope.
And so you can, blast electrons at your little forams to get a really high resolution, image of them.
something that I'm really excited to be doing now that I'm, post-doc at a and M is using our imaging facilities to take high resolution images of my pic slides. So basically I get sediment pick out forams and I'm going to start taking pictures of them. And once you do that, you can start using software to measure them as you're there.
chamber. So all forms kind of grow these little, , chambers that the cell lives in and then moves on. So four have really cool ornate structures because of that. but we look at how they're chambers are changing, how size is changing there's a million things you can do once you digitize things.
so I'm really excited about the new directions I can take with that. Hopefully finding some. better preserved specimens. A lot of my specimens come from actual rocks, not like mud, so they're recrystallized or deformed , not the best preserved foraminifera. but if I find some well-preserved on e , I'm hoping to do some CT scanning.
just like when you go to the doctor, it gives you this. Image that you can slice through and turn around and you can see the forum and measure the volume and get some more morphometrics. so there's some really interesting, speaking of anoxia, not being necessarily a bad thing, there's some really interesting changes to, for M specifically around oceanic anoxic event to, where you would think they're really stressed.
They should get small, or, , Their chambers should kind of look regular, but in some of my records, like during the peak of anoxia of OAE to the forums look like so happy, like they're just chilling, they're big and their chambers are big and there's lots of them. so that's something too, I think using more for metrics can help reveal, like how particular species respond to anoxia.
Morgan Raven: [00:24:48] Cool. So in addition to just who's there, you can also look at a particular type of benthic forum and see how its size or shape or degradation or other indicators of health change over time.
Raquel Bryant: [00:25:01] Exactly. Yeah.
Morgan Raven: [00:25:02] Can you just describe real quick what these things look like?
Raquel Bryant: [00:25:06] . So they look like different things. a lot of people when they first see them. say they look like popcorn, but if you think about a popcorn and how there's like different kinds of bubbles like that pop out of the kernel, that kind of in a crude way is how foram grows.
Like they have their cell and they make. He's like sometimes spherical, more oval, more ovate. All of them have their own flavor kind of chamber around that cell. And then as they grow, they have to make new chambers and new chambers and new chambers. And so different forums have different orientations that they grow their chambers in.
So some might grow their chambers side by side and they end up kind of looking like an ice cream cone and some might grow their chambers in a spiral formation. That's kind of the popcorn looking ones. And right now I'm describing more planktonic foraminifera they have to be concerned about floating.
So their chambers have to be a little more inflated so they can stay in the water column. Whereas benthic forums, they can have a little hardier tests. , but similarly there's different morphologies. Some that grow in more spiral shape, others that might grow kind of serially.
Morgan Raven: [00:26:12] you said you pick these, you were physically taking some ground up rock and picking them with like a very, very small tweezers or how does that work?
Raquel Bryant: [00:26:20] Oh, yeah. So, it's the best part. I missed this part. You just, you take a hunk, a rock or sediment, and usually soak it for a few weeks. Shake it up sometimes just kinda dis-aggregate as gently as possible. Sometimes we have to use, more intense measures, like rock cameras and stuff, but usually if you're working with like shales and stuff, they'll just, the water will just get in there and make all the plays fall apart.
And then we wash them over really tiny sieves. So sieves where the holes are 63 microns. And the only thing that gets left are bigger. Mineral fragments and our foreman fro, . And then I look at it under microscope and I use a paintbrush actually, and water, and it's kind of like static kind of thing.
And you get good at it. I forgot that. I've been doing it for like seven years now. I guess I'm really good at it, but I love organizing the little fossils it's so if anybody knows me, I'm like pretty organized. I like to have things be like where they should be and forums are the best for that, because you can organize them by more morphotypes you can organize them by species and genera the plaintiffs over here, the benthics over there and ditch office stay in the little squares, very orderly, but yeah, I use the paintbrush and usually for like population analysis, you want to pick at least 300, maybe 500, four minute for us, you can get a real idea of what the community structure is.
Morgan Raven: [00:27:48] how long does that take to get 300 of these individual shells?
Raquel Bryant: [00:27:53] definitely depends how, fossiliferous your sample is. If there's not a lot of forums I've definitely taken like cumulatively eight hours to go through a sample before probably a sample. I should have just abandoned because there was not a lot of forums in it, but, really like there's a lot of fossils.
