Exploring the oceans by remote control (The New Yorker)

June 4, 2019

In 2015, Melissa Omand, a thirty-four-year-old oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, began preparing for a six-day research expedition. For the first time, Omand would be the lead scientist—an important professional milestone. She would be supervising eleven other researchers studying how the movement of carbon through the oceans shapes the global climate. Many of them would be using advanced instruments that had never before been deployed in the field. The expedition was set for October. In April, Omand learned that she was pregnant.

Personally, she was overjoyed. Professionally, the picture was complicated. While UNOLS, the governing body of the major U.S. research vessels, had no formal policy about pregnant cruise participants, discussions with colleagues led Omand to temper her expectations of going to sea. And yet delaying the cruise wasn’t an option. The data that Omand hoped to collect could boost her career. Her students planned to study it during her maternity leave, and other scientists were depending on the expedition for their own work. Many stars had aligned to make the expedition possible. They were unlikely to do so again.

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