Kelsey Barnhill headshot photo

Kelsey Barnhill

Science/Data Team
Graduate Student
Norwegian University of Life Sciences

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

As a graduate student, my area of focus and research interests are still changing and growing. I have been very fortunate to gain experience in a wide array of topics, all focused on geology and marine science. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science, I completed and presented an undergraduate research project which focused on the effects that changing wave energy has on marsh shoreline erosion. Throughout the semester-long field-based program I also took part in a group capstone project centered on marine debris in the area. I spent the spring of 2016 as the Microfossil Intern at the American Museum of Natural History where I updated their database, helped conserve their collection, and 3D printed models of foraminifera through CT imaging. While there I also worked on a research project involving the 3D morphology- or size and shape- of foraminifera. As a graduate student, I have worked as a research assistant on the curation and identification of an invertebrate fossil collection. Last summer as the Ocean Science Intern aboard the E/V Nautilus, I helped to process samples collected from ROV dives and ran the sub-bottom profiler during mapping. Now, I have taken my studies abroad to Norway, where I continue to explore different areas of research, focusing on politics and the environment.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I've wanted to be an explorer since I was a child, but didn't think it was possible. I entered college as a sign language interpreting major and took an introductory oceanography course just to fulfill a general education requirement. During the first week of class, my professor showed us Dr. Robert Ballard's TED talk, "The astonishing hidden world of the deep ocean." I can honestly say it was the most important 18 minutes and 19 seconds of my entire life because during that time I was overcome with emotion as I realized that I, too, could really be an explorer. Freshly motivated, and more driven than I had ever been before, I approached my professor at the end of class and boldly told her I wanted to be a deep-sea explorer. At her recommendation, I added her introductory geology course and was a STEM major by the end of the week. I would not be the person I am today or be on the career path I am on today if it were not for Dr. Robert Ballard. I am ecstatic and appreciative to have the opportunity to take the next step in my career by interning again for a program founded by my role model.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

The professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science all inspired and encouraged me to pursue a career in ocean science, especially Dr. Rachel Noble, Dr. Johanna Rosman, Dr. Charles Peterson, and Dr. Stephen Fegley. Their support gave me the confidence to be a leader in the program and apply to graduate school to pursue a research-based career path. Bushra Hussaini at the American Museum of Natural History has also been a great mentor and supporter of mine.

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

While onboard the E/V Nautilus, I love finding an unexpected area of interest while mapping. I also enjoy being in the control van and getting to be a part of a live deep-sea ocean exploration. My favorite memory onboard was being on watch when we found the “mysterious purple blob.” It's been very exciting to follow along with the updates regarding whether or not it will be classified as a new species.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Volunteering at the San Diego Natural History Museum's fossil preparation lab, under Lead Fossil Preparator Nicolle Anderson, gave me my first experience working in a scientific laboratory. I enjoyed my time there so much that I went on to become the Microfossil Intern at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts with distinction in Geological Sciences with a minor in Marine Science - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2015.

What are your hobbies?

I was a two-year Varsity letter winner on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's NCAA Division 1 Women's Fencing team epee squad. This year I was on the cheerleading squad at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. In my spare time I enjoy traveling, hiking, horseback riding, doing gymnastics, and visiting national parks.

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

Take any class that sounds interesting to you, even if it seems challenging. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to share your dreams, they are not too big! Once you start telling people about your aspirations, you never know what doors may open or what advice you may get. Don't think its too late to change paths, I didn't consider a career in science until I was 19-years-old. Volunteer and do internships whenever the opportunity arises, as interacting with people in the field you want to go into is extremely beneficial. There is no better way to see what type of job you would most enjoy than to try it out.

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

During my semester at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Cindy Van Dover, Director of Duke University Marine Laboratory. I expressed my interest in deep sea exploration and she told me to look into the Ocean Exploration Trust's internship program. I became so excited after watching videos of past exploration and reading information about the opportunities for students that I knew it was the perfect fit for me. After serving as an SEIP Ocean Science Intern last summer, I was eager to return as a Multibeam Watchstander this summer to gain more experience with seafloor mapping.


Kelsey participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions:

Selected Publications


Barnhill, K.A., Vinha, B., Smith, A.J., de Jonge, D.S.W., Gaurisas, D.Y., Seguram R.M., Madureira, P., Albuquerque, M., Huvenne, VAI, Orejas, C., Gunn, V. (2023). Ship-to-shore training for active deep-sea capacity development. ICES Journal of Marine Science 80 (6): 1619–1628.


Barnhill, KA. (2022). The Deep Sea and Me. ICES Journal of Marine Science 79 (7): 1996–2002.