I've done it in 45 minutes before.
Morgan Raven: [00:28:13] Oh, okay.
Raquel Bryant: [00:28:14] it was kind of fun.
Morgan Raven: [00:28:16] So, if we went out to your typical ocean sediment today, you're saying there would be a whole bunch of different types of benthic forams, all living together.
Raquel Bryant: [00:28:24] Oh, yeah, I do this to my friends. So one of my best friends, she's not in science, she's a historian and a Black history scholar. And she went to The Bahamas and I was like, you bring me some sand. Like she worked in a lab with me. Sometimes she would be reading Abby at the microscope. I'm like, bring me sand, I'll show you forams.
And. Yeah. I showed her pieces of coral and like not support him that's for him. And there are huge, we didn't even need the microscope to see them. Cause it's so different than the ones that I studied in contagious that are like teeny tiny. But yeah, if you've been to the beach, you've interacted to the forums.
Morgan Raven: [00:28:55] So they can actually look like sand on a beach.
Raquel Bryant: [00:28:57] Oh yeah, totally.
Morgan Raven: [00:28:58] Cool. Okay. So what exactly is the research project that you're working on right now with these guys?
Raquel Bryant: [00:29:04] Okay. The research projects really truthfully, that I'm working on right now is publish my dissertation.
Morgan Raven: [00:29:10] That's good. Important mission. Yes,
Raquel Bryant: [00:29:13] but it's also like a thing of being a post doc. I'm really glad I have a fellowship, so I can kind of dictate my own time. I need to like wrap up my stuff. but the project I'm trying to get off the ground is related to really exciting international ocean discovery program.
IODP expedition 388 equatorial Atlantic gateway. And which. I am one of the members of the science party. I'm a. Foram biostratigrapher . We were supposed to drill off the coast of Brazil this summer. For two months, I was going to be on the jr. The joides resolution IODP Sterling vessel, but in very 2020 fashion, it's postponed indefinitely.
So. Although I'm not getting brand new samples from the equatorial Atlantic region. I'm still trying to, start a research project, focus on that locality for a few reasons. the tropics are just cool to study anyway, because in terms of our climate system, it's a kind of stable place to be, right.
It gets like the same amount of sun all year long. Seasonality is not as big of an effect. And so having a. More controllable, unknown locality. It's kind of interesting. The second thing that captivates me about the Ecuador Atlantic region is that it's the site of the birth of the Atlantic ocean.
And so you kind of examine how, the history, the life history of ocean basin from being like terrestrial all the way to proper Marine environment. So that's just really fascinating. and then the third thing is there is a site, drilled. his leg two Oh seven, kind of similar region.
And they just had really great preservation of forami ifera like perfect glassy specimens, really good preservation of organic biomarkers. Potentially prime samples for doing these kind of integrated geochemical and, for am analysis that I want to do. So trying to leverage the fact that there's already been work done there, people have already published like forum records or geochemistry records.
even the other side of the baby Atlantic. So like the West African coast. so my project right now is just kind of trying to data mine, and she's like, see what people have done and find cool ways to integrate it. and I'm really interested in investigating, like, if we have these different kinds of proxies for anoxia, maybe some folks are using benfit for em.
Some folks are using organic biomarkers. Others are using trace metals. When did they disagree? When do they agree to, to work at the same time what kind of pattern orange and maybe looking at them all together instead of just at these three desperate proxies, if you kind of say like, Oh, what all three of these proxies, tell us about the water, mass chemistry.
Morgan Raven: [00:32:00] That seems really important, this multi proxy approach, right? Because all of them have. Ways in which they might not apply. Right. There's potential caveats when we start applying these proxies back in time, but we can get a couple to agree with each other. We can sure. Feel better about our interpretations and perhaps they could even be telling us different things about the system.
Raquel Bryant: [00:32:23] Yeah. And that's why I think it's really cool as well to have, geochemistry, but also a biotic record because in a lot of ways, biology is kind of like one step. Away from the geochemistry and that these forums or the microbes, I want to study their environment is the water column they're in. I like relating the two because I think a forum is never going to be independent of the water mass Mastetics came out of. And geochemistry is almost a way to kind of look into what are the conditions of that water mass.
the whole cruise we're going to drill at, I think, four different sites. And then we had to alternate sites and one of the sites was a lot, it's a lot closer to shore and it was going to capture it. near continuous of the last, 20 or 40 million years.
