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  • Writer's pictureAustin Pugh

Scientist Spotlight: Meghan Zulian: PhD Candidate, UC Davis & Bodega Marine Lab

Updated: May 18, 2022

Meghan Zulian is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ocean Climate lab at UC Davis & Bodega Marine Lab in California. Her research interests encompass the impacts of changing oceans on ecologically, culturally, and economically important shellfish. Meghan holds the positions of Secretary for the communication and engagement team for the ecological society of America and the Undergraduate Lead Mentor for The Coastal and Marine Science Institute.

Meghan taking a selfie picture of herself on a boat
Meghan Zulian (Center)

Meghan has always been interested in climate science and mitigation. During her early years she aspired to study carbon sequestration/mitigation or ecotoxicology . While attending Queen's University in Kingston for her bachelor’s degree, her professors and mentors helped her to realize that she did not want everything in her career to be “cleaning up environmental messes”, she realized that she had a greater interest in the curiosity and question driven side of science and decided to pivot further into research.

This realization and pivot led to her master’s research at the University of Toronto where she began to study coralline red algae in the Canadian Arctic. When these coralline algae grow, they produce summer and winter “growth rings” (like trees!) which reflect how long sea ice covered the area (larger ring=more growth=less sea ice/more sunlight). Since these algae are so old (the oldest known is 650 years old), they can inform us about sea ice cover and seawater chemistry from the past (called proxy data)! These arctic proxies are important as there have not been seawater chemistry measurements under sea ice for most of recorded history. Currently not a lot is known about OA in these sea ice covered areas, we do not know if sea ice buffers the system from OA, negatively impacts it, or even influences it at all! This is an exciting area of current research that is being developed as more work is done in these systems.

After receiving her Masters, Meghan moved into her current position as a PhD candidate at the University of California Davis (UC Davis), where she studies in the lab of Prof. Tessa Hill. Part of Meghan’s motivation to pursue her work at UC Davis is to study the unique way that universities and governments in California have integrated science with policy. California's environmental policy is a world leader in respect to how it is funded and conducted. With Sacramento (the state capital) only 25km away from UC Davis, it is easier to form science-policy collaborations . This relationship has allowed for research to be integrated into policy decisions such as: fisheries and water quality criteria, management, and monitoring networks. Meghan says that both observing and being a part of this process, which is happening on the science-policy interface, provides invaluable experience for her career. She hopes to be a part of similar efforts on the Canadian west coast, where the relationship between science and policy seems fragmented, even within institutions.

“We need to pop our little research bubbles.”

One body that is used to create the correct conditions for these collaborative relationships are “Boundary Organizations”. These organizations lie at the overlap of science and policy. Boundary organizations work most effectively if they are discrete entities that interface with governments, with independent funding (i.e. an agency which specializes in creating relationships and collaborations). NGO’s can also create large and very beneficial impacts within specific regions bringing groups together. However, when faced with cross border collaborations (state-state, province-province, state-province, country-country), government boundary organizations or collaboratives can create the greatest impact as other groups may facilitate successful collaborations but can become stuck if they cannot implement new policy.

Meghan highlighted an example of a successful boundary organization: The California Ocean Science Trust. This organization convenes panels of scientists to speak about specific scientific issues and convey the information to the relevant policy/decision makers. These organizations ease the workload typically given to academics to have their findings heard. These organizations achieve this through actively creating avenues through which research and information reaches the relevant audience. It is within Canada’s capacity to develop boundary organizations, but as of right now no government run organizations exist. Meghan hopes the lessons that the USA has taught us about boundary organizations can be combined with the numerous community science efforts in Canada to establish Canadian ocean acidification and marine research as a world leader in these fields.

"It impacts our climate, it impacts the weather we enjoy, it impacts the weather we don’t enjoy. It will impact every aspect of how we live either directly or indirectly."

When asked What is one factoid you wish that every Canadian knew about ocean acidification? Meghan Replied: “I want them to know that it’s more than an impact on just a handful of organisms”. Sometimes people think that OA only affects a few organisms which "I don’t care about" because I don’t eat them, but this is not true. This is a problem which affects the global carbon cycle which in turn creates irreversible change for entire ecosystems. It impacts our climate, it impacts the weather we enjoy, it impacts the weather we don’t enjoy. It will impact every aspect of how we live either directly or indirectly.” When discussing these problems, it is a delicate balance: do we want to show people what is easy to understand, but does not convey the gravity of the situation (like just a handful of creatures impacted by OA), or do we attempt to show the large problem and all its complexities as a whole?

“I would love to see more collaboration between Canadian and American institutions” says Meghan, “We need to pop our little research bubbles”. The future of OA science, policy, and the collaborations between them are exciting and growing fields which should be paid attention to. Today careers are created which work on the interface between science and policy which work with communities and resource managers to develop solutions. This work is essential to the many communities whose economies depend on the ocean and is only becoming more essential as impacts are only increasing.


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Meghan Zulian for her virtual “in-person” interview


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