Spotlight: Ryan McCabe

Research Scientist – Coastal Oceanography Group

Ryan holding big fishRyan McCabe joined JISAO in January 2014 as a Research Scientist in the new Coastal Oceanography Group. His research uses both observations and numerical simulations, but Ryan prefers the nitty-gritty of at-sea field work.

Ryan grew up as probably the only Seahawks fan in North Carolina watching the original #80 nab outrageously long passes. However, football didn’t pan out too well and so Ryan attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in physics. Late in his undergraduate studies Ryan realized he wasn’t particularly drawn to the disciplines of quantum mechanics and particle physics. By thumbing through the course catalog he found that a class in Fluid Mechanics was being offered through the Marine Sciences department and decided to try it. This turned out to be his favorite course and the professor convinced him that a good way to learn more about fluid motion might be through graduate study in Oceanography. Oceanography? What’s that? Apparently oceanographers actually studied fluid dynamics.

Ryan came to Seattle to work with Parker MacCready who was doing some intriguing laboratory experiments with a post-doc on flows past rough topography. Those initial lab experiments turned into larger field experiments examining flows at a local headland in Puget Sound, the perfect blend of science and in-the-field excitement. Ryan then joined both Parker and Barbara Hickey on another primarily field-based project aimed at understanding the biochemical impacts of the large Columbia River plume. It was this project that formed the bulk of Ryan’s thesis work. After graduate school, Ryan got the opportunity to move to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Sydney, Australia, to work with Jason Middleton on a field experiment examining flows and heating dynamics at an isolated coral cay in the southern Great Barrier Reef. He spent a number of weeks Ryan on boatbased on the small island making measurements while also doing his best to dodge all of the sharks, turtles, mantas, and whales. Ryan’s time in Australia also included a research cruise to an offshore seamount, and learning the various local customs and past-times such as Aussie-rules football. In 2010 Ryan returned to Seattle as a post-doc on a project tied to his thesis work, but focused on the transport of harmful algal blooms. He spent the majority of this project learning more about shelf dynamics and trying to untangle the difficult problem of cross-shelf circulation from the perspective of moored instrumentation.

Ryan devotes as much spare time as possible to the outdoors. Summers mostly include backpacking, trout fishing, and photography. His free time in winter is primarily spent standing in cold rivers steelhead fishing, or tying flies when the rivers are blown out.