There's a lot of planning that goes into these proposals and picking the exact sites were like, no, we're going to drill there sometimes they even charter boats to do like sonar, like surveys before you can even get your proposal, on the docket to be drilled.
So, yeah, it would have been really interesting to see like what we actually got.
Morgan Raven: [00:33:28] It also comes to this fundamental question about oceanography is that you get one, maybe four. Maybe 10 cores, but they are six inches around or approximately. So presumably, and that's supposed to tell you not just about the ocean, but the ocean through time and picking the right site would be really important and hard.
Raquel Bryant: [00:33:51] Especially for, the Cretaceous, because our ocean recycles the ocean crust. And so the oldest stuff is the hardest to find like the most coveted. So that's why this cruise also really spoke to me because it was really front facing like, Hey, potential for Cretaceous sediments. So I'm always interested in an IDP cruise that has Cretaceous goals.
Morgan Raven: [00:34:13] Oh, absolutely.
talked about a couple of different things that you do, right. You pick forams. what else do you do with your day to day as a researcher in this field? Maybe under more normal conditions.
Raquel Bryant: [00:34:24] Yeah. Some say it's so different now because it's like, just me. And I think ever since I started doing microscope stuff, like microfossils, it's always been really collaborative. Like that's why I love working at the microscope. looking at forums is so visual.
I'm always like into talking to people or like talking to somebody else who's like picking on the scope next to you or listening to the same podcast together and then talking about it. That's like the best I, I miss those days. and in general, just being a PhD student and. Working in a department and just being able to be like, I'm frustrated and go see my friend, just being like on a college campus where other people are learning that vibe.
Like I miss that vibe and that, that was always a big part of my day to day as a researcher. Meetings with people, but also just talking to undergrads and people working in the lab, I'm back on campus now I was working from home for a while and I just walk in.
I just feel so proud, like just to be at school. Like, I'm really lucky other people, you have to work, whatever jobs. I know you said you worked in industry. I just could never imagine it. Like, I just decide what I wanna do with my day and it all revolves around learning and that's just like the most neutral thing.
I feel like these days. I'm just like, really proud of that. So I do miss like the people, but it's still nice because I think every geoscience department is kind of like this. There's still like little remnants of people. Like, you know, whether it's like the rock that they use to keep their door open or like posters that are still up and like people's papers and like announcements.
So that I really liked that part. yeah. What else do I do? A lot of writing and I'm trying to be more. Mindful of my identity as a writer. And I think that as scientists, we should just all do this. And people have been trying to convince me that writing is important for science. Like since I was an undergrad and I've always been like, whatever, whatever.
And now I'm like, okay, I really understand that. It's like the way that we communicate our science, it's what really counts, especially if you want to stay in academia and like be a professor. And so I've been trying to just like, say I'm a writer. And so a lot of my day as a researcher is reading and writing and making sure that I'm thinking and being intentional about how I share my work,
that's a big part of my day, too.
Morgan Raven: [00:36:41] Great. So what was your path to here? How did you get into this field?
Raquel Bryant: [00:36:45] Okay. I think a lot of people always say like, I have a non-traditional path or nonlinear, and I'm the opposite. Like I did everything like really an order, but it was still like different. So for me, like, I always liked natural science and just science in general and just figured like, why are things the way they are , why is there a mountain in my state and not a mountain in this state?
Or why are butterflies flying and bats flying? Like what those questions are just really interesting to me. but when I was a high schooler, my. AP physics teacher actually had a PhD in geophysics, which is like not normal, but I went to high school in Connecticut. And, that was pretty cool because she told us about just traveling for research.
And I didn't know, people traveled for research at that point. I had not traveled like really at all out of the country. Definitely not. And so that just always seemed like something you do, like when you're like old and rich, like that's when you try or like on family vacation or something. I didn't know, like.
She's getting paid to go to cool places and like do cool things. and so I just was like, well, I know I want to do STEM. I didn't know exactly what at all, but I'll just put this like, Oh, I'm applications all under science. I want to go places. And then, when I got accepted to my undergrad, just one of the advisors reached out was like, I see that you put geoscience down, you should definitely major in geoscience.
