Although I grew up in Minnesota, I developed a deep passion for the ocean during childhood snorkeling trips within the Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands (USVI). I attended Florida Institute of Technology and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology in the spring of 2006. At FIT, I played Division II softball for two years and was an All-American Scholar Athlete both years. I was also involved in undergraduate research under Dr. Robert van Woesik, modeling the timing of coral bleaching and coral spawning events. In the spring of 2006, I was named FIT's Outstanding Senior of the year.
I continued working under Dr. van Woesik at FIT, earning my Masters of Science in Marine Biology in the spring of 2008. My thesis researched focused on the relationship between the frequency of thermal stress events in the past and the severity of coral bleaching during recent warm periods. During my masters research, I realized how little we understood about one of the main drivers of coral bleaching, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate system. Realizing that we ultimately need a better understanding of how tropical climate variability will change in the future in order to predict the severity of future bleaching events, I became interested in studying climate variability from the natural archive that coral reefs provide.
Understanding the effects of climate change on ENSO is crucial for regional climate and coral bleaching predictions, because ENSO events drive intense floods, droughts and temperature anomalies all over the world. To improve our understanding of the effects of natural and anthropogenic warming on the magnitude of the Pacific-SST gradient and the strength of ENSO during the last century, I aim to extend the network of high-resolution modern coral and lake sediment records from the tropical Pacific Ocean. As part of my dissertation research, I am developing replicated temperature and salinity records from cores of modern corals from the central and eastern Pacific Ocean [Onotoa Atoll (1º50'S, 175º30 'E), Maiana Atoll (1ºN, 173ºE), Jarvis Island (0.36ºS, 159ºW), and Wolf Island, Galapagos Archipelago (1.67ºN, 91.9W)]. To address longer-term variability in the tropical Pacific over the Holocene, I am also analyzing a lake sediment core from Bainbridge Crater Lake, Galapagos (0°21'S, 90°34'W). To improve our understanding of how climate anomalies, such as those experienced during El Niño events, are recorded in Bainbridge Crater Lake, we have also been monitoring the local climate, limnology and sedimentation of the lake since the winter of 2009. Finally, to address possible future projections for the tropical Pacific, I have used a simple forward model of coral proxy records to assess CGCM hindcasts.