As part of the Science Journeys lecture series—designed to inspire scientific curiosity, especially among students in middle and high school—graduate student and Resnick Scholar Lily Dove discussed how her love for boats and the ocean led her to study climate change, and shared her passion for doing research around the globe with scientists of all backgrounds.
Dove, who will receive her PhD at this Friday's Commencement ceremony, grew up in Florida and studied Earth, atmospheric, and planetary science at MIT before joining Caltech as a Resnick Scholar in the lab of Andrew Thompson, professor of environmental science and engineering, and director of The Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science. Outside of the lab, Dove teaches climate science to middle school students in the Pasadena Unified School District and is an advocate for increasing access to oceanography for historically marginalized students.
What inspired you to study oceanography?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the beach in my hometown of St. Augustine. I was always extremely interested in understanding the ocean: How do the ocean and the atmosphere interact? Where are all these waves coming from? I also loved boats, which led me to wonder, if I can't be a pirate sailing the high seas, how could I get a job working on a boat?
I turned to oceanography when I started hearing about climate change and how the ocean plays such a vital role in our climate system. I'm interested in ocean uptake, how the carbon and heat that humans produce by burning fossil fuels gets from the atmosphere into the different parts of the ocean—and how that affects the ocean itself.
You spoke about how your high school teachers helped you decide to pursue science. Can you share more about that journey?
I had so many interesting questions and didn't know what to do with all of them. I knew all these things about carbon; I knew all these things about heat, and I knew that the ocean was extremely interesting, but I didn't know what to do with all that information. A couple of key teachers in my life played a very important role in giving me some direction. Mr. Rivera was my chemistry teacher in high school, and he is the one who taught me how to put all this information together and come up with a scientific hypothesis that I wanted to go after. And Mr. Coghlan was my English teacher. That might be odd to hear a scientist say that an English teacher was a really big influence, but Mr. Coghlan taught me science communications: how to write and express my ideas in a way that people would listen and think that they were important.
What tools do you use to study the ocean?
One of the main tools I use in my research is a CTD rosette: CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth. It is used to collect water at different depths in the ocean and measure metrics like temperature, salinity, and other ocean properties. It's this big tool we put over the side of the ship and send to the bottom of the ocean and back up. Those of us on the ship can sit at computers and watch the rosette sink to the bottom and send back data in real time. The data collected can be used by different industries like alternative energy, shipping, fishing, farming, and by other scientific researchers.
How has that process changed over the years?
Over the past 20 years, autonomous profiling floats (ocean robots) have expanded how we collect ocean data. These floats can travel far into the ocean for longer periods of time. This allows scientists to gather data farther away from the coast and keeps them safe from harsh environments like storms. Floats can stay in the ocean for about three to five years! They continuously collect data and transmit it via satellite. Today, there are almost no places left in the ocean where we don't have a data point, so our ability to understand the ocean has grown massively as a result of increased coverage by floats.