So then it was like, okay, well someone's telling me to do something. Might as well just do it. And from then on, it was kind of like, I, he was lucky because they had like a community, right. When I got to college, because all of us like geoscience, people were like, you go on field trips, you can do labs.
You just start like bonding with people. But then I remember, like I was struggling so hard and the intro class, I like almost failed it. And the same advisor was like, Hey, don't worry. I also almost failed intro geology. Like most people never have any geoscience before they come to college.
She's like, it's okay. I have a feeling you'll do better next semester. And I just remember being like, this is awful. I'm gonna have to find a new major. Like I can't do this one. And she was so right. The next class was more like, earth systems history. I used to tell my friends, like I'm taking a class.
It's like E True Hollywood story, but the earth. And it's like all the questions I thought about before. Like why is there oxygen? why are trees green? . All these different things. Why is there no life on Mars or why, why would there be life on earth , all these cool questions? And I never knew that geologists like studied that.
I just I'd had no idea that like, there is a whole field that you could look at earth pass, like earth history. that was really eye-opening for me just to see that, Oh, all the questions that I've wondered about my whole life people. They get to travel and go on boats to study that.
And I was like, okay, this is so cool. I have to do it.
that's what I love about geoscience. There's so many different ways to enter geoscience. Like you can be a chemist and , just want to apply your chemistry skills to a different set of questions, or you can be a physicist. Who's great at modeling. And again, you just want to answer cooler questions because the earth has the coolest questions.
so that was for me, , I knew I wanted to do it, but I had no idea that there are so many research possibilities within geoscience. So I'm really glad that I didn't get scared away by it. Just like structure and physical processes.
Morgan Raven: [00:40:07] So we've talked a lot about things you love about the field. Are there any things that you found particularly difficult or challenging?
Raquel Bryant: [00:40:15] I think as I'm getting more mature in my academic career, especially as like a doc now and someone who's very much interested in considering being a professor and going into academia, the one thing I feel like there's a big lack of leadership in geoscience and. That's not to say like, people are like bad people or they're not leading.
I mean, we don't have as much vision as I think we should for a field that is studying the earth when we're like in the middle of all these different climate crises. I think that we should really central leadership in what we're doing. Like our undergrads should be trained in leadership and we should practice bringing groups of people together.
Sharing different perspectives and making decisions together, as a community, I just think you would make our students better, advocates for geoscience, for not only the earth, but just the study of the earth. Like that's the kind of distinction it's not about like save the planet.
It's more like, what is the role of humans in the planet? How does our planet work and how are the things that we're doing right now? how is it impacting it and how should we change our behavior? Like those questions to me are also connected to the human experience.
That I think it's inappropriate that we don't have that kind of focus across all geosciences. Like, it doesn't matter if you're a igneous pathologists. Mineralogists like, You know, thinking about mining and like deep sea mining or mining parts of the world and how that's exploiting certain people.
those things are always connected. So I just think there should be more leadership included in our geoscience education. And it's something I appreciate about your podcast is trying to bring together different perspectives. All these different people interfaced with the ocean, right?
All these different people, interfaced with our atmosphere, that's earth science, it's all geoscience. And so I think we should be like leaders and all those conversations and definitely increase our relevancy because something that I find is most people, when they hear about geoscience, they automatically think like geology and then they just think rocks.
And that's like, not even. A big portion of what it is anymore to be a geoscientist. a friend and me have actually like formed the community. It's called the next generation of geoscience leaders. And our idea is just using leadership. To better geoscience, whether that's leadership in diversity and inclusion or that's leadership in, climate action and policy or it's leadership and, looking at our field and deciding like the human dimension of climate change is always relevant or the human dimension of hazards is literally always relevant.
I would love it. If more people felt like. They had the tools and the support systems to stand up for the stuff they believed in.
Morgan Raven: [00:43:08] Yeah.
moving forward from the projects that you're already started, where do you see your long-term role in terms of academic leadership?
Raquel Bryant: [00:43:17] I think COVID made me realize that, although I have had a very linear path there's always unknowns and always changes. And I should be open-minded about what my next step is. to do that, I'm really trying to focus on my current step and make the most of it, because then I'll have the most options, when I'm ready to move on.
but I love mentoring students. And like a lot of us are funded. By taxpayer dollars. So it's really weird to me that. The idea of advocating or leading seems kind of foreign. And because for me, it's, so front of mind to be a professor is like to be a public educator, to be a public scientist, to be, , a scientist that focuses on broader impacts that lets that broader impact drive their research questions instead of like prestige or like them like figuring out the next day.
