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Beneath the waves

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Heidi Hirsh in snorkel gear
(Photo Credit: Heidi Hirsh)

Heidi Hirsh

PhD Student
Earth System Science

April 19, 2019

Even before she officially dived into marine science studies, Heidi Hirsh developed a passion for all things aquatic while exploring the Puget Sound as a child. She would spend hours on the beach turning over rocks to find crabs, worms and anemones. Her passions evolved as she got older. As a PhD student, Hirsh studies marine biogeochemistry. She is curious about how marine plants and algae, including seagrass and kelp, can potentially help mitigate the threat of ocean acidification for coastal ecosystems.

On her best work days, Hirsh spends time diving in the Republic of Palau or Monterey Bay, gathering data on sea plants and algae. “I am interested in how these plants and algae influence their local chemistry, and in doing so, how they may provide a better environment for organisms that build a shell or skeleton out of calcium carbonate.” Some of those organisms, including corals and shellfish, are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. “People don’t tend to get very excited about seagrass and kelp, but these environments are critical to the more charismatic community members that do get a lot of love like dugongs and sea otters respectfully.”

Hirsh is also assessing methods for conducting aerial surveys using drones to map shallow seafloor marine communities, using aerial data that she has already collected from tropical seagrass beds in Palau and from the kelp canopy adjacent to Hopkins Marine Station. “The ecosystems that we’re looking at are very important. Kelp forests and seagrass beds could provide pockets of resilience that may help coastal communities combat ocean acidification.”

Hirsh uses her experience to support the next generation of female scientists. She has mentored seven undergraduate research students through four different programs, including the Women in STEM Mentorship Program. Hirsh’s first mentee is beginning her own PhD in the E-IPER program in fall of 2019.