Joesph Ortiz is a Professor of Geology at Kent State University. With training in Aquatic Biology and Oceanography, he works at the interface between sciences unraveling climate mysteries, exploring the relationship between sedimentary strata, and helping to improve water quality using electromagnetic sensing techniques.
His primary research interest is in the area of paleoclimate. He studies sedimentary records to extract climate-related information on seasonal to glacial-interglacial time scales. He employs diverse methods ranging from marine micropaleontology to light isotope geochemistry and core and well logging to decipher Earth’s climate record.
- In 2 sentences, explain your work with the HWHF?
I’m an expert on both climate change and remote sensing of water quality in lakes and marine environments, with a focus on monitoring of harmful algal blooms. The methods that I’ve developed allow me to differentiate classes of algae and cyanobacteria from suspended sediment and degraded plant matter.
- Describe what your organization does best
Kent State University is an engine for social mobility in Northeast Ohio. We serve a large population of first generation students, international students, and help veterans develop new careers when they leave the Armed Forces.
- What’s the best part of your day?
I equally enjoy working with the talented students at Kent State and making new discoveries that will help protect the environment and safeguard communities.
- What are you currently working on?
With assistance from the HW Hoover Foundation, I am working with environmental partners, like Team ORCA and Boston University to monitor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon and Biscayne Bay National Park
- When did you know you wanted to be a(n) _____________?
I grew up on Long Island, NY with a great love for the sea. I knew by the time I was in Middle School that I wanted to be an Oceanographer. I completed degrees in Aquatic Biology at Brown University and Oceanography from Oregon State University. Despite being land-locked for much of my career here in Ohio, I’ve conducted research on not only the Great Lakes, but nearly all the world’s major ocean basins.
- What piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into this field?
Science requires patience and determination. Be persistent, but don’t be afraid to re-invent yourself.
- What do you read for fun?
I enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy, as well as natural history.
- Are you a Windows or Apple person?
It’s Apple all the way for me, although I do have a few PCs in my lab!
- What’s one thing you can’t work without?
My iPhone is my constant companion!
- Who do you admire and why?
I admire President Teddy Roosevelt for his efforts toward conservation of open spaces and the expansion of the National Park Service. I also admire Dr. Clair Cameron Patterson, a geochemist, who helped to establish the uranium-lead radiometric dating method, by which he accurately estimated the age of the Earth at 4.55 billion years. Not only was he a superb scientist, but he worked tirelessly for the public good. His work to ban the use of leaded gasoline arguably saved humanity from inadvertently poisoning ourselves and the planet.
- What’s the most interesting place you have ever been (for work)?
I participated in a research expedition to Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea. It was remarkably beautiful, with dramatic, high latitude lighting. The golden hour seemed to extend forever. The juxtaposition of icebergs, with rugged mountains that seemed to be dipping their feet into the sea was breathtaking.
- What’s the most interesting thing you have ever done?
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to most of the world’s oceans on expeditions to the North Atlantic, North Pacific, Equatorial Pacific, Southern Ocean and the Chukchi Sea in the Western Arctic. But for me, the most interesting was the one to the Chukchi Sea. It’s the only expedition that I’ve sailed on in an ice breaker, the USCGC Healy. The sight of that vast while plain of ice, punctuated by leads and pressure ridges was otherworldly.
- What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for your work?
The longest and furthest, was the Ocean Drilling Program, Southern Ocean Gateways expedition (ODP Leg 177). We sailed from Capetown, South Africa, south across the Weddell Sea to Bouvet Is. which is around 55° South Latitude, then west through the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean and across Drake’s Passage and the Straits of Magellan to Punta Arenas, Chile. The expedition took two months during which time we conducted scientific ocean drilling to recover thousands of meters of deep sea sediment to reconstruct how earth’s climate the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean had changed over the past few million years.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I was recently recognized as a Fellow in the Geological Society of America.
- What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I’d like to see the water quality methods that I am developing reach widespread use.
- What’s your favorite activity outside of work?
I enjoy hiking, camping and outdoor photography.
- If you were on an island and could only bring three things – what would they be? People matter more than things, so I would bring my wife and my two kids!
- How do you define success and how do you measure it?
For me, success is measured by the legacy we leave behind and how we will be remembered.
- Who were the most important people to help you create success in your life and what did they do for/with you?
My parents supported me and provided unconditional love. My wife has always been there for me, which allowed me to reach my academic potential. I was fortunate enough to be offered a full scholarship at Brown University. I’ll never know the admissions officers or donors who made that possible, but my life would be very different without that possibility. In my professional work, I pay it forward by raising scholarship funds to help many other students who also came from a modest background to reach their educational potential.
- If you could do something as a career other than what you are doing now (no limits) what would it be?
I enjoy working around the house and fixing things. In a different era, I think I would have been happy as a craftsman.
- What are your top 3 favorite movies of all time?
“Apollo 13”, “North by Northwest”, and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
- What are you doing now that will make a positive difference for future generations?
I’m working to raise awareness about human-induced climate change and to develop better methods to monitor harmful algal blooms.
- If you could go back and talk to your 20-year old self, what would you tell them?
Be willing to go with the flow! They say that hindsight is 20-20, but there’s a considerable random component to how things turn out. I’ve been fortunate in my career and could take advantage of opportunities by hard work.
- How do you stay optimistic in today’s world?
I get satisfaction helping other. When I need to recharge, I spend time with my family, read a good book, or catch a movie.
- What question did we not ask but should ask the next person?
How do you give back to you community?
At work, I am helping to educate the nation’s youth. I’ve raised millions of dollars in scholarship and fellowship funds to help make undergraduate and college opportunities affordable for students. I volunteer my time with Boy Scouts, and donate belongings that are still useful, but which I no longer want or need to Goodwill and other local charities.