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Coastal Ocean Assessments, Status and Trends (COAST)

Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment

MEET: Gunnar Lauenstein

Chief of the Coastal Ocean Assessments, Status and Trends (COAST) Branch, NOS Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment

I am a physical scientist and environmental chemist, and, as chief of the Coastal Ocean Assessments, Status and Trends (COAST) Branch, I manage a diverse group of scientists who quantify the environmental health of the U.S. coastal environment. One of our programs uses mussels and oysters to determine contaminant trends through time and after environmental disasters such as that caused by Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gunnar Lauenstein

What do you like most about working at NOS?

I like the opportunity to see the national perspective of how the environment is doing. We collect samples from all around the nation including the Great Lakes, Alaska, and Hawaii. The program has also expanded to help answer environmental questions in Puerto Rico. My interest is long-term monitoring and specimen banking of environmental samples. When unexpected events like natural or human-caused disasters occur, it's important to be able to define what the baseline conditions were before the disaster occurred. Also, our long-term monitoring has shown that environmental laws can result in improving environmental conditions.

What is the hardest part of your job?

From one perspective, the hardest part of the job is to take advantage of all the opportunities we have to work with other interested individuals and organizations to maximize our ability to provide the most comprehensive picture possible of the health of the environment.

What is your educational background?

I have a bachelor of science in biological oceanography from the University of Washington and a doctorate in environmental biology and public policy from George Mason University in Virginia. Since scientific work requires funding, the education I acquired while attaining a master's in business administration from the University of Puget Sound has also been useful.

What inspired your interest in the ocean and coasts?

I grew up along the Southern California coast and was involved in water sports. That led to a desire to want to understand more about how the ocean "worked."

How did you end up working at NOAA?

I had the opportunity to work for NOAA as a Co-Op student – also known as the Student Career Experience Program – while in college at the University of Washington. I helped quantify the possible environmental effects of manganese nodule mining. That work led to my first opportunity to work on board a NOAA Ship, the Oceanographer.

What advice do you have for young people wanting a career in the "ocean realm"?

As an undergraduate, pick an area for study that interests you, such as biology, chemistry, or remote sensing. Find work in your area of interest while you're still an undergraduate. Then pursue a graduate degree, since jobs in the marine field are very competitive.