The Team

Ship Location

Channel Islands, USA

Emil Petruncio

Photo of Emil Petruncio
Expedition Leader, Navigator, Science/Data Team
Physical Oceanographer
Ocean Exploration Trust

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

I recently retired from a 32-year career in the U.S. Navy. As a naval oceanographer, I gained experience in providing meteorological and oceanographic support to a variety of naval and joint operations, and as a military professor devoted my final 12 years of active duty to teaching physical oceanography and military ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. 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 also worked with colleagues to consider plausible scenarios for sea level rise that will affect the Naval Academy in the decades ahead; scenarios which will inform plans for adapting to these changes.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

My interest in oceanography developed through family vacations to the New Jersey shore. 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.  

Who influenced you or encouraged 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 basin-scale views of ocean features that we obtain via satellites in low-earth and geostationary orbit, 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 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 enjoy 5K or 10K runs, especially along a beach, and hikes in the woods. I'm gaining experience as a nature photographer, and have had a couple of photos accepted in national exhibitions. I also enjoy playing piano, mostly for my wife and our dogs.

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

I have to start by saying "join the Navy and see the world"! I'm at the end of a 32 year 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 oceanography - because each of those skill sets is 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. 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."