To celebrate Women’s History Month, we asked women throughout NOAA Research who make lasting impacts in scientific research, leadership, and support from the field to the office to share how their work contributes to NOAA’s mission of Climate Resilience and preparing for a Climate-Ready Nation. This article highlights an interview with Ana Palacio, a postdoctoral researcher at the NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML).
Our conversation follows:
What does climate resilience or climate-ready nation mean to you? What would you want people to know about NOAA’s work on climate resilience?
Climate change is modifying the way our planet works and this poses potential and serious risks to our communities, ecosystems, infrastructure, and security. A climate-ready nation is one that works on anticipating the risks related to climate change, such as extreme weather events and sea-level rise, in order to be prepared to respond to them. To effectively build climate resilience, a climate-ready nation assesses how climate change will disproportionately impact women and low-income communities in order to allocate adequate resources to mitigate the risks in the most vulnerable communities.
What projects or research are you working on now, and how does your work contribute to climate resilience?
At the moment, my research group is synthesizing data that were collected in the Florida Keys as part of the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP). With this information, we are investigating the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on Florida’s coral reefs. We are also trying to identify the areas of the reef that are exposed to stronger ocean acidification and areas that could serve as ocean acidification refugia. This information will inform our managers about how to better protect and restore the reefs in Florida, which are fundamental to protecting our coast from storms and hurricanes.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I always loved learning new things and this is what I do in my job. We are always solving problems and overcoming new challenges. In our lab, we are constantly catching up with new technology and developing ways to implement it in order to learn more about the ocean and marine environments. Right now, for example, we are implementing new automation using robot arm technology in the wet-lab facilities of the AOML coral program. This will help us study the effects of multiple stressors, such as diseases, acidification, and nutrient pollution, on coral health.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your career/field and how have you overcome them?
When I decided to be a biologist I had a fair number of classmates that were women. However, I started struggling during my Ph.D. because I lacked a role model that was a woman. I certainly had amazing women peers that I admired, but all my mentors and the people that I recognized as leaders in my career were men. That led me to two decisions. One was to try to understand why if a similar number of men and women start careers in science, are men predominantly making it to leadership positions. The second one was to commit to mentoring women and supporting them.
The reasons behind the lower women representation in top positions are multiple and complex. There are conscious and unconscious biases in the recruitment, promotion, and retention of women that we need to fight. We ourselves tend to feel less that we deserve a raise or a promotion compared with our male peers. Women that have children face additional challenges since the institutions where they work do not provide adequate support to maintain a healthy work-life balance. To overcome some of these difficulties, I actively search for women role models that inspire me and help me to believe that we can be top scientists, researchers, and managers. I also use mentorship to inspire younger women to overcome these barriers and build supportive networks.
Special thanks to Ana Palacio for participating in this interview for Women’s History Month at NOAA.