Sylvia Musielewicz

Research Scientist and Engineer

Sylvia outdoorsI've always loved the sea, and learned to sail when I was 18. My love of the ocean solidified during a 9-month sailing trip from California to Mexico and back. Since then I've sailed small boats across the Pacific (Hawaii to California), through the Bahamas, and down the east coast of Africa and Madagascar. The African trip was in a friend's home-built 27' catamaran with no engine - it was a little like "Huck Finn goes to Africa". One of my favorite memories is of sailing up a river in Tanzania and anchoring at dusk with hippos frolicking around our boat.

I graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1994 with a BS in Earth Sciences, and concentrated on paleontology. After spending a season as a river guide on the Stanislaus River in the Sierra Nevadas, I joined the Peace Corps and worked in agroforestry for two years on the Kenyan coast, just north of Mombasa. That is, I was supposed to work in agroforestry, but my biggest project turned out to be construction of a pipeline to bring water to a nearby village.

I came back to the U.S. and received an MS in Water Resources Science from the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota. My research used sediment cores for paleoclimate analysis, and I did field work on Lake Superior, Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, and Lake Malawi in East Africa. My thesis used varve sequences, which are annual chemical signatures much like tree rings, to look at the last 22,000 years of climate change in the Malawi lake basin.

After grad school I worked at Harvard University where I ran the paleoecology lab at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. The Harvard Forest is a Long Term Ecological Research site on 1000 acres of trees. The landscape of Massachusetts is interesting - it's full of towns with names like Greenfield, Hatfield and Deerfield, founded when most of the state was cleared and farmed. When new lands opened in the west the rocky farms of New England were abandoned. Now stone fences run through tall forests and often the vegetation changes abruptly at a stone wall, with red pines on one side and white pines on the other, depending on whether the field was used for pasture or for cropland.

In New England I got back to my small boat roots. Our team took sediment cores from small lakes and ponds using canoes. We strapped a plywood platform to two attached canoes and tied them to three points on shore. We lowered our hand-powered corer through a central hole in the platform to recover cores. We took consecutive cores until we reached the gray clay bottom, left behind at the end of the last ice age by retreating glaciers. We analyzed these sediment cores for long-term records of vegetation, fire, natural disturbance, and human activity.

My interests concern the interaction between humans and their environment. I wanted to change my focus from past climate change to understanding the changes that are happening in my lifetime, and was happy to be hired at JISAO after moving back to my hometown of Seattle. I work with Chris Sabine and Dick Feely at PMEL on monitoring trends in ocean acidification using time series from CO2 sensors installed on moored buoys. While there is a growing body of carbon measurements from the open ocean, measuring pCO2 in the coastal ocean is relatively new and has the potential to provide valuable insight into the coast's role as a contributor of carbon sources and sinks. Developing an ocean carbon observatory network based on moored buoys has the potential ability to characterize the carbon chemistry of the coastal environment and monitor critical changes in ecosystem response. We have buoys in some dynamic coastal areas, including the coast of Washington, coral reefs in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the Gulf of Mexico, and Gulf of Maine.

My husband and I own a small commercial winery (Sodovino), and although he is the winemaker, a lot of my spare time is spent with winery activities, particularly during crush season. I also enjoy sea kayaking, gardening, and medieval cooking.