It should be like, what should the public know? Or like, what does the public want to know? Like, those questions are not as, centered in traditional environments. And so I'm also like, not sure if that's the place we'll, , I'll do the best scholarship, but then there's like a trade off because, you know, if I want to work somewhere worse, teaching is more centered than research facilities, like decrease, and then everything's kind of connected and
resources and opportunities don't always match up. So something I'm also open to and brainstorming about is ways I can just do something that no one's ever done before. I have like the best of both worlds, wherever I go. But that goes back to, my main project being, writing my papers and making sure I'm making the most of my fellowship here.
Morgan Raven: [00:44:53] Right. Absolutely. I love the idea of doing something new.
Raquel Bryant: [00:44:58] Yeah, well, that's what I like about the whole like proposal and grants. I know people like gripe about it and I just have a forum. I don't really like writing proposals. The only thing, I will always write. I think it's so fun to think about what you could do if somebody gave you the money.
instead of like having to be confined and constrained, it's like you're dreaming and that's like the thing I'm really good at like vision and . world building theorizing about what we could do if we had this tool or this knowledge. So I love proposals and my postdoc advisor is really advising me to think how everything can be synergistic.
Morgan Raven: [00:45:31] Yeah. I'd love to think about the ways that we can reinvision academia and research going forward. That's really fun.
. So if someone is listening to this and they think that this sounds like the sort of work that they would love to get into, do you have any advice for them?
Raquel Bryant: [00:45:46] there's certain very generic ways to give budding scientists advice. But I think it's really important to think about the advice that we don't hear and like why. And one thing that I've been thinking about a lot is academia is not necessarily, the best environment to grow as a researcher, but it is like the environment like you, if you want to do research at the university, you need a PhD or a national lab or masters, whatever. people act like, Oh, but if you love it, you'll be able to stick with it and do it. But I think what's really important is that you're doing it for a reason that makes sense to you because when you start as a PhD student, it's.
All more likely that your advisor had different reasons for getting a PhD than you did. And so it's just really important to remember that whatever reason brought you there is valid. Even if none of your role models or anybody around you has that same reason. So for me, like a reason I got my PhD and I want to be professor is because there's not a lot of geoscientists that look like me and.
There's a school of thought that I should just do what I want to do. Like focus on my research and like, along the way I can help, but no, it's actually like the it's like the reason I'm doing it, research to me is a vehicle to educating people, to mentoring people, to being a role model for people it's not the other way around.
I always tell people, like, just because you don't see the kind of scientist you want to be in the available role models doesn't mean that you can't. Just be that person and just be weary of the whole idea of a role model and know that, there's a lot of people were put up on a pedestal for, being good at playing in the toxic culture game.
So that's like not necessarily people you want to even live up to. So just, don't be afraid to look up to the people around you, like your peers. There are so many people who are in my cohort, like early career geoscientists, who are my role models. they're the people that I'm trying to be more like, think about the role of your near peer network in, helping you form your goals.
And don't just think about becoming, Oh, I have to be just like the professor that I like, or my PhD advisor
Morgan Raven: [00:48:01] mentors and role models do not need to be the big. In the
Raquel Bryant: [00:48:05] totally
Morgan Raven: [00:48:07] Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. This has been really fun. I'm really excited to put this one together. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.
Raquel Bryant: [00:48:17] Yeah. It was really fun. It helped me organize my thoughts a lot too, because like I said, I'm not talking to anybody these days .
Morgan Raven: [00:48:23] Ooh, conversations is fun.
I hope you've enjoyed this season of ocean solutions. I've had a ton of fun pulling this together. And I'm incredibly grateful to all 11 of my guests who have really done the work here by dedicating their time and their expertise to finding in so many different ways, solutions to the immense challenges. We face a change in climate threatened environments and the needs and interests of so many different human communities, which are just inextricably wound together.
What I've taken away from this is that there aren't an enormous diversity of opportunities and pathways that all contribute to this problem in practical, creative, and sometimes downright exciting ways. There is a place for you in the quest for ocean solutions and we need you. This is just the beginning. So you all in season two.