20 000 Leagues into the past: Natalie Umling curates Real Scientists

Real Scientists is on the high seas this week with Dr Natalie Umling (@natumling), a postdoctoral fellow in paleoceanography at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. We spoke to Natalie about her work so far and how she got into this super interesting field. 

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us a bit about how you got into science?
I was a naturally curious kid who loved learning anything new. I never really had a strong idea about what I wanted to do when I got to college, but science always came naturally and I liked learning about the world around me. Much of my interest in science probably comes from my grandparents. When I was little, I would spend my summers at ‘camp grandma and grandpa’ while my parents worked. My grandpa was a hobby geologist who would teach me about the rocks he had collected as a kid wandering around the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and both my grandma and grandpa enjoyed learning about the nature you can find in your backyard. 

What interested you about paleoceanography?
I love paleoceanography because it doesn’t limit me to one scientific field. My background is in geology and oceanography, but from one day to the next my work might involve a lot of chemistry, biology, math, and/or climatology. This variety also extends to the type of work that I might be doing on any given day. Some days are spent in front of a computer, others are spent in the lab, and occasionally I have the opportunity to go into the field or to sea on a research cruise. 

What are you working on right now?
I use fossil corals and microfossils (foraminifera- zooplankton with carbonate shells) to study what the oceans were like in the past. Most of my work has focused on how the ocean impacts or is impacted by the transition of Earth’s climate from cold glacial conditions to warmer conditions much like today. In particular, how the transfer of carbon dioxide between the oceans and atmosphere plays a role in modifying Earth’s climate. 

What do you want the public to know about your work?
By studying what the oceans and climate were like in the past, we can predict what they will be like in the future. By understanding what climate was like before anthropogenic climate change, we can understand how climate variability had changed from the natural baseline. 

What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
I tend to accumulate hobbies. I am currently trying to learn American Sign Language, improve my photography skills, make my sister a quilt as a wedding present (luckily, she is not on twitter), cross stitch whichever city I have been in recently (currently that’s Sydney), and keeping up with the news and politics.

What does a perfect day look like for you?
Laying on a boat floating in the middle of a calm lake, not having any obligations or appointments to worry about. But I don’t own a boat or live near a nice calm lake. More realistically, I enjoy wandering around the ramble in Central Park, which is a part of central park with a maze of trails through the woods where you can find little creeks and waterfalls or large boulders to relax on. You can’t see any of the skyscrapers and don’t feel like you are in the middle of a big city. I love that I can go from being in nature to browsing shops or trying a new restaurant all in a matter of minutes.

Natalie Umling, welcome to Real Scientists!IMG_3077

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