Graduate Student Spotlight: Zoe Krauss

Zoe Krauss Interview


Recently Zoe Krauss, UW Oceanography graduate student, was awarded a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering graduate fellowship, a highly competitive fellowship providing three years of support to individuals pursuing a doctoral degree. In this interview Zoe explains the research proposal that landed her the fellowship award and what she plans on doing while she is attending the University of Washington. Zoe shares her background in Oceanography and her inspirations for the future she is creating in it. After learning about all her success she gave some advice for pursuing future opportunities.

--Interview May 2020 by Lauren Bayne, UW Oceanography class of 2022

What research proposal did you share for the NDSEG fellowship? Why do you think this was so compelling for you to receive the award?

One of the marine geophysical triumphs of the last decade was the successful deployment of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) Cabled Array, which provides us with real-time seismic data for various offshore sites such as Axial Seamount (a submarine volcano!). These cables run to instruments which are sitting up to 500 km offshore Washington and Oregon, and 2,900 meters deep. For marine seismologists, who are used to dropping their instruments on the seafloor and picking up the data much, much later, this is a total game changer. The OOI has already allowed us to monitor in real-time the 2015 eruption of Axial Seamount, and we anticipate capturing another eruption in the next few years. 

Oceanographers are now thinking of the future of these cabled array systems, and have ambitions for instruments called Resident Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV), which are essentially robots that whizz around the ocean taking various physical measurements, recording images and video, and repairing other seafloor instruments. Normally, an AUV is deployed off of an oceanographic research vessel and controlled by scientists on the ship. This limits the amount of time the AUV can be in use and prevents scientists from quickly responding to sudden events such as submarine volcanic eruptions. A Resident-AUV, however, would permanently live at the Axial Seamount site on the cabled array, and would be able to recharge and respond immediately to geophysical events with mission instructions sent through the cable. This eliminates the need for expensive and slow ship response. My proposed research project for the NDSEG fellowship was to create automated R-AUV missions to respond to different types of seismic signals, such as earthquakes, explosions, etc. An effectively programmed R-AUV would be a huge step forward for oceanographic research, and also a huge asset for naval operations, making this a particularly well-fit research proposal for the NDSEG.

While I plan to focus my research on the interpretation of seismic data while here at UW, writing this proposal was an excellent opportunity to learn about plans for the future of our field and to consider what is important when preparing to observe stochastic geophysical events.

How did this change your life and your options? Was this a large factor in what your future looked like?

This fellowship has been a huge vote of confidence for me at the very beginning of my career and very encouraging as I find my footing here in Seattle. So many people helped me to shape this application into what it became and I’m endlessly grateful for all the scientific guidance I’ve already received. I’m very fortunate in that I was already supported as a graduate student here at UW, but I now have the opportunity to work on any research in any department here at the university. I look forward to exploring all the geophysical projects going on here and dipping my toes into everything I can!

How has your research evolved since being here? What research are you currently working on?

I’m currently only finishing up my first year as a graduate student, but it was a busy year of fellowship applications, taking classes, and going to sea. My first research project here is the culmination of  > 20 years of seismic observations on the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. I’m working to relocate earthquakes and build a comprehensive, cohesive catalog of the evolution of seismicity on the spreading ridge from the 1990s to today. I can’t wait to see what kind of tectonic and hydrothermal processes we will be able to examine once we have a solid long-term earthquake catalog. Hopefully we will be able to answer some questions about tectonic stress cycles at mid-ocean ridges, and we will undoubtedly come up with new ones. This project has already been a great introduction to the techniques and methods of marine seismology and I’m excited to see where the data takes me. 

Why did you decide to come to the University of Washington? How many years have you spent here?

I’ve only been here since last August, but I have loved my first year in this city and can’t wait for the ~6 more I’ll have with UW Oceanography. I was drawn to UW Oceanography first and foremost for the unparalleled research opportunity and interest projects, but also because of the warm and welcoming community that was made obvious during my visit. Seattle is a beautiful place with both mountains and water (still can’t get over that!), and there’s always fun stuff happening in the department.

What labs do you work in and who are some of your advisors?

I work with William Wilcock in the MG&G option. Graduate students in our lab work on a diverse range of marine seismic projects, such as tracking baleen whales using ocean bottom seismometers, seafloor geodesy, and monitoring of submarine volcanoes. It’s been such a great team with which to learn the ins and outs of good marine seismic science!

Where did you do your undergraduate program and what major did you graduate with?

I got my undergraduate degree at Colorado College, majoring in Physics with an emphasis in Geophysics. I effectively split my time half-and-half between the Physics and Geology departments. Studying earth science in the America Southwest was a total blast!

What inspired you to continue into graduate school programs in the field of Oceanography? 

I was drawn to oceanography in particular because the majority of Earth’s seismic activity occurs beneath the great blue sea: we need huge ships and advanced oceanographic technology to study it! More specifically, Earth’s most devastating earthquakes occur in our oceans— magnitude 9.0 earthquakes paired with massive tsunamis. Geophysical oceanographers are the ones with the tools to study these incredibly societally important problems.

What has been your best experience in the field of oceanography? 

I am a brand new oceanographer, with only one research cruise under my belt! However, it was a truly memorable one. I got back at the beginning of March from a month-long cruise in the Antarctic Peninsula, retrieving ocean bottom seismometers in the Bransfield Strait. It was so totally crazy to see penguins and icebergs through the window, and so great to take part in all the work that goes into getting my data. 

What advice would you give to undergraduate seniors looking to go to graduate school in the field of oceanography or those who are applying to this fellowship?

Never, ever be afraid to send an email inquiring about research opportunities, guidance on fellowships, or just general advice. All professors and researchers were once in your position as a curious undergraduate, and people LOVE it when you show interest in their research! Also, give yourself time—speak to as many people as you can, read as many examples of applications as you can, and be patient with yourself as you work to write honest and candid personal statements.