The Team

Ship Location

San Pedro, USA

CAPT Emil Petruncio

Photo of CAPT Emil Petruncio
Navigator, Science/Data Team
Permanent Military Professor / Chair, Department of Oceanography
United States Naval Academy

Tell us about your work / research. What kind of things do you do?

I teach physical oceanography, including courses on Ocean Waves and Tides and Environmental Remote Sensing, to Naval Academy midshipmen (future officers in the Navy and Marine Corps). My doctoral research involved observation and modeling of internal waves generated by ocean tides. These waves are an important source of mixing in the vicinity of mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, and submarine canyons, and can contribute to strong currents and density oscillations affecting the safety of surface and subsurface navigation. I have advised student research in this area, as well as in remote sensing of sea surface temperature fronts. I am also working with colleagues to consider plausible scenarios for sea level rise that will affect the Naval Academy in the decades ahead, and develop plans for adapting to these changes.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

My interest in oceanography developed through family vacations to the Jersey Shore, and it deepened when I became a member of the Cousteau Society as a teen. I was (and remain) fascinated by the immensity of the ocean, the secrets that lie beneath the surface, and the power of ocean waves. When I participated in the Naval Academy Summer Seminar as a rising high school senior and learned that there was a career field in the Navy for oceanographers, my career goals started to take shape. My pursuit of those goals accelerated when I received an appointment to the Naval Academy with the Class of '85. 

Who influenced you or encouranged you the most?

I am fortunate to have had several great mentors and role models, dating back to my days as a Naval Academy midshipman in the '80s. Professor Jerry Williams, who taught at USNA for 37 years, showed me how rewarding independent research can be. Commander Fred Zeile (Retired), my boss while I was stationed in Keflavik, Iceland, encouraged me to pursue a doctorate and has been a great mentor and friend through the years. Professors Gene Haderlie, Jeff Paduan, Chuck Wash, Leslie Rosenfeld, and Ed Thornton were major influences at the Naval Postgraduate School. Vice Admiral Paul Gaffney (Retired) has been an inspiration since I served on his staff in the late 90s. Since becoming involved with ocean exploration in 2013, I have been motivated by the enthusiasm, dedication, and knowledge of Dr. Ballard, Professor Larry Mayer, Mr. Jesse Ausubel, the excellent staff members of the Ocean Exploration Trust, and the shipmates with whom I have worked aboard E/V Nautilus.

What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?

I am fascinated by the big picture views of ocean features that we obtain via satellites orbiting at altitudes of 500 and 22,000 miles, but that is literally just scratching the surface. I am also amazed at what we see when we map new areas of the seafloor, and then send vehicles down to depths of 2.5 miles / 4000 meters, using high definition video to get close up views of deep sea ecosystems and geological formations. It's also energizing to see how a group of carefully picked individuals can come together, and in just a few weeks, develop trust and teamwork, and focus on mission accomplishment.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Early in my Navy career, I gained experience in navigation, time management, and teamwork at sea through my service as a Surface Warfare Officer. As a naval oceanographer, I gained experience in conducting field measurements at sea, operational forecasting, and professional communication (oral and written) - all of these skill sets prepared me well for my assignments on E/V Nautilus.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Oceanography - U.S. Naval Academy 1985; Master of Science in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography - Naval Postgraduate School 1993; PhD in Physical Oceanography - Naval Postgraduate School 1996; Master of Science in National Security Strategy - National War College 2002.

What are your hobbies?

I like to clear my head with 5K or 10K runs, or walks in the woods or along the beach. I'm gaining experience as a nature photographer, and have had a couple of photos accepted in national exhibitions. I also enjoy playing piano, sometimes in jam sessions with musician friends, but mostly for my wife and our dogs. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Well, I have to start by saying "join the Navy and see the world"! I'm at the 31 year point in my Navy career, and I would do it all over again. But more generally: be patient as you acquire the basic skill sets that are necessary to excel in any of the sciences, and then practice putting those skill sets together to master your field. In oceanography, learn about each of the subdisciplines - biological, geological, chemical, and physical - because each of those skill sets are required to conduct exploration and hypothesis-driven research. Take every opportunity to advance your learning and gain practical experience in applying your knowledge. Along the way, respect the experience and advice of your parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors who offer you help. Take time to absorb and reflect on new knowledge, and become aware of what is well understood and where knowledge gaps exist... limit the time that you spend surfing and tweeting. Bloom where you're planted, but be open to new experiences and course changes.   

How did you get involved with the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

Dr. Ballard reached out to the Naval Academy, via the Office of Naval Research, to see if officers and midshipmen would be available to help as navigators. I'm certainly glad for that connection.

"I am thrilled to be taking part in my fourth season of deep ocean exploration aboard Nautilus, and the second season with U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen embarked. I enjoy the teamwork involved in mapping the depths and sharing deep sea discoveries with Nautilus Live viewers around the world."