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Andrea Vander Woude
Katie Valentine

Andrea Vander Woude

Dr. Andrea Vander Woude is an oceanographer — and, she adds, a "lakeographer," thanks to her focus on the Great Lakes — at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). Her work focuses on researching and finding ways to resolve Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). GLERL and its partners are developing forecast tools and warning systems for HABs that will help alert water system managers, health officials, and the public about potentially dangerous water conditions.

Vander Woude runs experiments related to the remote sensing data she gathers in a small plane over Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron, Michigan and Ontario. The plane carries a high-tech camera that monitors HABs and submerged aquatic vegetation in the Great Lakes. Vander Woude keeps track of the images this camera captures, and provides the images to the Ohio EPA and Michigan DNR so that they can monitor water quality around their drinking water intakes.

What drew you to your current career or field?

My love for art and art in nature drew me to my current career field, as well as constantly questioning processes in nature since I was little. My parents also made every effort to get us outside and to use our creative minds outdoors. Every week, I look through hundreds of images of water and I am able to turn that into meaningful information for the public and municipalities. 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Besides looking through hyperspectral images every week during the HAB season, I also enjoy being able to go up in the airplane with the contracted pilot. Seeing the water and landscape from the perspective of a small airplane is as inspiring as providing useful information from the large hyperspectral image cubes of data we collect every week. 

Some days when I am working at the GLERL Lake Michigan Field Station I just pinch myself — I can’t believe I get to work in such a beautiful place. Imagine working in a restored Coast Guard Building on the shore of one of the largest lakes on the planet! The views from our windows include a lighthouse and some beautiful dunes. This time of year all I see is ice, but in the summer I see fishers on the pier, freighters in the channel, parasailors, volleyball players on the beach, and the Coast Guard (stationed nearby) heading out for training and rescues.

What does success mean to you?

Success means feeling fulfilled and happy in what you do every day, surrounded by people who appreciate the work that you do. It also means being able to use your talents, which for me include my love for science, art and water. I especially enjoy working at NOAA because I am given the opportunity to provide a product that is useful for the public, and that can help others. 

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? 

I have envisioned incorporating an educational piece as part of my job. I come from a family of teachers and I have taught downhill skiing, forest ecology, stream ecology and geology. I love seeing that "ah-ha" moment with students. It would be wonderful to bring local students to the field station on Lake Michigan to teach them about different types of remote sensing tools, beyond hyperspectral imaging. 
 

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