February 5, 2024
Staff Accomplishment

Ripple Effects of PNNL’s Leadership in Ocean and Marine Research

Bolstering our environment and coastal communities with their talents and passion

Portrait collage of Meinig Arkema Geerlofs

Composite image by Shannon Colson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Three scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are lending more than 50 years of expertise to lead efforts to advance the nation’s Blue Economy.

Simon Geerlofs is chair of the Board of Directors for Maritime Blue.

Katie Arkema and Christian Meinig are appointed to the Washington Coastal and Marine Advisory Council in the Office of the Governor.

Simon Geerlofs—Channeling the power of the sea

Growing up along the Salish Sea, Geerlofs quickly gained a love for swimming, paddling, sailing, beach combing, diving, and spending time in, on, and around the water. This affinity with the ocean started in the waters of Washington, his home state, and through his travels expanded to the Pacific Coast from Chile to the chain of Aleutian Islands.

“I’ve always been an ‘ocean person’ and when the time came to choose a career path it seemed natural to build on that interest and enthusiasm,” said Geerlofs.

That career has included highlights, such as serving on assignment to the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop its ocean and coastal programs, supporting DOE’s strategy leading up to the Biden Administration’s Ocean Climate Action Plan, and being a part of PNNL’s programmatic growth in the coastal science division during the past decade.

For Geerlofs, his most recent achievement is serving as the inaugural chair of the Maritime Blue Board of Directors during the past three years. In February, he steps down as chair while remaining on its executive committee.

“I joined the board because I believe in the value of the ‘innovation cluster model,’ and its potential to connect the work we do at the Lab more deeply into industry, communities, government stakeholders, and the broader research community,” he said. “Maritime Blue is working to grow our state’s blue economy in a sustainable way to the benefit of coastal communities and the region.”

Katie Arkema—Connecting ecosystems and people

Arkema grew up in a small coastal town in Massachusetts, and she saw firsthand how the beaches ballooned with tourists during the summer.

“My hometown dealt with the same coastal management issues that coastal communities across the world are experiencing,” she said. “There is a long barrier beach and dunes that help reduce risk of coastal hazards for the marsh and shoreline residents. Oyster aquaculture is an important local economic sector. These are a few examples of why I’ve felt passionate about the ocean and ways in which people depend upon nature since I was little.”

After college, Arkema worked on Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California, and fell in love with kelp forests. The life-changing experience redirected her career to focus on marine ecology, specifically the relationships between people and nature.

Since then, she has worked in Washington State, nationally, and internationally on topics ranging from renewable energy transitions in coastal communities to reducing risk from coastal hazards.

In November, Arkema started her 4-year appointment to the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council, which advises the governor, legislature, and state and local agencies on coastal waters resource management issues on Washington's Pacific Coast.

“In addition to being a scientist, I am a mom, and Washington is my home,” said Arkema. “I care deeply about the coastal and ocean ecosystems here—from the coastal and kelp forests to the intertidal to the fish and marine mammal populations. I also care deeply about the health of the people in Washington and how we depend on our ecosystems for food, for jobs, for fun, for culture, for a sense of wellbeing.”

Christian Meinig—Chasing storms and oceanic solutions

In September of 2021, Meinig had a chance and frightening encounter with Sam, a category 4 hurricane that clocked 145 mph winds. Such memorable moments are part of a career dedicated to 71 percent of the Earth’s surface.

“The ocean can be the world’s greatest ally in addressing climate change, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, efficient transportation, and trade,” said Meinig. “In addition, it provides all of us sustainable food, jobs, and recreation.”

Also recognized for his mentorship, Meinig has transitioned six technologies to industry and U.S. and foreign governments, with the latest being an uncrewed surface vehicle for deepwater ocean mapping through a public-private partnership.

Yet, he might be most well-known for inventing and developing a deep ocean tsunami warning system. DART® (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) has become the world’s standard and is used in every ocean for the past 15 years. DART is also the reason he can claim circumnavigating Antarctica.

In 2022, Meinig started his 4-year appointment to the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council.

“My role on the council is to represent coastal energy organizations,” he said. “I view engagement as an opportunity for PNNL to share research and expertise relevant to coastal communities. It may also present new opportunities to identify and address on-the-ground needs with partners in Washington.”

PNNL—Championing coastal sciences

Since 1967, PNNL has dedicated research to understanding the dynamic relationships within the Earth’s systems, especially related to coastal areas. A key component of PNNL’s coastal and marine science research is PNNL-Sequim, DOE's only marine research and development facility.

“PNNL’s talented marine and coastal research staff, with unique capabilities and ability to partner, can make a difference in providing science-based solutions and expanding R&D in emerging areas,” said Meinig.

Yet, PNNL’s experts like Geerlofs, Arkema, and Meinig showcase how strong their passion underlines their work.

“The ocean needs champions—it’s usually site out of mind for most people,” said Geerlofs. “A dark, scary, windy, and wavy place where it’s difficult to see or understand what’s going on below. Learning to scuba dive in the Puget Sound really changed my perspective. Just beneath the surface, right offshore, and only 30 feet below exists an entire world that we live next to but most of us never experience. I wanted to share that with other people to inspire an interest in protecting and managing ocean systems. I wanted my future children to experience a healthy marine ecosystem, not just in some far away marine reserve, but right here where we live in Washington State.”

Published: February 5, 2024