Meet Phil Bresnahan, Oceanographer and Engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Going Green had the opportunity to meet Phil Bresnahan. Thank you for being here, Phil. Before we get started, what is your occupation? Where do you work?
I am an Oceanographer and Engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
My ultimate goal is to contribute to our understanding of marine chemistry in order to help protect the oceans for the good of those who rely on them (everyone!). I’m a research engineer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Head of Technology for the Smartfin Project.

For Smartfin, I am developing a suite of tools for the collection of coastal oceanographic data from surfboards and standup paddleboards in order to fill in gaps between moored sensors and field surveys and to inspire coastal communities to become better stewards of their environment. I have worked to get communities stoked on science throughout my career, from outreach with local schools and community groups to working with surfers-turned-citizen scientists. I enjoy working on many aspects of ocean sensor networks, including sensor innovation (electrical and mechanical design as well as laboratory and field analysis), cloud data management, and, ultimately, data analysis and visualization.

What is a fun fact about you?
Last year, after Bike to Work Month (May) was over, I declared June “Bike to Surf Month.” I biked to a different surf break in San Diego County every day in the month of June, surfed, and then biked to work or home.

I covered over 800 miles pedaling and paddling and posted my musings along the journey here: https://supscience.com/bike-to-surf-month/.

What was your motivation to get into this industry?
I believe that environmental stewardship is incredibly important but I don’t believe that people always connect to the data demonstrating its importance. I got engaged in environmental sciences because I love being outside and I wanted to work to protect my playground. I believe that we have a better chance of inspiring future planetary protectors by connecting on things that we have in common, like surfing, paddleboarding, and cycling, for example.

Why do you think climate change/sustainability is such an important topic today? *
There are lots of globally important issues that we could spend our time working on but I believe that climate change amplifies many of them. It’s sad to see the exploitation of nature for our own comfort but it’s even sadder to think about the devastating impacts to human health and security around the world. After studying chemical engineering in college, I considered going into a human health-related field but ultimately decided that environmental health affects so many other fields and wanted to apply my energy here.

What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
Research oceanographers will still be researching the finer details of how our planet works, though I’m fairly certain there will be a far greater reliance on autonomous systems (robots) that can collect orders of magnitude more data for us than we could ourselves using traditional analytical methods. I think there will be greater importance given to stitching together findings across subdomains in order to determine how the interconnected systems in our planet interact with each other. And I’m confident that the progress being made in data science and machine learning will be increasingly applied to oceanography and marine conservation.

What can the average person do to make a difference?
Get outside! It’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and there are countless opportunities to interact with your local environment, almost wherever you may be. I think it’s important (and fun!) to get outside and get to know our portions of the planet so that we can learn to appreciate how incredible the planet actually is. In Planet Earth II, there are episodes covering every major biome, even urban habitats, and it’s mind-blowing to see how the planet works. But it’s even more impressive to get outside and experience it yourself!

What positive changes are you seeing?
Young people have stopped waiting until they’re granted permission to try to make a change. They’re doing what they believe is right regardless of what the authorities tell them. Lately, this has led to climate marches during school days and a ton of press coverage of high school and younger students pressing their representatives and other leaders on issues that will affect the students the most since they’ll have to live on the planet that they inherit from prior generations.

What are your social media tags for sharing this content?
optoutside, #adventureconsciously, #deepbluelife, #oceanoptimism

Phil, thank you for meeting with us! You are doing amazing things.

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