Ryan  Hartnett headshot photo

Ryan Hartnett

Ocean Science Intern
Graduate Student
The Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies at San Francisco State University

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

I am investigating the influence of large scale Pacific ocean climate on regional upwelling in the Gulf of Farallones outside San Francisco Bay and how that relates to local oceanographic conditions. During periods of upwelling in the California Current ecosystem, nutrients are mixed into the water column where phytoplankton, microscopic ocean plants, photosynthesize to produce sugars, lipids, and proteins. They provide the base of the food chain and I am investigating how environmental conditions influence phytoplankton production and support zooplankton like krill and copepods. These zooplankton, shrimp-like crustaceans, are a key link in energy transfer up the food web for they have the ability to feed on the microscopic phytoplankton. I am specifically studying the mechanisms behind these interactions and ultimately how they translate to success for top-level predators such as Cassin’s auklets, blue whales and salmon. 

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

My marine invertebrate zoology course at Sonoma State University introduced me to the wonder of life in the marine environment. My professor, Dr. Karina Nielsen, is a coastal community ecologist who shaped the class around studying coastal marine invertebrates which inhabit tide pools, mudflats, and live underneath our sandy beaches. Intertidal organisms are fascinating creatures that persist in the face of extreme environments on a daily basis and California is privy to an abundance of diversity within our tidepools. Karina inspired my curiosity to explore the marine environment, study the mechanisms of the environment they interact with, and how they respond to changes in the environment either behaviorally or physiologically. This drove me to pursue a career in marine science.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My parents. They support me in whatever career path I choose and provided many opportunities for growth during my youth. From getting me out to the Sonoma Coast beaches or to the local creek, getting me to swimming lessons and multiple sports’ practices, to encouraging me to find my own interests. They have been with me throughout my trials and tribulations in finding my niche and I am truly thankful for their support and guidance.

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

I find how the ocean circulates mesmerizing. Processes including thermohaline circulation that spans each ocean, Coriolis forcing due to the differential rotation of the earth, density gradients and how they drive or inhibit mixing, eddy formations with large exports of heat, and small scale turbulent mixing like when a wave breaks on a beach and dissipates on the shore or in a bay. The fundamentals are static but we continue to discover more about the reality of ocean mixing processes and that dynamic nature truly fascinates me.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

At Sonoma State University I developed and piloted an Aquatic Resources Internship on campus where my duties involved maintaining our seawater table on campus by checking water chemistry, cleaning, doing water changes, and taking care of marine organisms. From this I was able to volunteer at Bodega Marine Laboratory doing similar work but on a much larger scale. When I graduated from Sonoma State I began volunteering in the lab at Point Blue Conservation Science sorting regurgitated bird pellets for fish otoliths and counting zooplankton samples to enumerate and measure krill. That volunteer work led me to my master’s thesis research as a graduate student at San Francisco State University at my marine laboratory in Tiburon. Working there has blossomed into many new opportunities for field research on boats, lab work, mapping and computer modeling. Staying involved in the marine science field flows into new opportunities so keep applying to new opportunities and stick with it!

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Biology -- Sonoma State University 2013; Masters of Science in Marine Science Candidate -- Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, San Francisco State University

What are your hobbies?

I love immersing myself in nature and exploring the natural world around me. Walking, running, hiking, biking, kayaking, boating and surfing are my favorite ways to do so. I also enjoy cooking, reading, and the arts. Working with my hands to create something is an escape I run to in my off time and offers delayed gratification.

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

Working in science is based on finding answers to novel intriguing questions which spurns further research work in a wonderful cycle of discovery. In order to develop these questions one has to get their feet wet by volunteering to work in the field or lab to familiarize yourself with your study system or study organism. Getting involved in extracurricular science activities with your local university, government agency, or nonprofit is rewarding not only for the experience buy what it may lead to. Natural talent and brains can get you through many doors, but the true path to success comes from commitment to working at your subject. A big part of that is showing up and doing the work. I typically am the first to arrive and last to leave the lab when projects are in full swing. Scientists are successful because they failed so many times in trying to achieve their goals and eventually grew by learning from those failures.

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

I applied for the California State University Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) summer internship and was awarded the Ocean Exploration internship. My host for the internship is the Channel Islands National Marine sanctuary and my duties involve coordinating education and outreach materials for the Nautilus cruise and helping to organize science planning materials. It has been a real neat and challenging crosscut experience that utilizes new combinations of skill sets for me and I am excited for the upcoming Nautilus cruise. I will be helping to coordinate social media material highlighting the research during the remotely operated vehicle survey leg of the cruise. I have prior cruise experience working with the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies program with Point Blue Conservation Science so I will help in the wet lab during the Nautilus cruise as well.


Ryan participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: