Staff Spotlight: An Interview with Sara Sanchez

Sara is a postdoctoral associate who joined JISAO in 2018. She received her PhD in Oceanography from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. 

What do you like best about working for JISAO?

I love the wide variety of research that takes place at JISAO. JISAO is a great place to be to collaborate on (or even just hear about) diverse projects with others at JISAO, other departments of UW, PMEL, and APL.

What do you find most challenging at your current position?

Time management! There are so many interesting projects, but so little time!

What has been your favorite project with JISAO?

My favorite project has been working on reconstructing past tropical climate variability using a new paleoclimate data assimilation technique to estimate the state of the climate system over the last two hundred years.  During my PhD, I was able to work on projects in the fairly separate worlds of coral paleoclimatology (geochemical analysis, and even some coral drilling) and analyzing climate model simulations, but through this work I have been able to integrate these diverse reconstructions. This project has taken some really exciting turns, one of which has allowed us to evaluate how the tropics have responded to multiple volcanic eruptions.

People would be surprised if they knew…

Fun trivia fact: John Tyler (10th president of the USA (1841-1845), born in 1790, and War of 1812 veteran) has two living grandsons! To add in some scientific flair, over those 3 generations, so many remarkable climate events have occurred; the Mystery Eruption of 1809, the Tambora eruption of 1815, extreme phases of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the ramping up of anthropogenic forcing. If only they had only they had had a rigorous family tradition of consistent climate observations and trips to the equatorial Pacific!

What about your research? Any interesting facts you would like to share with us?

Finding consistent measurements of the climate system in the remote tropical oceans is an extremely difficult task, especially if you want to look centuries back in time. Thankfully, some Porites corals can live to be 500+ years old, recording sub-annual information about their ambient conditions in their skeleton. These corals are enormous; you can view a photo of a 7m tall Porites coral here. While I’ve never been able to analyze coral records extending that far back in time, I’ve been fortunate to be able to collect coral records at Palmyra Atoll in the central equatorial Pacific and several islands in French Polynesia for my own research (pictured on the left).  If the idea of time traveling through the tropical oceans with power tools isn’t exciting enough, you can ask me for harrowing tales of dealing with (or accepting?) seasickness, stories about the large (and sometimes fearsome) marine life that is attracted to the sound of the coral drill, or, most exciting of all, the climate/environmental datasets I’ve able to garner.

You’re happiest when… 

As much as I’d love to say I’m on Cloud 9 when debugging code or writing papers, I’m happiest during a post-long-run day at the beach with friends.

Where would you like to go on a dream vacation?

Some moderately sized tropical island with flat, soft surface trails so I can occupy myself with running, ocean related exploring, and catching up on some good books. I don’t know where this exists, but I am not opposed to testing out many tropical islands to find the best one.

What’s on your bucket list?

Many things, but one that comes to mind is something I read in Bonnie Chang’s JISAO spotlight. She has done research in all of Earth’s ocean basins. That is incredible (way to be awesome, Bonnie!). I need to tick a few more oceans off of my list…

Interview by M. Jones, JISAO Payroll Coordinator