Ian Black: Taking Inspiration from OOI

As an undergraduate at Oregon State University (OSU), Ian Black attended an oceanography course taught by the OOI’s Coastal Endurance Array Principal Investigator Ed Dever, where he was introduced to key oceanographic concepts and the observational capacity of the OOI. Black was so intrigued by the work that he approached Dever and asked about an internship with the OOI Endurance Array.

“Initially it was scraping barnacles, turning wrenches, very dirty and manual labor,” explained Black. “And I liked it. The project and its mission made sense to me.” The OOI provided Black with his first experience at sea, the Regional Cabled Array’s VISIONs cruise in 2015, where he sailed with another OOI alum Katie Bigham. Toward the end of his internship and undergraduate program, Black was interested in continuing to work on the Endurance Array and was encouraged to pursue a master’s degree. Throughout graduate school, Black continued to work part-time on the Endurance Array, continuing to scrape barnacles, but also gained some experience in electronics and coding.

In 2018, Black received his M.S. in Marine Resource Management and was hired on as an Endurance Array technician. Between 2018 and 2021, Black focused primarily on the Coastal Surface Piercing Profilers that are deployed at the CE01, CE02, CE06, and CE07 sites located off Oregon and Washington. He also provided assistance with the large coastal surface moorings and gliders during downtime and cruises.

Not one to sit still too long, Black decided to pursue a PhD, again at OSU in 2021. Black was originally brought on by his co-advisors, Dr. Clare Reimers and Dr. Maria Kavanaugh, to focus on the bio-optical sensors that are to be deployed on the NSF’s new Regional Class Research Vessels. While waiting for the deployment of these vessels, Black has developed a newfound interest in marine heatwaves. Currently, he and his advisors have a manuscript under review where they use OOI Endurance Array data to explore the biophysical impacts of marine heatwaves on phytoplankton.

Left to Right: Jon Fram, Ian Black, Alex Wick, and Steve Lambert pose with a recently recovered profiler. Credit: Oregon State University.

For the next chapter in his PhD dissertation, Black plans to again use OOI data from the Endurance Array to explore the finer scale effects of marine heatwaves over the Oregon shelf. “There are a lot of high-resolution data products from the moorings, profilers, and gliders that could be combined to tell an interesting story”, Black said. In particular, there are some “some really interesting still images from the camera located at the shelf site that coincide with events or phenomena that are commonly introduced in oceanography courses, much like the class Ed (Dever) taught all those years ago. Seeing these things with real data really reinforces those core oceanographic concepts.” Black hopes that this work will end up as a second manuscript, but at the very least “the code and results can be used as a tool, perhaps in the classroom, to show students that the concepts they learn about are supported with modern data.”  Black added that has been instrumental in his PhD research. He uses it between several times per week to review, process, and assess data.

“The OOI Endurance Team has been supportive at every stage of my career so far, not just the OOI ones.  “It’s a great place to work and Ed (Dever) and Jon (Fram) work hard to keep people invested in the project.” The few years working as a technician and almost decade of interaction with the OOI has been an important part of my development. Black added, “I even missed the camaraderie so much that I recently volunteered to join the 20th deployment of the Endurance Array (EA20) this past spring.” As an undergraduate, Black’s first Endurance cruise was EA5.

Black brings an interesting perspective to OOI data.  He now looks at it from the vantage point of a scientist and how it can be used to answer questions, as well as from an engineering viewpoint on how data are collected in such a unforgiving marine environment. “The amount of data offered by OOI is daunting and is going to take anyone, regardless of data analysis skill level, a long time to look through. In my opinion, it is particularly important for graduate students, who might have more time to look at the data, to just start looking to see what they can find.”  Black gave an example of the richness and uniqueness of data available.  In 2019 as the Blob 2.0 marine heatwave was expanding in the Northeast Pacific, he was deploying an OOI profiler at the Oregon shelf site (CE02SHSP). Due to platform malfunction, operator error, or a combination of, the profiler decided to surface every 20 minutes for 2 days instead of the typical 12 hours for 2 months. Black hopes that something interesting could be found in this data and thinks it could make for a good term project for a class. “It’s very interesting data and it’s public’s data.” If Black stays in academia, he plans to encourage his students to explore open data collected by groups such as the NSF’s OOI.