Graduate Student Spotlight: Scott Martin
--Interview Autumn Quarter 2022 by Michael Shao, UW Oceanography class of 2024
Why does Oceanography matter?
The ocean covers most of the world and is a really important component of the Earth's climate system since it's a huge reservoir of heat and carbon and evolves over very different time scales to the ones on which humans are emitting greenhouse gasses. A detailed understanding of the processes that govern how the ocean interacts with and responds to the rest of the climate system is therefore crucial for being able to understand and foresee the impacts of climate change. Studying a system as large and as diverse as the ocean needs expertise from all the different scientific disciplines as well as a concerted effort to collect challenging observations. I see Oceanography as the meeting place where we all come together to try to tackle this big challenge.
What is your current research as a Physical Oceanography graduate student at UW and how is your experience working with Georgy Manucharyan?
My research is focused on trying to use machine learning to improve our understanding of the physics of mesoscale and submesoscale turbulence in the ocean (i.e. ocean currents with length scales ranging from around 1-1000 km). This turbulence has an important impact on the transport of properties like heat and salt around the ocean and is often poorly-resolved in global circulation models. Satellites provide global observations of the ocean's surface, but there are inevitably large gaps in space and time in the observations due to the satellites' orbits and, for some instruments, cloud cover. We've been using machine learning to improve how we infer what happened in the gaps and to study what these observations tell us about ocean currents. Working with Georgy has been fun! He's got lots of great ideas and is a really good mentor for me as I learn more about Oceanography, data science, and research in general.
How was your experience back in Oxford University? Do you enjoy staying in Seattle?
I loved my undergrad years in Oxford. It was an intense place to study at times (there were some late nights working on problem sheets with friends!) but I learned so much and found some of my closest friends there. I've been in Seattle just over a year now and I really like living here. I've always been into outdoor hobbies so having such amazing mountains and nature on the doorstep is a big lifestyle upgrade!
What made you make the decision of choosing Oceanography instead of Physics for graduate school?
My undergrad studies were all in Physics, so when choosing a research area for grad school I was definitely drawn to something where I could keep using and learning Physics. I hadn't really heard of Oceanography until I was in my third year and I saw a research talk by David Marshall (a physicist in Oxford whose research focuses on Physical Oceanography) which made me realize that Oceanography is something physicists can work on! I really enjoyed studying fluid mechanics and had done some Astrophysics research looking at tides and turbulence inside stars, so Oceanography appealed to me as a similar area of research but with more direct societal implications.
Coding has been an important technique across academic fields. Can you explain how is coding relevant to your speciality?
You're right, coding has become an essential skill in most research fields now, my research is no different. Specifically, I use mostly Python for manipulating observational datasets, building and training machine learning models, and occasionally for running idealized turbulence simulations. Fortunately coding is so widely-used that there's loads of amazing resources for learning as you go.
Can you talk about one thing that you enjoy the most after coming to UW? It could be a party or academic breakthrough.
I think what I've enjoyed most has been meeting all the amazing grad students in the UW Oceanography department. Everyone comes from different places and undergrad backgrounds, so it's a really fun melting pot of people to hang out with.