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Karen Grissom
Katie Valentine

Karen Grissom

Dr. Karen Grissom is an oceanographer at NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), where she leads the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean Array (TAO) observing group. The goal of this group is to maintain an ocean observation network of 55 buoys located in the Equatorial Pacific which provide real-time observations of the upper ocean temperature and salinity and meteorological data for El Nino forecasts and climate research studies. 

In her positon, Dr. Grissom bridges the gap between the research and operational community, and in doing so helps advance the understanding of the mechanisms controlling the coupled ocean atmosphere system, and the capabilities needed to sustain research and operational climate monitoring and forecasting.  

What drew you to your current career or field?

As a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, our family vacations often involved camping in the Cascade Mountains or the Sierra Nevada range. However, my favorite vacations memories were of camping on the Oregon coast. This love of the ocean resurfaced years later while studying chemistry at the University of Washington. I took an introductory oceanography class and was immediately hooked.

What projects or research are you working on now?

I’m currently a Co-PI [Principal Investigator] collaborating with researchers at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), investigating the transmission of momentum and heat from the surface to the thermocline within the Tropical Pacific. This work seeks to enhance the vertical resolution of samples in the upper 50 meters of the ocean, and resolve the velocity structure of the ocean mixed layer in eight regimes that span the tropical Pacific. In addition, I’m leading an effort within NDBC to define the accuracy of our observations over a range of environmental conditions.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The fieldwork. Sometimes I find it hard to believe I actually get paid for this. Whether it’s going to sea on a research cruise, riding all-terrain vehicles 30 miles up a beach at low-tide, or planting sea grass for estuary restoration, it’s definitely not dull.

What does success mean to you? 

We each have our own—and sometimes very personal—criteria for success. For me professional success is a sense of accomplishment and contribution. Completing a task, a project, or a research study, the scale of the accomplishment isn’t as important as effort behind it, and contribution to the larger purpose.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

People love to be around happy people, so enjoy your work and you will be a joy to be around.

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

Be true to yourself, and don’t get caught up trying to live up to others' expectations. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?  

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Don’t ever forget: life is about balance and moderation. Don’t neglect family or friends for sake of a career—and if possible, try to make your work colleagues your friends. We spend so much of our lives working, so it’s important to get along with your colleagues and give them the same professional respect you expect.

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