Lynne Talley

University of California, San Diego
Lynne Talley Image

Lynne Talley, a professor and research oceanographer with the Physical Oceanography Research Division, came to Scripps with expertise in mathematics, physics, and piano. "I was very narrowly focused in science. I never took a biology or chemistry class beyond high school. It was all physics and math, but that's perfect for what I'm in." Talley studies ocean circulation and ocean currents. She focuses on low-salinity, intermediate water masses that are formed at the surface at high latitudes and extend down and under into the lower latitudes. She also studies deep circulation of water in the tropical regions of the Atlantic and Pacific, and looks at mixing between water masses. Talley averages one month a year collecting data aboard research ships, and finds that this takes time away from the theoretical aspect of oceanography that she loves. "There is a balance," says Talley. "You can only do so much, and even within what I'm working on, each morning I wake up and there are six projects I want to do, and I have to narrow that choice to one that I really need to focus on." During high school in Pennsylvania, Talley took every course available in the accelerated program for science and math and still found time to become an accomplished pianist. At Oberlin College in Ohio, she majored in both physics and music. It wasn't until she was accepted at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that she began her oceanographic education. "I applied to Woods Hole on a lark. I didn't know anything about oceanography, I had no background in it, and no pretensions of being accepted into a graduate school in something other than basic physics, but it turns out that the background I had was perfect." According to Talley, many students have limited conceptions about the field of oceanography. "The message that needs to get out to the hard-core physics majors is that this is an acceptable and appropriate direction to go with that narrow background. I think that gets lost, basically because their professors aren't familiar with the field [of oceanography]." After receiving her Ph.D. she moved west to Oregon State University for her postdoctoral research. She joined Scripps as an assistant researcher in 1984, and received a faculty appointment in 1985. In 1987, Talley won the Presidential Young Investigator award from the National Science Foundation, which supported some of her research for five years.