Dr. Monica Orellana

A senior researcher at ISB, Dr. Monica Orellana has a particular interest in studying and raising awareness of the global problem of Ocean Acidification. After earning her Masters in zoology, Dr. Orellana had a very specific vision for her PhD. She was referred to the University of Washington's Oceanography department and completed her PhD there. She went on to do her postdoctoral work in bioengineering, gaining exposure to new disciplines. However, she always maintained her interest in marine science.

Dr. Orellana's current projects involve Ocean Acidification, an issue she believes everyone needs to learn about. She cited the importance of the issue by telling us that when she was a student, the pH of the oceans was 8.1, and today it is 7.9. She says that it is important to know what will happen as a result. Ocean Acidifcation will challenge life, but the question she seeks to answer is which organisms are resilient enough to survive, and which will die off. There are over 200 researchers working on this issue in the U.S., most of them studying marine calcifiers. Dr. Orellana is interested in finding out what will happen to the so-called “winners” in the struggle for survival. She wonders, would they really be so?

But understanding such organisms is not so easy, she tells us. The difficulty is that many marine organisms do not have sequenced genomes, making any genetic studies difficult. Even Thalassiosira pseudonana, whose genome has been sequenced, has many unidentified “hypothetical” genes.

When asked why some still refuse to acknowledge Ocean Acidifcation as a true problem, Dr. Orellana told us some of it has to do with geography. On the coasts, we can see the results directly and can easily relate. For those in the middle of the country, she wonders if it feels more like a tall tale. They can't seem to grasp its importance.

Though Dr. Orellana says of Ocean Acidification truly is a dire problem, but, she says, “I feel there is still a possibility of doing something”. Biking, recylcing, turning off the lights, all of these help. The most important step, according to Dr. Orellana, is to educate. It is everyone's job to relate the information once they have it. She says that in the modern world, news goes fast but learning still goes slowly.

The changes are scary and coming quickly, but she tells us "I'm optimistic".