Scientist In Residence: Beth Orcutt Introduces Herself

Beth is an U.S. postdoc scientist at the Center for Geomicrobiology in Denmark studying tiny microbes that live at the bottom of the ocean and their role in global processes. You can check out her website to learn more about her work.

Hello My Name is Beth Orcutt

I’ve recently been spending an obsessive amount of time digging up songs about the ocean for a playlist for World Ocean’s Day (June 8). In the process, I stumbled upon the theme song for the movie Jaws. Those sparse, building, dark notes in a sea of silence… duuuh duh, duuuuh duh …still manage to send a chill down my spine, just like they did when I was a little girl, frantically paddling away from the deep end of the pool in fear that somehow, magically, a shark might explode out of the drain and gobble me up. I’ve had an irrational fear of sharks ever since watching that movie (just ask my friend about our doomed snorkeling trip in Florida after I saw a 1-foot long shark nosing its way towards me in defense of the clump of sea grass I wanted to inspect). In fact, sometimes I chuckle at the thought of how unlikely it is that I am a marine scientist, considering my fear of sharks, my inability to swim ‘properly’, and my general uneasiness about not being able to see my feet when I am in the water at the beach (there might be sharks, or crabs, or jellies down there!).

Look at how calm this snorkeler is while checking out a shark. Not me! From WikiMedia Commons: Snorkeler with Blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus). Photographed by Jan Derk in March 2006 in Fihalhohi, Maldives.

Yet somehow, despite the odds, here I am, a marine scientist exploring the depths of the oceans in search of strange microbial life. Far from fearful, I am gaga for tiny life forms that eat the ocean crust, or burp methane, or gobble up putrid, rotten-egg-smelling hydrogen sulfide. So enamored by these little chemical-cycling machines, I usually sacrifice a good portion of my summer to be confined to a research ship in the chilly northeastern Pacific Ocean to conduct research in observatories installed hundreds of meters below the seafloor. Some might think it is bizarre to spend so much time thinking about the bottom of the ocean, but there is a lot of excitement down there – chemically and biologically – and I wouldn’t trade my job for the world. Just don’t ask me to go SCUBA diving – I’ll stick to submersibles and ROVs, thank you very much.

Don’t believe me that the bottom of the ocean is where it’s at? Well, hopefully over the next few weeks, I’ll convince you otherwise. I’ll be sending in some reports while I am out at sea on the fabled RV Atlantis, working in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. I’ll be telling you all about the water superhighway under the seafloor (i.e. hydrothermal circulation), about how microbes rust the crust, and how all of this microbial activity plays into the global ocean cycles. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you would like to hear the World Oceans Day playlist I made, chock full of songs about or related to the ocean, please be my guest. Surf classics? Sea shanties? Ballads? Jazz standards? Irreverent indies? silly little WTFs? Check, check, and check. (note: not all safe for work…these are songs about pirates, remember)

Dr. M (1720 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

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4 comments on “Scientist In Residence: Beth Orcutt Introduces Herself
  1. I tend to look towards the New Age, in my collection, when it comes to aquatic-themed tunes.

    – Aquaria – Diane Arkenstone
    – Oceanic – Vangelis
    – Aquaria (Game Soundtrack)
    – Jelly Music – John Huling (as heard on the mbayaq webcams)
    – Atlantis – David Arkenstone
    – And of course the themes to Man From Atlantis, Stingray, Endless Ocean, Monkey Island, “The Dig” (Atlantis Resort), and the Living Sea soundtrack (Sting)

  2. Where can we follow your adventure? Do you have a Twitter, blog, or website? Will it be posted here? I clicked on your site but got a 404. Thanks!

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