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USA Science & Engineering Festival – Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement

Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle -- Leading Oceanographer and Environmentalist

Conducts pioneering research in marine ecosystems; named a "Hero for the Planet" by Time magazine

Sylvia Earle's love affair with the ocean began early in life growing up in New Jersey and Florida.  "Even as a child," she recalls, "I was lured into the sea by the creatures who live there; horseshoe crabs on the New Jersey beaches; starfish and sea urchins in the Florida Keys; and everywhere strange and wonderful forms of life that only occur underwater. It was, and is, irresistible."  She’s transformed that affection and curiosity into an amazing career as a leading oceanographer and environmentalist.

Why She's Important: As an oceanographer, Sylvia conucts pioneering research in marine ecosystems. In recognition of her groundbreaking endeavors, Time magazine in 1998 named her a "Hero for the Planet." Much of her research has involved working underwater in various locations around the globe via scuba diving or operating from miniature submarines called "submersibles."  It is through these approaches that she first made her mark in her career:  Working off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii in 1979 she departed from her submersible and walked unencumbered on the ocean floor at the harrowing depth of 1,250 feet. She also holds the depth record for solo diving at 3,300 feet.  Such feats -- plus the fact that she has led more than 60 expeditions worldwide involving in excess of 7000 hours underwater -- have affectionately earned her the nicknames of  "Her Deepness" and "The Sturgeon General" among colleagues.

Other Achievements: Sylvia is former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is an expert on the impact of oil spills on the ocean and sea life. She was called to investigate oil spill emergencies in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War, in addition to the Exxon Valdez spill, and she testified before Congress on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

Current Activities: She is now Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, and is spearheading a global initiative called Mission Blue aimed at restoring health and productivity to the ocean by inspiring people to act on these problems.

Education: Sylvia holds a B.S. degree from Florida State University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Duke University.  

In Her Own Words: Commenting on the ocean, she says: "You have to love it before you are moved to save it!" 

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