• Austin Pugh

New OA CoP Coordinator: Austin Pugh

Austin Pugh joins the OA CoP as our new Coordinator and a Research Associate with OA CoP Co-lead, Dr. Brent Else in the Geography Department at the University of Calgary.

What is your background?

Austin Pugh joins the OA CoP as our new Coordinator and a Research Associate with OA CoP Co-lead, Dr. Brent Else in the Geography Department at the University of Calgary. research interests come from many different avenues, however, I am fascinated by the resilience of life and how it reacts to changes in the environment around it. In my undergrad I helped with research in many projects; such as brachiopod morphology, ecological surveys, database work analysis, and crystallographic imaging (two of these projects appear in the images below). Eventually my interests lead me to become intrigued by the event of OA in the fossil record. Through my pursuit of knowledge in the growing field of conservation paleobiology I began to read and participate in research on OA in the modern to learn more about these events in the past.

What is your interest or background in OA?

During my time in university, I became fascinated with past environmental conditions and extinctions. Due my preference to invertebrate paleontology, past ocean acidification became a natural topic to begin to think about. This interest was nurtured by my lab and I had the opportunity to work on the physiological impacts of ocean acidification on snail shells with the help of an NSERC undergraduate award; a project which carried over to my thesis. This situated me in the field of ocean acidification and showing me a topic that I am passionate about. When studying the effects that ocean acidification has on the formation of biological carbonates it is hard to not think of the implications that it has in the modern and to deep time, implications that are still not all fully understood. It is this pursuit of knowledge about a process that is not only happening now but has also happened multiple times in the past that interests me.

A camera is pointed at a 3-d printed shell sitting on sand in a large tank of circulating water
3-D printed Brachiopod in a circulating flume from a morphological test

Why did you join the OA CoP?

I applied for the coordinator position for multiple reasons. Science communication is an extremely valuable field, it allows "things to happen". Without proper communication researchers may not have access to the right resources to build their research on, policy makers may not be able to optimize their regulations, and general public may misunderstand the problem and be dismissive of it. Especially with the recent surge of interest in the field of ocean acidification, everyone has to do their part to make sure that the information that is being released is received and understood by the correct people. This job is an opportunity to do my part to facilitate the information flow and assist in a scientific feat that is much larger than myself.

What do you see as the most pressing OA issue for Canadians? Or even globally?

Like many scientific topics, communication as a whole holds everyone back. When I look at some of the most pressing issues with regard to ocean acidification they have either come about as a lack of communication between scientists and the public, Fisheries, Aquaculture, and other stake and rights holders. This lack/miscommunication leads to these groups not knowing the best practices, or conversations that are one sided until it is too late. I believe that if the OA community focuses on having discussions that span across disciplines and stake/rightsholder groups, we as a community, will have a much easier time solving the problems that rear their heads. If we communicate effectively, we can hopefully avoid some of the future problems that are so far unseen.

Austin points to limestone layers on a large outcrop in the mountains
Stratigraphy in Banff National Park

What is the one take-home about OA that you wish all Canadians knew?

I think that it would be extremely helpful if all Canadians understood the pH scale, more specifically, that pH is measured on a log scale. I have heard people mention that oceanic pH has only changing by 0.1 pH unit and all the predicted changes are less than 1 unit "what's the big deal"? The "big deal" is pH is represented on a log scale meaning that 1 unit represents a increase of x10. This understanding of the discrepancy between the degree of change of the number on the pH scale and the impact that it has on oceanic chemistry would assist everyone in having enough basic knowledge to care and about the issues that Canada is facing in our increasingly acidic oceans.

What excites you most about the current or future of OA research in Canada?

I think that Canada is such an exciting place to be conducting ocean acidification research because of the implications that it has on the world stage. Canada has the largest coastline in the world. This paired with all of the wonderful researchers that are working alone and together has positioned Canada to be a world leader in ocean acidification research.

A black and white image on the nanometer scale shows strips of crystals facing in opposite directions
SEM image of Nucella ostrina snail shell

Anything else you’d like to say?

This position gives me a chance to assist in science communication and science leadership. Fields that I find genuinely interesting and think are critical to the future of ocean acidification research. While I get to promote these fields, I also get to give back to the Canadian scientific community. I am very excited at the opportunity of working with the CoP and all of its members. I look forward to meeting you all!

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