Yvette H. Spitz

Yvette H. Spitz, Associate Professor, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences; Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA

As a physical and biological oceanographer, my interest resides in investigation of the main pathways in marine ecosystems, development of coupled physical-biological models, and data assimilation. My current research includes the use of data-assimilative models in conjunction with observations from long-term time series and remote-sensed ocean color data to model the dominant ecosystem pathways, estimate model parameters, and model errors for the North Pacific basin. In collaboration with colleagues from Belgium, a data assimilative model is applied to study eutrophication in the North Sea. My long-term interest in coastal dynamics and the response of the ecosystem to wind-driven circulation (e.g., upwelling) led me to study, via modeling, the ecosystem response to upwelling off the Oregon coast. Finally, I have recently been involved in a multi-principal-investigator project to study the coupling among the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, bowhead whale, and subsistence whaling by the indigenous human populations of the northern Alaska Coast.

A career in oceanography was not one of my goals as a teenager. Indeed, I obtained my degree in physics from Liège University in Belgium. At that time, I was convinced that I would be a high school physics teacher. During the last year of my studies at the university, I discovered oceanography. I spent a summer month in Calvi, Corsica, where Liège University had an oceanographic research station. A senior thesis was required for obtaining a degree in physics, and I did one related to physical oceanography, with Professor Nihoul as my mentor.

My interest in physical oceanography did not stop after my B.S. degree. In addition to learning about circulation in the ocean, I decided that I needed to learn English (French is my first language). In 1987, I moved to the United States and got my master’s degree in physical oceanography from Florida State University, then my Ph.D. at Old Dominion University. During my Ph.D. studies, I met a visiting professor, Linda Lawson, from East Tennessee State University. In collaboration with Linda Lawson and Eileen Hofmann, I applied data assimilation to estimate ecosystem model parameters. Even though this topic was not part of my dissertation research, it was the beginning of my career in coupled physical/ecosystem assimilative modeling. It was also one of the first applications of data assimilation in the field of ecosystem modeling.

In 1995, I came to OSU as a postdoctoral fellow under Mark Abbott’s supervision. It is at that time that I acquired the necessary knowledge in the field of biological oceanography. While the transition from physicist to biological oceanographer has offered some challenges, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to approach the field of oceanography from different angles. My interest in teaching, however, never died and this July, I should become part of the teaching faculty in COAS.